Getting Started

Getting Started

Hist 301 - Getting Started - Strathman

Historical research uses a wide variety of materials and your professor expects you to use scholary and primary sources both. This site is designed to provide guidance of where to look and how to identify what you have found effectively and quickly.

From your syllabus' assignment description, you need to locate PRIMARY and SECONDARY sources in order to write about an original concept in US History. The exploratory research you will do should assist in generating ideas for both the topic and inspire you to question what you have found for what original contribution you can make. For the final paper you may or may not use everything you found for the earlier assignments as research and your writing continually evolves throughout the research cycle.

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:

Chronicling America (Smaller newspapers from across the US from 1789-1923. Phenomenal resource for the popular voice on every topic imaginable.)

San Diego Union Newspaper Archive (Best accessed through the Library Databases. A fee-based access collection of our local major newspaper beginning with the 1870s)

HEARTH (This lands you on the subject page, but fully searchable. From Cornell University, a wide-ranging collection of topics concerning American life.)

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

Animated Atlas Online (simplistic, but valuable in that it shows major world events at the same time and some major inventions and cultural events.)

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

Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary Sources for History

Finding primary sources will be the most challenging portion of your search process. Not only determining where to look (not everything is on the web!), you will be dealing with inconsistent language, format issues, and identifying whether what you found is actually primary or not.

Searches including the term 'primary' will usually return an unsatisfactory result set. This is because it is actually difficult to label an item as primary--what it is varies with the need of the researcher and the situation in which the item was created. This example uses articles published about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

"San Francisco Doomed" from The Oakland Tribune, April 18, 1906 is from the time of the event and would be primary source material for historical research on this event and its aftermath.

"Frisco Quake Remembered" from The Birmingham Post and dated April 19, 2006 is secondary if you are researching the 1906 quake. BUT it could be considered primary if you are researching the perception of this event after a period of time (how has memory affected history?), rather than the event itself.

A well-done site that discusses finding primary sources on the web, providing examples and a selection of sites is "Using Primary Sources on the Web". This is brought to you by the members of the the American Library Association's Reference & Users Service Association/History Section.


A search on your topic or person in the CSUSM library catalog (or other library catalogs) can reveal a number of primary sources in our collection. Keyword searches that include the following terms will identify primary materials most of the time:

  • Memoir
  • Diar* (for diary or diaries)
  • Correspondence (this is a LoC subject heading subdivision)
  • Letters
  • Personal narrative (this is a LoC subject heading subdivision)
  • Recollections
  • Reminscences
  • Journal

Some things to watch out for when searching a library catalog:

  • Searching on a personal name. If the catalog uses Library of Congress subject headings, there will be a consistent version used in the subject headings, but additional notes may be added to provide access through common alternatives, spellings, or nicknames. (e.g., Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens)
  • Subject headings will use one approved phrase for a topic, but if the subject heading has been updated (very rare), you may need to use older phrasing in your subject search. This is most likely to happen if you are using a print index (the drawers of cards) rather than an electronic index.

There are other tricks to try, contact your librarian for more help.


History Databases with Primary Sources

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

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.

American State Papers, 1789-1838
Collection of U.S. Congressional business after the Continental Congresses and before the U.S. Congressional Serial Set began.

Archive of Americana
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.

Documenting the American South
A collection of primary source documents reflecting Southern U.S. history, literature and culture.

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.

Los Angeles Times (Historical)
Archived articles beginning with 1881 through 1995, more recent content is found in the database collection in the L subseries.

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.

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.

New York Times (Historical Collection) Mid-19th Century through 1980, more recent content is found in the database collection in the N subseries.

San Diego Union Newspaper Archive
Our local major newspaper from 1871-1983, more recent content is found in the database collection in the S subseries.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980
A record of Congressional activities reflecting public opinion, interactions with the President, treaties and much more. A companion site to this is, listing legislative activity (bills and laws) for 1973-current.

