HIST 301: Research Methods - Sepinwall

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Getting Started

HIST 301 -- Getting Started -- Sepinwall

The focus of this class will be on finding and using one particular form of primary evidence, the letter, to base your research project. Your first step is however, how do you get started?

  • What wil be the theme of your research? (A particular person, family, occupational group, event can all be a means to focus)
  • How are you going to find particular letters in sufficient quantity? (time is of the essence) 
  • Where do you find supporting research material? (you need to have context for what you are reading)

In this way, your research uses a wide variety of both primary evidence and secondary scholary sources essential to historical methods.

You are also working through selected exercises in the Furay book, Chapter 7. More specific help is on the Furay page.

Need ideas? What you are reading in class and your lecture topics will inspire ideas. But this is early in the semester and you have not covered all possible topics, so here are some sites to browse to get additional ideas:

American Memory (Constantly growing digital collection of images, documents and much more from the massive collections held at the Library of Congress.)

If you are having trouble, feel free to contact me in person or virtually for additional help.


History Databases

These are considered secondary source article collections. Most content is scholarly.

Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly
America: History & Life

Abstracts of journal articles covering American & Canadian history, from pre-history to the present.

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Links to full-text via Get-It 1964 to current All
Historical Abstracts

Historical coverage of the world from 1450 to the present.

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Links to full-text via Get-It 1973 to current All

Contains (EXCEPT for the latest five years) core scholarly journals in sociology, history, economics, political science, mathematics, African-American & Asian studies, literature, humanities, music, and biological, health & general sciences.

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Full-text 1838 to most recent five years Most
Project Muse

Full-text coverage for hundreds of scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics

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Full-text 1993 to current All
ProQuest - History

Search among ProQuest’s History databases

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Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It 1985 to current None
Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly

Access to thousands of digital texts, audio files, and images from open access archives.

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N/A current None
Military & Government Collection

Provides full text for hundreds of military related periodicals and general interest magazines.

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Some full-text; plus links to full-text via Get-It 1975 to current Some
Handbook of Latin American Studies

An essential bibliography on Latin America consisting of works selected and annotated by scholars.

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None 1935 to current All
HAPI: Hispanic American Periodicals Index

Indexes journals from 1970 on providing information about Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Hispanics in the United States.

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None 1970 to current All
Oxford English Dictionary

A guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past. It includes etymological analysis, listings of variant spellings, and shows pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet

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Full-text current to current All
Dissertations and Theses Database: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection

Dissertations and Theses Database includes digitized dissertations in a variety of subject areas including Art, Communications, Education, History, Linguistics, Literature, and Social Sciences.

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Some full-text 1979 to current All

History Databases with Primary Sources

Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly
Accessible Archives

A good source for 19th Century American History; includes newspapers on the Civil War and African Americans.

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Full-text 1728 to 1900 Most
African American Newspapers, 1827-1998

Newspapers digitized from 37 states chronicling African American experiences and influence in a variety of events from the early 19th through late 20th centuries.

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Full-text 1827 to 1998 None
American State Papers, 1789-1838

Collection of U.S. Congressional business after the Continental Congresses and before the U.S. Congressional Serial Set began.

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Full-text 1789 to 1838 All
Archive of Americana

A set of collections of digital documents representing American history and the growth of the nation (American State Papers, U.S. Congressional Serial Set and its maps, and a collection of Hispanic American Newspapers. Search all collections at one time,

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Full-text 1789 to 1980 All
Documenting the American South

A collection of primary source documents on Southern U.S. history, literature and culture.

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Full-text 1734 to current Most
Hispanic American Newspapers, 1808-1980

Spanish and English language newspapers offering news, advertisements, opinion and more from across the nation reflecting contemporary thought and activity.

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Full-text 1808 to 1980 None
Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970

Historical Statistics

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Access being provided through CougarApps. Be patient as it may take some time to load.
CD ROMS: web-accessible 1600 to 1970 All
Los Angeles Times (Historical)

Archival issues and articles beginning with 1881. Issues published during the past twenty-four years are not available in this database. Check ProQuest or Factiva databases for the material not held in this collection.

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Full-text Archive None
Making of America Project (Cornell University)

A digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction (19th century imprints). Focuses more on journal articles.

