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What is historiography?

Historiography, or "the writing of history," is the examination of how historians have studied a historical topic or event over time. Historiographical papers analyze how history on a topic has been written, including the methods, theories and sources different historians have used to study the same topic, and how they have influenced the conclusions drawn by these historians.

Example: Historiographical Essay: Recent Literature on Truman's Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground

Writing Historiography is an excellent overview of historiography that includes advice on structuring an historiographical essay, provided by the University of Guelph McClaughlin Library. 

Seed Documents & Strategies and types of sources to get your research started

​​​​​​Look for "seed documents" to introduce you to key authors, publications and historiography on your topic 

Footnotes and Citation Chaining

Follow the Citation Chain Backward: What research/authors informed your author?

  • Carefully study the the introduction of the text you have chosen. What sources and scholars are mentioned there? Look for mentions of key or important or seminal works in the field
  • Mine the footnotes and bibliography - what research is cited in these books/articles? Do the footnotes offer any helpful commentary?
  • Make note of key sources cited in the text, then look for them in LibrarySearch to see if MRU owns them

Follow the Citation Chain Forward: What research has been informed by your author/text?

  • Look in Google Scholar for "cited by" results for the titles you discovered above, then limit to more recent citations.
  • Pursue the citation trails in LibrarySearch to see what other texts a source has cited, and also who has cited it. Note that in LibrarySearch, this is possible only for journal articles, book results are not included. 

  • In the database Historical Abstracts, go to the Cited References button at the top of the screen. Enter your title and author name, then follow instructions for viewing cited articles.

Finding Review Articles & Historiographical Essays

MRU LibrarySearch
America History and Life is an important article database for the study of US history - try these tips for finding historiographical articles there:
  • Use the drop down menus to search for the word review article, review essay, historiography or literature review in the subject or abstract of articles, along with your topic search terms.
  • Try searching for variations of the terms historiography, historians, scholars, etc. in the abstract field, along with terms about your topic. This should also retrieve articles that discuss the work of previous scholars.
  • Try the various advanced search features of this database - for example, limiting search results by historical time period for a topic that spans a very wide time frame, or by geographic area.


History Compass is a history specific journal that publishes many historiographical essays.
Recent dissertations and theses: These can be valuable for their extensive literature reviews and bibliographies, and will often include historiographical discussions.

Accessing Items MRU Does Not Own

If our library does not have the journal or book chapter you need, you can request them through the InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service. The service is free, and the library will find the article for you at another university.

MRU Interlibrary Loan Service

or try Google Scholar. Make sure you have the Library Links settings configured to link you to MRU Library. 


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Alice Swabey
Drop-in help Mondays 12-2 at the Library Service Desk. Appointments available via Google Meet or in-person. Email help is also available.