Primary Sources (on the internet)

An increasing number of sites are offering digitized images and text that are of use to the historian. Here is a sampling:

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources

HIST 301 Secondary Strathman

Any well researched paper uses scholarly books to support the thesis and arguments. Many will count as secondary sources for history research.

Reference Books
These are works like encyclopedias, directories, and collections of reviews. They may be quick overviews or in-depth studies and can help you in developing ideas on topics or a focus on a topic. Many will provide bibliographies leading you to both primary and secondary sources.

Circulating Books (check out and take home or access online)
May be secondary, primary or mixed-source content (dependent on your research needs!)

  • In-depth studies on one topic
  • May be collections of primary sources with explanatory text (that part counts as secondary)
  • Provides bibliographies to original sources, archives, and relevant secondary literature

Books at Cal State San Marcos

Start your search in BOOKS & MORE by typing your topic in the KEYWORD search option.

This will return a list of book titles (as well as videos, slides) for you to browse.

When you find an item that looks relevant, click on the title for more information.

Especially useful on the item's record will be SUBJECTS which describe the content of the item and links like items together.


You are researching the popularity of beer in America following the end of World War II:

Strategize your keywords. Choose the wording that is most appropriate or scholarly to get the best results.

America/United States
--Scholars generally use the term "United States"

--are you looking at the product, the producer, or the industry?

WWII/post-World War/1945
--time periods are difficult to pinpoint, so broader is better

The choices you make will make a huge difference in what you discover. I used beer AND "United States". If I get too many results, I can add terms to narrow my results even more.

I got 39 hits, so that isn't too bad. Here is a likely source to start...



After looking at the records I get on the keyword search, I can expand to browsing subject headings by clicking on the links in the record:

Need More?

Using the  CSU+ search option will reveal books from the CSU System. Order for free and pick up at our Check Out Desk in a few days.

Also, use the ARTICLES+ search to find secondary-source articles. Recommended databases to start are:

America: History and Life


and others listed on the History Research Portal page.



Chicago Citation Style

Chicago Citation Style

Chicago Citation Style

Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide

Library Copies (Z253 .U69) (kept at Permanent Reserves) We now have the Manual online as well through the library catalog.

What's New in the 17th Edition

The Chicago Manual of Style is the stylistic and citator preference for most history researchers, but always check with your professor before proceeding on both citation style and which system. The Notes-Bibliography system is generally preferred in history publications, but there is also an Author-Date system. These systems use different formatting, so be sure which your professor prefers.

IMPORTANT!  Check your resources such as automated citation generators to make sure you are being given the latest information based on the 17th edition as not all sites are reliable about updating to the most current edition.

Chicago may be referred to as Turabian, after Kate Turabian, who wrote a manual for students for research, writing and citing sources based on the Chicago citation style. The current version is titled A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. The CSUSM library keeps a copy at the Research Help Desk at LB2369 .T8 2007 and a copy on permanent Reserves (Checkout Desk.)

Some additional helpful web sites:

Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition (OWL at Purdue)

Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide for Government Documents From Bowdoin College, this guide uses the 15th edition as the 17th is not as comprehensive on government citations.

Legal Citations Using Chicago

For a summary of the Chicago style of citation for legal citations, please refer to the Chicago Manual of Style 17th ed. Chapter 14, sections 269-280 for legal materials and sections 281-292 for US Government pubiications.

There are a number of in depth publications on legal citations.

  • Cornell University's "Introduction to Basic Legal Citation" is freely available on the internet.
  • "The Blue Book" addresses this type of citation in great depth and is considered the authority. We have the 2010 edition.
  • "The Maroon Book" by  the students at the University of Chicago Law School challenges the Blue Book rules and is not considered authoritative.

Keep in mind there are specific rules for providing the legislative or case number and you will need to use the published or 'formal' title, although there may be more popular common references.

The Library of Congress has provided a simple site with examples for referencing US Congressional documents "Citation Guide".