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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

History 425 -Spring 2015: HIS 425 Spring 2018

Quick guide for students by Ellen Sexton. esexton [at]

Spring 2018 class handout

Checklist for finding information:

  1. Have you pre-searched for background information in historical encyclopedias?There’s a partial list here and at 

  2. Searched for books with the OneSearch discovery tool set to search all of CUNY?   

  3. Searched for journal articles in Historical Abstracts or America History and Life?

  4. Searched for primary resources?   and    

Our History databases:   

Do look through this list!  Identify databases that may be helpful for your topic, and your time period.  Be adventurous - explore them! They included bibliographic indexes for discovering articles and other secondary texts, and digitized collections of primary resources.    Note especially the indexes American History and Life, and Historical Abstracts.  Which one is best for your research area?

America History and Life      Indexes journal articles on the history of the United States and Canada only. Topic coverage is from prehistory to the present.

 Historical Abstracts   Indexes journal articles that cover the history of the rest of the world (i.e. excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present.

Library of Congress classification: 

Browse the shelves! Many historians have stumbled across interesting books in this way, through the "serendipity of the stacks".  Encyclopedias are in the reference area on the upper floor, west end.    Monographs and other circulating books are on the upper floor, north side.  D   = world history.             D720 to 728 = period between WWI and WWII.  

DA = history of Great Britain     DD = history of Germany.   

DE  = Greco Roman world.         DS700 to DS799= history of China    

DS801 to 899 =history of Japan                E    history of the Americas, United States.

F = History of the Americas, Local history in the U.S.   South and Central America.

Choose your thesis topic wisely!     Choose a topic that is possible for you to research adequately in the time available, with the resources available.  If the only materials that can answer your question are located on the shelves of an archives far far away that you cannot get to, save the question for graduate school!   Before you commit to your research question, do some preliminary searches in the library discovery tool OneSearch, and in Historical Abstracts  /  America History and Life to get an idea as to what books and journal articles are available. 


Keep a research diary!

Save a few pages of your notebook to make notes of what databases you are searching, and what words you are using to compose your searches.    E.g.  I searched OneSearch using the words gold rush and Indians. I searched America History and Life using the words gold rush and genocide. ...   Look back over your notes every so often - perhaps you should go back and search that database again using new language?  Native Americans and gold rush?  California and Indians and history? Yana and massacre? .... 


Browse reference lists / bibliographies!

When looking at a book or article or website, notice if there is a list of references.  Scan through the list, picking out any that look useful.  The librarians can help you get to any items that you identify.  Our Inter Library Loan service can get books and articles for you from other libraries,  if you have the complete citation. (note: articles usually get to you in a day or two; books take weeks to arrive). 


Finding primary resources

See the library database list  and the library guide  for lists and commentary.

Videos - OneSearch will find video clips in our streaming video collections. N.b the databases American History in Video, and Films on Demand.  

Do an internet search; Wikipedia articles may link to museum/library/archives that may have digitized parts of some collections – look out for .org, .edu.. Be sure to read the “about us” website statement, which should tell you who is behind the project, and why they created it. Note there is likely to be more archival material that has not been digitized, that can only be consulted in person.

Worldcat  (OCLC)    A library database which is a “union catalog” containing records describing books and archival collections and their locations in libraries around the world.  On the library homepage, popular databases menu, at the end. Limit your search to archival materials.