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HIST 301: Research Methods - Xiao

Getting Started

HIST 301 - Getting Started - Xiao

These pages are to help you to find the best with the least amount of time and effort:

Keep in Mind...

History research is NOT a book report on what has been said are looking for a question that doesn't seem to have been answered. This establishes a place for you to shine by adding to the body of historical studies. This is also the time to begin to focus on an area of history that will be your speciality.

This can be challenging, but as our interpretations of our past continually change in light of modern thinking and new discoveries, there are plenty of topics to explore!

While you are exploring, keep an open mind and do not 'lock onto' a particular thesis to start. This flexibility will come in very handy as you explore what is available.

Preparation is Important...

Analyze the source material you need. Books, articles, newspapers, photos, diaries, government publications? there is wide variety of materials, but remember primary sources are of primary importance to you! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Primary sources can be letters, diaries, contemporary newspaper reports, maps or other first-person accounts and evidence.

Secondary sources are articles and books that examine a number of works to support an argument made in the text (book, article, presentation.) Secondary sources are most often created years after the event or time period and should be based on primary sources research.

Ask yourself: What is available to inform and support my research? If you cannot find enough primary evidence due to issues such as expense. language, or scarcity, it is time to re-think your topic.

Identify where to locate what you need. Is it in the book collection, newspaper databases, or an image collection? In looking at secondary sources, will articles provide you with some of what you need? Which databases will provide the relevant sources?

Collect tools that will help you organize your resources, such as Zotero (see the right side bar.)

Starting Your Research...

Keep an open mind to what you uncover yet be selective as to the quality of the sources you are gathering.

The PRIMARY, SECONDARY and CHICAGO links are 'launch pads' and you will likely find yourself in surprising places pursuing the additional information/evidence you need.

History 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. Issues published during the past twenty-four years are not available in this database. Check ProQuest or Factiva databases for more current material not held in this collection.

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.

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:

History 301 Primary Sources-Internet-Xiao

An increasing number of open-access websites are offering digitized images and text that are of use to the historian. Here is a sampling of those useful to studying the history of Chinese/United States relations:

History Secondary Sources

HIST 301 Secondary Xiao

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 counts as secondary)
  • Provides bibliographies to original sources and 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 will link like items together.


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

Strategize your keywords. Which are most appropriate or scholarly to get you the best results?

American/United States


WWII/post-World War/1945


The choices you make will make a huge difference in what you discover. I used Chinese AND "United States" AND food. 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...


Newspapers (HIstorical)

Newspapers as Primary Sources

Newspapers are one of the best primary source collections for many topics, but should not be considered scholarly or impartial.
These serve as a reflection of popular thinking and exhibit strong biases based on editorial policies.

This page is devoted to historical newspaper sources. All newspapers (current or historical) that are available in full text at CSUSM in either paper, microfilm or electronic format can be located by a search in the library catalog.


When you consider that newsprint has an approximate shelf-life of 50 years, that explains why so many older newspapers are found on microfilm (shelf-life of 200 years.) Knowing this doesn't make microfilm easier to use, but here at CSUSM, we have indexes to the newspapers when available and have installed microfilm reader-printers that will allow you to scan and save the page you are viewing to your H drive, dropbox, zotero, or email page scans to yourself. As we can, we are adding newspapers in digital form to our collections and those will be found in the database collections.


You can search specific titles of major newspapers from the database list (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Times (London), and the San Diego Union each have individual archival collections.)

For a more general search, type your research topic (keep it simple) in the Articles+ search box and limit the results to "newspaper articles". This is going to return articles published from a variety of time periods and publications, but you have tools to narrow your results to the left of the results list.

What newspapers do we have?

It is best to have a newspaper title, but if you do not, you can try the word newspaper with a city name, topic or ask the librarian for help!

If you are interested in certain types or geographic divisions of papers, you can do a subject search on 'newspapers' and look through the available subdivisions that reflect more focused topics.  Here are some examples of subject headings and sub-headings:

Research in other historical newspaper requires access to backfiles (the term used for older issues) and likely you need to go to a newspaper 'morgue' for hard copies. These may be at a library or a local historical society located in the area you are researching. Many newspapers are not yet indexed or digitized and will require consultation with a librarian or history expert to locate pertinent materials.

CSUSM Holdings of notable titles Print/microfilm/electronic

We have the following titles, with hard copies and microfilm on the 4th floor of the Kellogg Library. For papers without extensive archives, contact information has been posted for possible archival access.

