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History 1100 - Sources Used in Historical Research

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are based completely on secondary sources and the research of others, rather than on primary sources or the author's original research. They pull together existing information on a particular issue or event, usually in an easy to read format, with the goal of synthesizing large amounts of information. They are often excellent starting points for research projects because they provide key facts, events and issues in an accessible format.

You can find them via the Background Sources tab of this research guide.


How to Find and Recognize Tertiary Sources for History 2:28 min.
Examples of academic tertiary sources: 


Evaluate: Be sure to evaluate to quality of tertiary sources carefully, paying close attention to the publisher or host of the information and their authority, as well as the intended audience. Look for tertiary sources published or hosted by academic organizations (e.g., university presses) and aimed at an advanced, preferably academic, audiences.

Scholarly Secondary Sources for History

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


Types of Scholarly Secondary Sources

Scholarly monographs: Book length scholarly works that discuss a single topic in depth, present original research, and are written by a single author (or occasionally co-authors). Monographs are great for offering both breadth and depth on a particular topic. 

Edited collections: Book length scholarly works that are organized by an editor(s), where each chapter is an essay written by a different person presenting their own research, and where the chapters offer different perspectives on a common academic theme. 

Scholarly journal articles: A shorter scholarly work (~10-30 pages) published in a single issue of a scholarly journal (which is published on an on-going basis). Journal articles tend to focus on a very narrow aspect of a larger topic.


Find: Use the MRU LibrarySearch tool - the search box on the library homepage to find at books and journal articles on your topic. 

Try limiting searches by:

  • using the sidebar options (e.g. limit results to only relevant subjects, or to preferred resource type, e.g., books)
  • using the advanced search to search for important terms in the subject or title fields on the drop-down menus.
  • refining results to only peer-reviewed sources (searches only within scholarly journals)
  • to find edited collections, try adding the term editor to your search
  • Sign in for enhanced results, to save "pinned" favourites lists and search queries.

Find Journal Articles in a History Database

Still looking for information or overwhelmed by LibrarySearch results? Use one of history-specific journal article databases on the ARTICLES tab of this guide. Recommended databases:

  • Historical Abstracts (for non-North American topics)
  • America History and Life (for American AND Canadian topics)​
How to use Historical Abstracts - University of Guelph video 2:07 min. You can apply all the advice given to both Historical Abstracts (world history) and America History & Life (Canadian and US history), since they function identically but search different content.

Historical Primary Sources

Primary Sources for History

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


Visit the Primary Sources tab of this guide for more advice and access to MRU's digital primary source collections. 



Call Numbers & Subject Headings

Call number: The address for a physical library item, so you can find it on the shelf. In MRU's LibrarySearch, it is displayed below the title of the book.

Subject heading: A tag used by libraries to describe what a book/article is about, and to group it with other items on the same topic. Subject headings use a controlled vocabulary shared by other libraries, to maintain consistency and make items easier to find. They can help improve your search terms, so look at them carefully. *Not all library items have subject headings.*


Chicago Style Citation

MRU Guide to Chicago Style Documentation: The expectation at MRU is that you use this online handout as your guide when using Chicago style.

How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography: Advice and short examples from Cornell University.

Annotated Bibliographies: Advice and examples from UCLA's History Department.

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