LOOP » Research by Discipline » History

Background Information and Getting Started | Primary & Secondary Sources | Scholarly Information & Peer Review | Searching for Books | Searching for Articles | Finding Articles | Reading Articles | Citing Your Sources | Off-Campus Access | RefWorks | Asking for Help |

Things to Remember!

Contact Prof. Helen Georgas,
your History Librarian, for help!



Background Information and Getting Started

A really great way to start researching a new topic is by getting an overview or in-depth background information.  Some good sources for this include:

One of the (many) great things about reference works in history is that they often include references to primary sources.

Primary & Secondary Sources

Students will need to use both primary and secondary sources when conducting research on historical topics.  Primary sources provide firsthand evidence of historical events. They are generally unpublished materials such as manuscripts, letters, photographs, maps, artifacts, audio and video recordings, oral histories, postcards, and posters. In some instances, published materials can also be considered primary sources, such as newspapers articles written during the time period being studied.  In contrast, secondary sources, such as textbooks and journal articles, synthesize and interpret primary materials.

One of the best ways to locate primary sources is via secondary sources.  Primary sources, or excerpts from primary sources, may be reprinted and/or cited in secondary sources such as books and journal articles.  This is an excellent way to determine which primary sources will be most relevant for the research topic you are studying.  Primary sources may also be located via the following:

Scholarly Information & Peer Review

Scholarly information is based in scholarship and research, and is produced by the scholars or experts in a particular field.  Much scholarly material that is published in books and academic journals goes through the peer-review process in which a manuscript is reviewed by independent researchers (referees or peer-reviewers) to evaluate the contribution for authority and accuracy.  You can read more about the difference between scholarly journals, popular or opinion magazines and trade publications here.

Searching for Books

Use the library catalog to search for books at all CUNY libraries.  If our copy of a book is checked out, you can have it delivered from another CUNY school by clicking the Request a Copy button.

Basic Search Types in the Catalog  (Click on Advanced Search for advanced search options.)

All Fields
Search for your terms in the subject, title and author fields.
e.g.  “New York” and “Dutch colony” Tip:  Connect two or more keywords with and.
e.g.  “New Amsterdam” and trade
e.g.   Gotham and Burrows   Tip:  Find books with title and author as key terms.
                                          Tip: Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase.

Title begins with...            
Use when you know the exact title of a book.
e.g. park and the people: a history of central park
e.g. (not the park and the people: a history of central park) Tip: Do not use initial articles (a, an, the, la, les, etc.).
e.g. island at the center of the world.    Tip: Type just the first words of a title, e.g. this search returns: Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

Author, last name first...                            
Use when you do not have a book title, or you want to find other books written by an author.
e.g.  burrows edwin                          Tip: Always type the author’s last name first.               
e.g.  mccollough david               
e.g.  New York Community Trust

Subject begins with...        
Search the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) for your topic.  
e.g. New York (N.Y.)—history
e.g. New York—history—colonial period
e.g. irving washington Tip: Use subject if you are looking for books about an individual’s work. Tip: If you do not know the exact subject heading, try keyword subject or ask a librarian.                       

Keyword title   
Search for your terms anywhere in the title. Placing quotes around key terms in the title of a item can help you locate it in the catalog.

“new amsterdam”                            
e.g. Brooklyn                        
e.g. “central park”
                                                      Tip: Use when you don’t know the exact title.   

Keyword subject
Search for your terms anywhere in the subject field.
e.g. “prospect park”
e.g. “lower east side”                           
e.g. “brooklyn bridge”
                                                Tip: Use when you don’t know what the subject terms are.   

Searching for Articles

The best way to find published, scholarly articles on your topic is to use an article database, which allows you to search across a range of journals and determine which journal (and volume and issue) published an article on your topic.  Some databases are multi-disciplinary (such as Academic Search Complete) and cover journals in many fields (history being one of them), while others are subject-specific (such as America: History & Life and Historical Abstracts) and only cover journals in history.

Choosing a Database
The following are subject-specific databases for finding articles on history-related topics. 

The following are multi-disciplinary databases, but include some coverage of history-related articles:

Search Tips for Library Databases

Consider Your Topic

Having a clear, well-defined topic for your research is essential.   As you think about your topic, consider its components and then identify the appropriate language to address each of those components.


Historical Topic


Historical Event(s)

The United States

New York City






Southeast Asia




Civil Rights Movement



African- Americans


The Civil War (United States)

The American Revolution

The French Revolution

The Second Sudanese Civil War

Hurricane Katrina

The Great Depression

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Consider Your Keywords

Consider all of the possible keywords related to your topic.  This is important because there may be more than one term that means the same thing, or something very similar.  For example:

African Americans  or  blacks

American Indians or Native Americans

Women or gender

Combine Keywords

Once you identify the keywords that are relevant to your research question, put them together using Boolean operators:

AND: to link keywords together

OR: to account for synonyms and related terms

Tip: when using OR, make sure to put this part of your search in parentheses

NOT: to exclude certain search terms

For example, if your research question is “how did the policy of Massive Resistance affect the public school systems in Virginia after the Brown v. Board of Education decision?” your keywords might be:

Brown v. Board of Education

Massive Resistance


Public schools

Public education

And your search might look like this:

Brown AND “board of education" AND “massive resistance” AND Virginia AND (“public schools” OR “public education”)

Consider Your Results

Once you do a search in a database, look at the results – are they what you expected? 