Los Angeles Times (1881- on)
Archival Collection Online: Los Angeles Times (1881-1988)
Print: Latest in paper, older issues in the Microfilm Collection F-2
Current issues: ProQuest Direct

New York Times (1851-on)
Archival Collection Online: New York Times Historical Collection (1851-2008)
Print: Latest in paper, older issues in the Microfilm Collection F-3. NON-CSUSM users--You can use the NYT archives search to access free full text (prior to 1923) or use the citation information to access the article in our microfilm collection.
Current issues: ProQuest Direct

San Diego Union Tribune (1871-on) Note this title has changed several times over the years.
Archival Collection Online: 1872-1983  San Diego Union Newspaper Archive 
Print: Latest in paper, older issues in the Microfilm Collection F-1
Current issues: from February 2, 1992 in ProQuest Direct

See also: Lower California Frontier: Articles from the San Diego Union, 1870, (book) edited by Florence C. Shipek located in 4th floor Stacks at F1246 .S2  V.2 This provides selected articles from the Union published in 1870 prior to the microfilm series.

North County Times (San Marcos city edition)
Print: Latest 2 months in paper
Business Office: 207 Pennsylvania Ave. Escondido, CA 92025    (760) 745-6611  

San Diego Voice and Viewpoint 
Print: Latest 2 months in paper
Business Office: 1729 N. Euclid Ave. San Diego, CA 92105   (619) 266-2233  

Wall Street Journal (1980-on)
Latest in paper, older issues in the Microfilm Collection F-4
Current issues: from 1984-on in ProQuest Direct

Irish Times
Microfilm Collection F-144 for years 1916-1988 (some gaps)
1995-on in ProQuest Direct or Factiva

Times (London)
Archival Collection Online: Times (London) digital archive 1785-1985

Collections (multiple titles in one resource)

Early American Newspapers
Microfilm Collection F-47

America's Historical Newspapers, (1690-1998

Ethnic NewsWatch 1992-current

America's Historical Newspapers (includes subsets that may be searched individually)

Online with free full text

Older California newspapers are available in the  California Digital Newspaper Collection. Titles include The Californian (first California newspaper in 1846) and regional titles. 

Chronicling America at the Library of Congress is the clearing house for the National Digital Newspaper Program. The California Digital Newspaper Project is a part of this nation-wide effort.

Penn State's Historical Newspapers Online is a very comprehensive and detailed listing of full-text historical US newspapers.

News Archives for US papers is an assortment of papers and sources for browsing

Elephind provides a list of a number of large free access digitized newspaper collections.

Foreign Newspaper Archives (examples)

Mexico Hemeroteca Nacional Digital de Mexico 1722-2006 (note, not all are available open access and all materials are in Spanish)

Ireland Belfast Newsletter Index 1737-1800 An index to the early years of the oldest continually-published English-language newspaper.

Canada Saskatchewan News Index 1884-2000 Index to newspapers from the region. A limited number of full-text articles are also available.

Australia TROVE: Digitised Newspapers and More

Focused Interest Archives (examples)

Union List of Digitized Jewish Historic Newspapers, Periodical and E-journals 1811-2018 with the bulk of titles early 20th Century,  many titles are in German or other non-English languages and some titles listed are accessed only through subscription.

Catholic News Archive 1831-1978

Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection -- Japanese Diaspora Initiative 1891-1938, titles in English and Japanese, published in Hawai'i and the Americas. 

Full Text Print (Local availability)


The major universities in San Diego County all have historical newspaper collections. Titles and date ranges can be browsed through their online catalogs or the joint catalog system, CIRCUIT.

Public Libraries

San Diego County Library System AND San Diego Public Library have historical newspaper collections. Titles and date ranges can be browsed through their online catalogs or the joint catalog system, CIRCUIT.

Check city libraries (Carlsbad, Oceanside, etc.) as they are not members of the county or SD Public system, so have separate online catalogs.

Historical Societies

San Diego History Center has a list of titles with larger runs. An article from the Journal of San Diego History at discusses historical newspapers and their use.



Indexes do not provide full-text to the articles, but act as a directory to tell you when an article was written addressing your research topic. Even weekly newspapers have so many different articles is one issue and cover so many topics in one issue, it is difficult to locate the desired information unless you have a specific citation. Indexes provide a faster means to your information goal as opposed to guessing at a date and browsing the issues.

Some papers have print or digital indexes. Please refer to the guide for Newspapers for more information or consult the librarian.


Need Help?

Judith A. Downie

Special Collections and History Librarian
Judith A. Downie
760-750-4374 OR 760-750-4312 (Archives)
Office Location: 
KEL 5010
Office Hours: 
By Appointment