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Full-text 1850 to 1877 Most
Making of America Project (University of Michigan)

A digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction (19th century imprints). Focuses more on books.

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Full-text 1850 to 1877 Most
Making of the Modern World

<p>Digitized texts from the Goldsmiths'-Kress Library of Economic Literature 1450-1914 provides access to over 62,000 primary source works on economics and business.</p>

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Full-text 1450 to 1914
New York Public Library Digital Library Collection

The Digital Library Collections provide the public with digital versions of books, manuscripts and photographs, representing a growing body of primary source material.

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Full-text 1800 to 1969 Most
New York Times (Historical Collection)

The New York Times Historical Collection provides full page and article images including the NY Daily Times (1851-1857). The most recent four years not included in this historical collection can be searched through ProQuest Direct, LexisNexis or Factiva.

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Full-text Archive None

Access to thousands of digital texts, audio files, and images from open access archives.

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N/A current None
Sabin Americana, 1500-1926

Books, pamphlets, serials and other documents about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's. Primary source materials on exploration, trade, colonialism, slavery and abolition, the western movement, Native Americans, military actions and much more.

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Full-text 1500 to 1926
San Diego Union Newspaper Archive

Collection of newspapers published in San Diego under various titles, including the San Diego Union.

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Full-text 1872 to 1983
Southern Historical Collection

Letters, diaries, papers of Southern Americans from 18th through mid-20th century.

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Full-text 1800s to 1950s Some
Times (London) digital archive 1785-1985

Provides access to the complete digital edition of The Times (London). The entire newspaper is captured, with all articles, advertisements and illustrations/photos divided into categories to facilitate searching.

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Full-text 1785 to 1985 None
U.S. Congressional Serial Set Maps

Early maps created in Congressional business are included in the U.S. Serial Set database, but most are to be found in this collection.

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Full-text 1817 to 1980 All
U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980

Business, legislation, debates and other activity of the from the beginning of the U.S. Congress on an extensive variety of topics including taxation, Native Americans, wars and elections. This digital collection is the equivalent of approximately 13,800

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Full-text 1817 to 1980 All
Victorian Women Writers Project

Features the works of British women from the Victorian period (1830-1910), including anthologies, novels, political pamphlets, religious tracts, children’s books, and volumes of poetry and verse drama.

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Full-text 1830 to 1910 None

Furay Ch. 7 LCSH Search

HIST 301 - Furay - LCSH

Chapter 7 in The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide, (Furay and Salevouris, 3rd ed.) addresses subject headings as a research tool.

The following screen shots will familiarize you with examining our book catalog for these useful labels using an example not found in the book. (You really did not expect me to do the assignment for you, did you?)

The example research topic is to examine the social status of women active in the American temperance movement before the enactment of Prohibition (1920.)

Before hitting the keyboard, strategize keywords to save time and come up with more focused results. Some of these are not proper subject heading terms, but may come in handy when looking at primary sources or articles.

  • Women (what about ladies, girls and females?) / gender
  • Temperance / anti-saloon / drys (a slang term) and its opposites: alcohol / beer / drunkeness / wets
  • Status / class / social standing / poor / wealthy
  • US / United States (you may also want to look at a region, such as the West or East Coast)
  • Workers could also be activists / protestors / do-gooders
  • Pre-Prohibition / early 20th century / 1890-1919

Now try either keyword searches or use the more scholarly terms as possible subject headings IN THE LIBRARY CATALOG (Books & More.)

Attempt# 1 Keyword Search: Women temperance status

And the subject headings I find:

Attempt #2: Try a new search: Women Temperance United States

And the subject headings this time:

Attempt #3: Try a new search: Temperance United States class

New potential subject headings: (and maybe I will rephrase the topic words now that I see what is available)


HIST 301 - Letters

Per instructions, you need to locate a set of correspondence keeping in mind any criteria such as:

  • How many pages of text?
  • Is this limited to a pair of correspondents, or one writer to multiple recipients?
  • How will you use this material to evaluate and form a thesis about the writer's world? Watch for the bias of your modern thinking--these authors reflect the culture, attitudes, and language of their time, not yours.
  • Can you find primary and secondary sources to validate or refute your assessment and develop a broader context? For example, compare your subject's status, religious beliefs, and views with others of the time to get a sense of how they fit into their society.

