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Recognizing Scholarly Sources in History

History is a topic with broad interest that extends beyond history scholars. For this reason, you must pay particular attention to the quality and audience of the sources you will use in your research. Look for substantial sources that clearly display indicators of scholarliness:

  • Authority: Who is responsible for the information? Written by a history scholar with an advanced academic credential, published by a reputable academic organization.
  • Process: What process did the information go through to be published? Scholarly sources are based on substantial original research (look for footnotes and bibliography), and be peer-reviewed.
  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the source? Scholarly sources are intended to inform academic experts. Look for specialized academic language, formal writing  and formatting.

Examples: Scholarly Sources

  • Scholarly history book - note the university publisher and the mention of bibliographic references.
  • Scholarly journal article - note the author affiliation, article length and style, footnotes and title of journal where article appears.

Examples: Non--scholarly sources that are generally not appropriate to cite in academic history writing:

  • Book review - note the book price, a clue that this is a review and not a scholarly article.
  • Magazine article - note the short length and that the author has no academic affiliation or credential listed. 
  • Website - note the absence of footnotes and that no individual author is listed; consider the intentions of the site host. 

Find Books & Articles Using LibrarySearch

LibrarySearch is the best starting point for finding books and articles at MRU

  • Within the search results, don't overlook items that seem broadly related to your topic. Look at the item descriptions and article abstracts, chapter headings of books, or do quick keyword searches of ebooks to see if your narrower or more specific topic discussed.
  • Put important phrases inside quotation marks e.g., "canadian pacific railroad" 
  • Put synonyms inside brackets to search for either one at the same time e.g., (automobiles OR cars) 

Pro Tip
For some topics, it can be difficult to find narrow a topic successfully via your search terms. Try limiting your search by selecting Subject from the options on the right side, then choose a relevant subject tag from the list of options.


Pro Tip
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.

History-Specific Journal Article Databases

If you find yourself overwhelmed with results in LibrarySearch you can try some of the following journal article databases which search fewer, but potentially more relevant, journals.

Use the same strategies you used in LibrarySearch, and be sure to use the advanced search options and filters to improve results.

Other Strategies for Finding Sources: Google Scholar, Citation Chaining and Interlibrary Loan

  • Google Scholar can sometimes be helpful in discovering journal articles, particularly on more obscure topics.
  • Make sure to adjust the settings in Google Scholar so it recognizes you go to MRU, and will therefore link to the full-text where available via MRU Library. Note that Google Scholar generally won't link to the full text of a book, though occasionally it will link to a excerpt or preview of a book.
  • Pay close attention to Google Scholar's "Cited By" references, which lead to a list of sources that have cited a particular source. They can be very helpful in leading to additional, relevant sources on a topic. This is known as citation chaining.

     google scholar cited by

Bibliography Mining and More on Citation Chaining

  • Make it a habit to skim footnotes and bibliographies for relevant primary and secondary sources, then try to track them down. 
  • Look for the citation chaining arrows in LibrarySearch, which lead to items cited within a source, and later sources that cite that source.

Business & Labour History Journals

Searching directly within a journal relevant to the topic can sometimes yield good results quickly. Here are a few relevant to this course:


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Alice Swabey
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