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History and American Studies: Getting Started

A research guide to finding books, articles, and other resources in History and American Studies

Start with overviews

The best way to start a research project is by reading overviews of your topic. An overview is a text that summarizes the basic facts about your topic.

Examples of overviews:

  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Textbooks
  • Study guides

An overview is just a starting point. Don't cite overviews. The reason why we don't cite overviews is that they don't provide any original information -- they only give you a condensed summary of what other people have said about the topic. Instead of citing an overview, read the overview and write down clues that you could search for in the library or the library databases, to find sources that you can cite.

Examples of clues that you might find in overviews:

  • The names of important people, places, and things.
  • Other sources that you could cite (listed as citations).

Reference Books

History books in the Reference section

reference book is a book that contains short overviews or summaries of many topics. Encyclopedias are the most common type of reference book. You can find reference books in the Reference section, which is on the first floor of Simpson Library.

For topics in history or American studies, I recommend these reference books:

Guides to Historic Literature


A chronology, also known as a timeline, is a list of events in chronological order.


Listed below are some general history encyclopedias. The library also has encyclopedias that focus on specific places and time periods. You can find them by browsing the Reference section, or by searching on our website. Try adding the word encyclopedia* to your search. (The asterisk at the end is for finding various suffixes, such as "encyclopedias.")

Electronic Resources

Biographical Information

Electronic Resources

Reference Librarian

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Peter Catlin