Getting Started

Getting Started

HIST 350 - Getting Started - Riggs

You have a lot of freedom in choice of topic, but that can be overwhelming. These pages are to help you to identify a Chican@ history topic that will have plenty of relevant sources...and find them with the least amount of time and effort.


You have been given guidelines to locate and analyze historical evidence from three different categories:. These categories determine where to start your search: 

1) Visual primary source (art, photograph, map, object)

2) Textual primary source (diary, newspaper article, oral history transcript)

3) Textual secondary source (article written by a specialist scholar that meets your professor's criteria)


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! (yes, that was deliberate.)

Primary sources are textual or physical items created AT THE TIME of the event or era.

Secondary sources are articles and books that examine a number of primary works to create an argument and text. The author may also discuss other secondary writings, but generally depends on primary sources. Secondary sources are written years AFTER the event or time period and through social lenses and biases that may be very different from the era being discussed. Check the sources used to make sure the source material was primary sources so not a re-hash of secondary work.

Ask yourself: What is available to me to inform and support my research? If you cannot find enough primary evidence due to issues such as access, 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, are there bibliographies and appendices to 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. An additional tool to help you with word use is the Oxford English Dictionary, found in the CSUSM Databases collection. Collect alternate phrases that can help uncover additional materials.


Do not wait to start!

Collect your research in print or electronic format. After finding a few pieces, start sorting into categories or topic collections. Collect several items in each category. Once you know more about your topic, you will be able to pick the best of each category to complete the assignment.

Primary Sources

Primary Sources

HIST 350 - Primary Sources - Riggs

For a comprehensive list of databases with primary source content, from the Library home page, click on Databases by Subject>HIstory>Primary Sources.

Many institutions have primary document, image and object collections. These can be museums, historical societies, universities, corporations, government agencies with various physical and digital collections. They may be very user-friendly with free-acces collections or have strict access rules which require payment. There are even well-informed serious collector/hobbyists who have gone to the trouble to digitize materials for sharing. Do not be surprised at the variety! 

Part of using any material from any source is ethical use. Do not set yourself up for a letter from a lawyer for copyright infringement or an expensive invoice or worst of all, a failing grade. Do not assume that because it is on the internet or wherever you found it that is is available for use. Always ask and always cite your sources. When in doubt, ASK! 

Beyond the resources in the Primary Sources database list, there are many, many, many choices for other primary materials. Here is a brief customized list of possible websites for free educational use (but cite your sources!)

Online Archive of California--documents and images from a wide variety of institutions. Not all is available digitallly.

Calisphere--curated collection of images hosted by the University of California gathered from a wide variety of California historical and cultural institutions.

Historic Mexican and Mexican-American Press--Hosted by University of Arizona, these Spanish-language newspapers include several published along the border region outside of California.

Chicana and Chicano Studies in Library Special Collections--a mix of materials held at UCLA. 

Internet Archive--Something of a mix of materials: Images, sound files, documents assembled by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Newspapers--US English and Spanish language publications along with many others can be located through this list.

Farmworker Movement Archive--held at UCSD, more than Chavez and the UFW.







Secondary Sources - Books

Secondary Sources - Books

HIST 350 - Books - Riggs

Books in the CSUSM collection are generally scholarly secondary sources but can provide access or leads to primary sources as well. For this assignment, you can use articles or a book chapter or selection from an anthology. Anthologies are books with a number of different scholars contributing different chapters.

To find a book:

  1. Choose BOOKS & MORE tab on the library main page as your search option.
  2. Type words into the search box that appropriately describe your topic (one to two words is best)
  3. If you get more than 20 hits, use some limiters to reduce the number of items to browse (books only, date published, language are all useful ways to limit the list) 
  4. Examine the results list.
  5. Open a title that sounds relevant and review the contents description. If the book is in chapters or an anthology, each chapter/contribution should be noted.
  6. Books may be in hard copy for check out or e-book format to read online.

Taking the search further:

  1. If you find a useful book, look at the subject headings to find more relevant titles.
  2. Click on any one of the subject headings and the search results will be all works with this tag.
  3. Need even more? Try other terms that also describe your topic.

Note: Subject heading searches can be repeated in  CSU+, WorldCat and LCSH-friendly databases like Project Muse.

SECONDARY SOURCE EXAMPLE (looking for 'zoot suit')

PRIMARY SOURCE EXAMPLE (note in Contents list a number of primary source items)


Secondary Sources - Articles

Secondary Sources - Articles

HIST 350 - Articles - Riggs

Complementary to, but certainly not your only source, are articles from scholarly journals. These will be secondary sources but may point you to primary source materials in the references. We have a number of dfferent tools to ferret out articles, some are more user-friendly than others.

I recommend going to the history-specific databases first, then expanding your search to broader tools. Why wade through a lot of irrelevant items when you are doing a search with a specific disciplinary focus?

Most of the databases are full text with a full text or pdf link in the record. If not, you will have two options for accessing free full text from the article's record:  

1) Use the GET IT link that you will see in the record. This will take a few days to arrive but you will get an email alerting you to log into your library account to access the article.

2) Use the OPEN ACCESS link to see if the author loaded a print to their institution's server. This is becoming a common practice in scholarly circles but it may not look exactly like the published article.

Here are the best databases to start your history research:

America HIstory and Life
History of the US, Canada and Mexico. there is topic overlap with Historical Abstracts, but this is the one to use when searching Mexican-American/Chican@ history. This database was designed by historians for historians and provides the marvelous "Time period" limiter not found elsewhere.

Historical Abstracts
History of the rest of the world outside North America. This database was designed by historians for historians and provides the marvelous "Time period" limiter not found elsewhere.

ProQuest - History
While not as comprehensive as HA, it does offer additional materials.

General collection, but good scholarly content, with extensive archives. 

Project Muse
General collection, but good scholarly content.

Dependent on your topic, there may be additional subject- or interest-specific databases such as the Military & Government Collection.


Image Resources

Image Resources

HIST 350 - Visual Resources

You need to locate at least one primary source image. The image may be a photograph, artwork, map or other item that transmitts its content mostly without words.

The standards which you need to apply to what you find are:

1) Relevancy

2) Context

3) Attributable

4) Quality (high-resolution)

The internet is a fine place to start, but much of your results will not meet the standards listed here. Be prepared to dig a bit to get appropriate materials.

Example 1:

Search Google for "zoot suit" and limit the results to IMAGES. Much of what returns are Halloween costumes (not useful.)

Read the URL given with each image and follow better quality links to the original source site. Lots of hits are hosted on Pintrest which will not take to you the original hosting site which is what you MUST have.

Example 2:

Search Google for "zoot suit" and add a domain limiter command. This is the phrase site:_____ where you fill in the blank with a quality domain.

  • site:edu will return results only from universities, such as digitized special collections
  • site:org will return results mostly from archives, museums and history organizations (but it also includes wikipedia, don't go there.)
  • site:mil will return results from US military sources

Example 3:

Search a specific site such as Library of Congress, the Internet Archive or LIfe magazine.

Searching Life is a special case but not difficult once you know how. Use Google Books to start...

Search for Life Magazine and click on any issue in the results


1) Replace 'life magazine' with your search term (I used zoot here)

2) Check the box to 'search all issues'

if there are too many results, you can add additional or different terms to your search, be sure to check 'search all issues' again  



Citing and Managing Resources

Citing and Managing Resources

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".

Need Help?

Judith A. Downie

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