Remember – research is complex and can sometimes be frustrating!  Try to approach it as an opportunity to learn – and don’t expect to find everything you want right away!

Consider Descriptors (controlled vocabulary)

Many databases use specific terms called descriptors that are assigned to articles on that topic (similar to subject headings).  Once you know the descriptors it can make it much easier to access all articles about that topic. Look for the descriptors in the database results, after you’ve tried an initial keyword search.


Finding Articles

Full Text in an Article Database
Some databases provide the full text of some or all articles.  If available, you can most likely download, print or email the article right then and there. Look for the words PDF, PDF Full Text, HTML Full Text, or Linked Full Text somewhere around the citation to the article.

Locating Full Text via FindIt@CUNY Button
If you identify an article where full text is not available, try the Findit@CUNY Button.  FindIt@CUNY opens a new window, and indicates if your article is available full text in another database that the Brooklyn College Library subscribes to. If it is, simply click the “Full Text Online” link to access the full text.  If it is not available full text online, one of the options is to search the catalog to see whether the Library has it in print and/or to request the article via Interlibrary Loan.

Identify Full Text Online Journals via the E-Journals Finder
The E-Journals tab will enable you to determine whether the Library subscribes to a particular journal online e.g. Early American Studies.
First: Click on the E-Journals tab on the Library’s home page.
Second:  Do a title search for your journal title in the Search for e-journal by title search box.  If we do have an online subscription, then you can link directly to it by clicking on the database provided.  Note that years of coverage differ among databases, so check your citation.

Identify Print Journals in the Library Catalog
Go to the Library Catalog Journal Title Search module search for "Journal Titles” in the CUNY system.
Second:  Do a Title begins with search for your journal title in the catalog.  If we do have a subscription, click on Brooklyn to make sure we have the issue you need. 

Find Full Text Online with a Web Search
Search Engines:
You can try searching for your article in your favorite search engine:  Google, Bing, etc. — you never know!  However, in many cases the full text is only available for a fee.  Be sure to check the library’s holdings before you pay for any articles!
Search Tip: Put the article title in “quotes” so it is searched as a phrase.  Try adding the author’s last name.
Results Tip: You may be able to locate an article, but it may not be free.  Consider the other options, including Interlibrary Loan, before paying.

Google Scholar: Google’s tool for searching scholarly literature usually returns an assortment of citations, links to abstracts, and links to full text. While many full text articles it links to are NOT free, Brooklyn College is part of the “Library Links” program that will link you to full text we subscribe to — so be sure to turn on library links in Scholar Preferences and link to Google Scholar from the library’s website so you are authenticated.

Can’t Find Your Article?  Here are a few things you can do:

Ask a Librarian for help.  In person at the Reference Desk (1st floor); Via telephone at (718) 951-5628; Via Chat Reference

Check to see if another CUNY or NYC library has the journal you’re looking for, and then go get it.  The library catalog will show you journal holdings at other CUNY schools.  You can then visit the CUNY school where you article is located.  Remember to bring your Brooklyn College Identification Card if you visit another CUNY school’s library.  You can also check the catalogs at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library.

Request the article via Interlibrary Loan.  Stop by the Reference Desk on the 1st floor for more information, or fill out the form online. Just remember that an ILL request for a journal article can take some time (although it’s often available within a few days)—so this won’t work if you need it immediately.  And be sure to check the Brooklyn College Library’s holdings first!

Access resources through Academic Libraries of Brooklyn (ALB). The Academic Libraries of Brooklyn (ALB) is a consortium of eight academic libraries in Brooklyn.  This cooperative program allows students, faculty and staff of any ALB member library to use the resources of the other member libraries, including reading and borrowing privileges.  You need a current Brooklyn College ID and an ALB card to gain access to ALB member libraries.  To obtain a card, consult a librarian at the Reference Desk.

Access resources through METRO. The Brooklyn College Library belongs to METRO, a New York regional cooperative with over 250 member libraries.  For a membership directory, click here.  Thanks to METRO, the Brooklyn College Library can provide you with occasional on-site access to these collections when your research requires it.  A METRO card referral is issued by a reference librarian for the use, at a private university such as NYU or Columbia, of a specific book or journal that is not attainable at CUNY, through ILL, or in the public library.  Under another METRO agreement, under very special circumstances, a subject collection may be consulted for a short period.  A METRO referral does not allow the borrowing of the material.  For policies of individual libraries, please consult the library's web site.

