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Secondary Sources: Books

Books are often the best starting point for studying a historical topic that is new to you.

  • They will address multiple aspects of a large topic, for example, discussing the broader historical context of an issue or event in one chapter, with chapters on specific aspects of the issue, or a chapter on key historical figures in another chapter.
  • Looking at the chapters in a book on a topic that interests you is a great way to narrow a research topic too. 
  • If you come from an academic field that publishes its research mostly in the form of journal articles, it is important to know that in the discipline of History, books are an important form of scholarly publication and dissemination and should not be overlooked.

LibrarySearch is the best way to find print and electronic books at MRU.

librarysearch quotes truncation canadian history

LibrarySearch isn't searching within the books themselves, so you may find additional sources by searching more broadly for the issue or time period into which your topic might fall (e.g., searching for "popular culture" Canada history if a search for television Canada history was unsuccessful). Within those books, look at the chapter headings or check the index to see if your narrower topic of television is discussed.

Basic Tips
  • Try putting important phrases inside quotes, to keep the words together, e.g., "social gospel"
  • To search for all possible endings of a word stem, add an asterisk e.g., Canad*
  • Limit your search to books by selecting Resource Type - Books from the options on the right

Image of limit by resource type in LibrarySearch. The option for books is highlighted.

  • Make sure that the book you have chosen takes a scholarly approach to the topic. These means that the book is written by an expert in the field (e.g. a Professor of History or closely related field; Google if it is unclear) who cites the source material they used throughout the boo (so look for evidence of notes or a bibliography). Typically, these books are published by university presses (e.g. Oxford University Press) or publishers who specialize in academic publishing (e.g. Routledge, Wiley, Bloomsbury, Basic, ABC-Clio; Google if it is unclear)


Pro Tip #1

For some topics, it can be difficult to find books about the Canadian historical context. Canadian history is a relatively small area of study compared to British or American history. If adding the search term Canada to your search words doesn't seem to narrow things down, limit your search by selecting Subject from the options on the right side, then choose Canada (or another relevant subject tag) from the list of options.

Pro Tip #2

To improve the relevance of search results, use the drop down menus under the search box. Try searching for your keywords in the subject or title of results. For even more ways to improve your search, try the drop-down menus on the advanced search screen.


Pro Tip #3

Did you know you can lock your filters in place in Library Search? Hover your cursor over the limit and click to look it in place. Now, even if you change your search terms, the limit will stay in place.

Image of option to lock in a filter. Cursor is hovering over the limit and image of lock appears.

Secondary Sources: Journal Articles

Finding & Recognizing Journal Articles

You can start your search for journal articles using LibrarySearch - which is the Books, Articles and More search box on the MRU Library. If you find yourself overwhelmed with results there, you can try some of the following journal article databases which search fewer, but potentially more relevant, journals.

Use the same strategies you used to find scholarly books - broaden and narrow your search by revising your keywords and use the available filters. 

Not sure if your source is a scholarly article? They typically have the following characteristics:

Be aware of these popular, non-scholarly history magazines with a lot of Canadian content

  • Canada's History is a well known, popular history magazine that includes articles about many, many of the topics covered in this course. Though it may be informative as you try to choose or narrow down a topic for an essay, it is not a scholarly source and is generally not appropriate for academic use.
  • Example of a non-scholarly/popular article from Canada's History: "1918 - Year of the Conscript"
  • Other popular, non-scholarly magazines to be aware of:
    • The Beaver - the former name of Canada's History
    • History Magazine
    • History Today
  • Or look for these indicators of popular, non-scholarly publications
    • articles are short (less than 10-12 pages)
    • very few or no footnotes or references
    • may include many images
    • author is usually but not always unaffiliated with any university or college 


Journal Article Databases For History

America History & Life - Important article database for Canadian and US history. Start here when if you need a history specific tool for Canadian history.

Pro Tips for America History & Life
  • Use the advanced search screen to improve the relevance of results - try searching for a term only in the subject tags or in the abstract, or search for Canada in the geographic terms
  • Use the advance search to limit results to a specific historical time period 
  • Watch the short video below for how to do this and for more tips - 

More Advice for Finding and Recognizing Scholarly Sources for History

This video explains how to recognize scholarly sources in History, and how to use LibrarySearch to find them.

Recognising and finding scholarly sources 10:00 min
Skip straight to using MRU LibrarySearch: 3:33

Primary Sources

Types of Primary Sources Related to the History of Home, Work and Play in Canada


Advice on Finding Historical Primary Sources 

Search Tips for Finding Primary Sources
  • Try LibrarySearch: Add the term sources to other relevant search terms to find primary sources available via the MRU Library.
  • Try Google: Add "primary sources" or "primary documents" to a Google search.
  • When searching WITHIN electronic primary source collection (for example, within any of the collections listed earlier on this page), use terminology common to the historical period you are researching, rather than the modern terms. E.g “Great War” versus "World War I," or  “Dominion Day” versus “Canada Day.” This also applies to terminology relating to racialized groups. 
  • Limit your search to relevant dates when you have the option to do.

Primary Source Collections Related to this Course

The following collections are good starting points for finding documents related to this course. For a more exhaustive list of Canadian primary source collections, visit the Primary Sources for Canadian History tab of this research guide. 

​Canadiana Online: Includes early government documents/legislation, some early newspapers, religious tracts, early women's magazines, and special interest group publications of various kinds (e.g., WCTU). Best for topics up to the early 20th century. 

Historical newspapers: Newspapers are an accessible form of primary source for those new to this type of research. MRU provides access to numerous papers, including some dating back to the mid-19th century (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail) and earlier.

Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada (Hansard): Includes all verbatim accounts of all debates of the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons from the first session in 1867 to 1994 (House of Commons) and 1996 (Senate). 

Peel's Prairie Provinces: Documents the settlement and development of the Canadian West, with a focus on Alberta, and dating back to the earliest days of exploration in the region. A good source of political and special interest related tracts and pamphlets (e.g. Social Credit). 

University of Calgary Digital Collections - Includes useful sources on the history of  Alberta, including early newspapers, legal history and a local history book collection. For best results, limit your search to only the most relevant collections for your topic. 


More Advice on Historical Primary Sources

Video Chapters
1:42 - General tips for finding primary sources
4:03 - Finding primary sources in MRU LibrarySearch
5:29 - Finding primary sources via Google
6:55 - Finding primary sources via MRU History Guide, including historical newspapers


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Alice Swabey
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