Reference Tools

Each week in this course, your Wednesday Reports will require you to look up information about some unfamiliar or unclear concept in the readings. There are many reference tools you could use to complete this portion of the assignment; here are a few worth considering:

Scholarly Reference Works

  • American National Biography: This excellent resource contains short biographical articles about significant American figures, written by professional historians. If you run across the name of a person you don’t recognize, you might start by seeing if he or she is in the ANB. (Note: Only people who died before 1996 are included.)
  • Oxford Companion to United States History: A sort of one-volume encyclopedic reference work about Amreican history, written by scholarly historians. You can browse through entry titles or use the “search within work” on the lefthand side to find the topic you’re looking for.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library: This collection includes reference works on African-American history, LGBT history in the U.S., and the history of ideas.
  • Digital History at UH: This online, open-access site is like a digital textbook of American history. It contains timelines, maps, documents, and topical essays that may talk about the event, concept, or person you are trying to understand.

Primary Source Databases

  • The Historical New York Times: This database contains full-text, full-image articles from the New York Times dating from 1851 to 2009. If you can’t find the subject you’re looking for in secondary reference works, you may be able to find news articles about it from the time.
  • ProQuest Congressional Publications: A massive database of publications, legislation, and reports put out by Congress from 1789 to the present day. To use this effectively you will probably need to limit your searches by date as well as keyword.

Websites and Search Engines

  • Wikipedia is not the best place to stop your research, but it can be a good place to start. For quick answers to questions that come up during your reading, Wikipedia can be a useful resource, especially if the article you consult is well-developed and has an extensive history of edits; shorter articles probably have not been vetted by as many people or given as much attention. For more information, check out Wikipedia’s own description of itself, or consider using the WikiTrust plugin.
  • Google Books and Google Scholar: While you probably know all about Google, you may not know about these two more specialized search engines, which look through, respectively, published books and scholarly journal articles.

Other Reference Guides

Anna Shparberg at Fondren Library has put together a LibGuide on American history that includes links to some of the resources mentioned here and many others as well.

Caveat Emptor

There are an increasing number of sites like Yahoo Answers or that allow people to post questions, solicit answers, and then vote on which answer they think is best. These can be, in my experience, less than reliable as sources of information, so use them with caution and give preference to reference tools like the ones above.