Reading Articles

Structure of a scholarly article: Familiarity with the standard parts of an article, what the intent and purpose are of each, will make reading articles easier. This can be especially helpful for scanning an article to see if it is one you want to read more carefully.

Abstract – a summary of the purpose, methods and conclusions that can help you decide if the article is relevant to your research. 

Introduction – provides a general overview and background of the study.

Literature Search – a review of research in the area up to the time of the study, giving additional background information and placing the study in its scholarly context.

Materials and Methods – This part is an elaboration of the procedures undertaken from start to finish, focus of the study, and how data are collected and organized to complete the experiment. 

Results – a presentation of data gathered in the study, usually with some analysis.

Discussion – the author’s interpretation of the results of the study and the conclusions they draw from them.

References – listing of journal articles and other sources referred to by the author in preparing for the study.  The references can be an extremely useful way to find additional sources for your own research.

Helpful resources for learning how to read scholarly articles more effectively are:

Short video from Purdue University Libraries

Short PDF paper from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Citing Your Sources

In scholarly writing, we are continually engaged with other people’s ideas: we read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class, and incorporate them into our own writing. As a result, it is very important that we give credit where it is due. Plagiarism is using others’ ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use:

adapted from: Indiana University Writing Tutorial Services http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml

Citation Help: For more on how to write, and cite your sources, try the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or the excellent Research and Documentation Online.

Off-Campus Access

To use subscription resources from the Brooklyn College Library while off-campus you must authenticate (i.e. log in) using your BC email username and password.  When you are off campus and select any licensed electronic resource you will be presented with an authentication page requesting your login.

Students may obtain their BC email ID and password from within BC WebCentral.

Students can get their Brooklyn College student email username and password online at the BC WebCentral Portal <http://portal.brooklyn.edu/>. Clicking on the "My Info" tab, you will find your student email ID. 

  • Student email IDs assigned Summer 2014 or later are your CUNYFirst user ID followed by @bcacad.local, like this: joe.doe01@bcacad.local.
  • Student email IDs assigned before Summer 2014 are made up of 2 letters and 4 numbers
    (e.g. BC1234).

Your authentication password is your BC email password, which depends on when you enrolled at BC:

  • If you enrolled in the college starting Summer 2014 or later, your password is the month and day of your birthday plus the last 5 digits of your CUNYFirst EmpID. The format is MMDDEEEEE.
  • If you enrolled in the college starting Summer 2008 or later, your email password is the month and day of your birthday plus the last 5 digits of your Student ID number (SSN). The format is MMDDSSSSS.
  • If you enrolled in the college in Spring 2008 or earlier, your email password is your full 9-digit Student ID (SSN).

For more detailed instructions, please see the WebCentral Help page on accessing your email information.

Faculty and staff members use their BC email information to authenticate themselves.

For faculty and staff who do not have a Brooklyn College email account, an application may be downloaded at: http://infotech.brooklyn.cuny.edu/pdf/emailapp.pdf. You may download the Adobe Acrobat Reader for free at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.

In the space provided, enter your BC email ID and password to access electronic databases from off-campus.

Problems with authentication should be reported to the ITS Help Desk. If you cannot get past the login screen for off-campus access to electronic resources, even if you know you're entering the correct BC email ID and password, you've probably been locked out of the EZ-Proxy server.  This is common if you attempt to log in unsuccessfully too many times.  In this situation, please contact the ITS Help Desk by calling (718) 677-6180 or emailing helpdesk@brooklyn.cuny.edu.  (Please note that the Help Desk's regular hours of operation are 9 AM to 5 PM on Mondays through Fridays.)


 RefWorks is an online tool that allows you to:

The first time you use RefWorks, you will need to set up an account (see below).

 Learn to Use RefWorks

Create a RefWorks Account

  1. Go to http://library.brooklyn.cuny.edu and click “Databases”
  2. Select “RefWorks” from the alphabetical list
  3. Click “Sign up for an Individual Account”
  4. Complete the New User Information Form:
    1. Enter your name
    2. Create a login name for yourself
    3. Create and confirm a password
    4. Enter your Brooklyn College email address
    5. Indicate if you are an undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty member, etc.
    6. Indicate your major
    7. Type the code you see on your screen
    8. Click “Register”

Note: You must use your Brooklyn College email address.  If you don’t know your BC email address, you can find it in BC WebCentral Portal (http://portal.brooklyn.edu/) by clicking on the “My Info” tab.  Also: If you copy and paste your BC email address from BC WebCentral Portal to the New User Information Form, make sure there are no extra spaces at the end of your address.  If there are extra spaces, delete them.

Asking for Help

Ask-a-Librarian online chat 24/7: Click to instantly chat with a reference librarian anytime, any day.

Reference Desk: You can always come to speak in person to any librarian at the Reference Desk during library open hours.  Or call the desk at 718-951-5628

Research Consultation: For in-depth research assistance, contact Prof. Helen Georgas, the History librarian, to set up an appointment.