Searching for letter collections in the library catalog is not difficult, it's just knowing the right words that will gather results you can use.

Just typing the word 'letters' into the library catalog is NOT the best way to start. You will find scientific publications (ACM Letters on Programming...), teaching tools (Magnetic Letters), and how-tos (How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters.) So, there has got to be a better way, right? Of course!

Descriptive terms:

There are some specific terms you can use in the catalog to retrieve books and letter collections that will likely contain enough letters to meet your needs. Use these once you have narrowed to a topic or individual.

  • Correspondence
  • Documents
  • Papers
  • Letters (used carefully with other search terms)
  • Note: Manuscripts and personal narratives are closely related formats and count as primary sources, but generally will not provide a large enough collection of letters for your purpose.

Searching by topic for relevant letters:

if you have not selected your letter writer, you may have an occupation, time frame or activity you that interests you to help start you off. Here are some examples.

  • Occupation:
    • Naval history includes sailors and officers who wrote letters to their families.
    • Presidents wrote to other heads of state, to their wives and children, etc.
    • Inventors, travelers, and other creative people.
    • Lots of people, not just the famous, wrote letters and through fortunate circumstances, these have been saved and published. 
  • Time frame: Wars are common events for generating letters, but there are also other ways to identify time periods
    • Time periods have common names but are not always formally classified by that name (the "Great Depression is an example, it is actually known in scholarly circles as just one of many depression periods.)
    • World wars are not known in the library catalog as WWI and WWII, and there have been many 'civil wars' besides the War between the States. A conversation with your professor or librarian will help you identify the correct subject heading for the war you are interested in.
    • Other time periods are centuries, eras, and movements:
      • Centuries are used as subdivisions to subject headings, but can also work as keywords.
      • The Antebellum Period generally refers to the 19th Century period prior to the Civil War.
      • The Beat Generation is one movement in the 1950-60s.
  • Activity of individuals in connection with a specific time or event:
    • Civil Rights Movement
    • Equal Rights Act
    • Temperance
    • Abolition (AKA anti-slavery)

Searching a specific person:

Method One: Perform a SUBJECT search on that person by entering their name in last name, first name order. You will retrieve a list of all the various subject headings concerning this person. What you really want is the word correspondence as a subdivision. 

Example: a sample search to find the letters of Mother Jones (labor activist in the 18th and early 19th century):

  • Subject search the catalog for Jones, Mother. You will see works in the result set about her (biography) and correspondence which is a collection of letters. 

Method Two: Perform a AUTHOR search on that person by entering their name in last name, first name order. You will retrieve a list of all the works by this person. You can scan the list for the descriptive terms given above (letters, correspondence...) 

Example: a sample search to find the letters of Mother Jones (labor activist in the 18th and early 19th century):

  • Subject search the catalog for Jones, Mother. You will see in the result set a book of her speeches and another of correspondence. Which one will you want? (hint: not the speeches!)

Method Three: Keyword search the library catalog for Jones and correspondence to retrieve works containing letters noted as correspondence in the subject heading subdivision. This search does not return the other works about/by her found with the subject and author searches. This will retrieve other persons' correspondence with the same surname so is the least desirable search.

If these do not work:

  • Repeat your searches in Circuit or One Search as you have access to larger, older collections than CSUSM's.
  • Try alternative terms for correspondence such as letters in a keyword search with the subject's last name.You may locate collections of the family's letters, including your subject's correspondence.
  • Looking through the references of a biography can lead you to correspondence collections outside the CSUSM collection--if they are published materials, rather than special manuscript collections, you may request through Circuit or Interlibrary Loan.


Getting Full Text

Getting Full Text

If we don't own it, we can try to get it for you from another library at no cost to you:


Double Check: Be sure the title is a BOOK and search the title in our library catalog using a TITLE search. 

  • If CSUSM does not own the material:
  • Place a request using One Search (this will retrieve the book from another CSU in a few days)
  • If it is not available through One Search, you have the option of ordering the material through Interlibrary Loan at https://illiad.csusm.edu/login/index.aspx. You will be asked to register during your first use to verify your contact information.
  • You will be notified by email when the item has arrived and pick up from the Check Out Desk.
  • Many lenders allow renewals if requested through our office BEFORE the book is due back.
  • Return the item to the check out desk when finished.


Double Check: Be sure you have the article title and journal name identified as there are several ways to search for this and you will need the correct information in the correct box if you do need to place a request.

If you are in a database and no full text is offered, you should see a GET IT link. Clicking on that will search other CSUSM-provided databases for full text. If found, a link will be provided to take you to the full text. If not, a link will be offered to request through Interlibrary Loan. Clicking that option and loggin in will start the request process.

If the automated system does not work or you are working from a hard copy (such as a bibliographic citation from a paper), you need to search and request in a slightly more manual fashion:

By Article Title: you can use the Discovery Search on the library home page and put the article title in as a search phrase (remove any colons [:])

By Journal Title: Search in the Books & More tab with the journal name and limit to Title.

  • If we own the journal, check the holdings (date range) to see if we have the issue you need. It may be in print, but more likely to be in one of our databases. There will be a link to direct you to the proper database.
  • If CSUSM does not own the journal or issue you need, you have the option of ordering the material through Interlibrary Loan at https://illiad.csusm.edu/login/index.aspx.
  • Some information on the request form is optional, but you MUST have the article title, journal name, date of publication, volume number, pages needed.
  • Double check that the language of the article being requested is one you can read.
  • Submit the request.
  • You will get an email notification to log into your ILL account to retrieve the full text document.
  • No need to return, this is yours to keep.


San Diego Circuit...

is a local lending partnership between CSUSM, San Diego State, University of California San Diego, University of San Diego and the San Diego County and Public libraries.

This joint partnership provides access to millions of titles, most of which you can have delivered to CSUSM for pickup.

You may also go to any one of these libraries with your valid campus ID card (current semester sticker required!) to check out materials.

The convenience of online request and local delivery is very popular, but there are a couple of things to be aware of...

  • If the material is available for check out at CSUSM, you will not be able to place a request for a copy from another Circuit partner. "Use your own sources first" is the rule.
  • Some materials are "local use only" which means you need to go to the library that holds the material for use. The local use may be due to condition, rarity or other restriction, such as being held in a controlled special collection.
  • Materials generally take 1-3 days, but may take longer if it is coming from one of the SDCL branch libraries; is requested on a Friday (no weekend deliveries); or must be retrieved from special storage.

Use your student ID number and campus password when placing a request. If that doesn't work, contact the Access Services staff. The desk phone is 760-750-4348.

When you are in a Circuit record:

if there are questions or difficulty with requesting an item, contact the CSUSM Resource Sharing staff.

Google Books

What can Google Books do for you?

A search will reveal a large number of results, just like with any other internet search. You are getting a more focused portion of the internet as this is only searching books which have been scanned by Google in collaboration with some large universities. 

Problem is there are limitations set by publishers and copyright law on accessing full text.

Google is:

  • providing high-quality scans of searchable text.
  • including citations to books and snippets of books as well as full text of materials that are out of copyright or have provided permission for access.
  • including older journals and some government documents in this collection.
  • helping you discover what has been published in books that may not be available locally.

Google does NOT:

  • provide full text access to all documents found through a search. There is a mix of fully-available, text snippets, and citation only.
  • provide information on how results are ranked.
  • sort results by topic area.
  • allow printing of the text you locate.
  • tell you if the material is available through other means via CSUSM.


  • Who else but your librarian? We are experts at solving the difficult and commited to providing access to the information you need.
  • How to find a title from Google Books:

    Here is a sample of some results on a search for "great war" and nursing and what they mean:

    • Be sure the title is a BOOK and search the title in our library catalog using a TITLE search. 
    • If CSUSM does not own the material, you have the option of ordering the material through Circuit from the record OR Interlibrary Loan at https://illiad.csusm.edu/login/. You will be asked to register during your first use to verify your contact and delivery information as you will be notified by email when the item has arrived.

Need Help?

Judith A. Downie

Special Collections and History Librarian
760-750-4374 OR 760-750-4312 (Archives)
Office Location: 
Office Hours: 
By Appointment

Contact Info