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Recognizing scholarly sources

Being able to recognize scholarly sources is particularly important - and sometimes challenging - in the discipline of History due to its broad popularlity and the vast amount of publication in the field. 

Your task: Quickly skim the sources listed below. Are they scholarly? Why or why not?

1. Give Them Their Due: A Reassessment of African Americans and Union Military Service in Florida during the Civil War

This source seems scholarly, I'd use it.: 28 votes (87.5%)
This source doesn't seem so scholarly, I wouldn't use it.: 4 votes (12.5%)
Total Votes: 32
This source seems scholarly, I'd use it.: 7 votes (25%)
This source doesn't seem so scholarly, I wouldn't use it.: 21 votes (75%)
Total Votes: 28
This source seems scholarly, I'd use it.: 21 votes (61.76%)
This source doesn't seem so scholarly, I wouldn't use it.: 13 votes (38.24%)
Total Votes: 34
This source seems scholarly, I'd use it.: 24 votes (80%)
This source doesn't seem so scholarly, I wouldn't use it.: 6 votes (20%)
Total Votes: 30

Background reading for key facts & documents

Doing some background reading in a secondary source can often help you identify or narrow a research topic, and gather basic details about an  issue (key dates, places, people and events) to inform your understanding and search for more information, including primary sources.

With your neighbour, skim this article about the American Revolution.

  • What type of source is it?
  • What types of information does it provide that might help you if you planned to write about this part of U.S. history?
  • What can you learn from this source about potential primary sources related to the American Revolution - either general types of primary sources you might look for, or specific primary documents?
  • At what point in your research might this type of source be helpful?

Find books & journal articles in LibrarySearch

Use the MRU LibrarySearch tool - the search box on the library homepage - to find information in all formats (including books, journal articles, and films) simultaneously.

Improve your results 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 search terms in the subject or title fields on the drop-down menus.
  • refining results to only peer-reviewed sources (searches only within scholarly journals)
  • 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? 

America History and Life is a database dedicated to journals related to North American history.

Try the Advanced Search, where you can:

  • Limit searches by the historical time period discussed in the articles
  • Search for terms in the title, subject or abstract of articles
  • Exclude book review results or results in languages you are unable to read

Primary Sources

Types of primary sources

Official documents (e.g., laws, government and legal records): The Stamp Act

Personal accounts (e.g., letters, diaries, memoirs): Narratives of the Life of Moses Grandy

Newspapers and other published works: Boston, Dec 16, 1773

Where and how to find primary sources
  • Browse the Primary Sources for US History tab of this research guide for an excellent list of primary source collections.

  • Try LibrarySearch:

    • ​​add the term sources to your search words, which narrows a search to primary documents. 
      For example: American Revolution sources.

    • or try specific terms such as correspondence, diaries, speeches

  • Try searching Google. Along with your topic words, include a term that might be used to describe an online primary source collection, such as: "primary sources," sources, documents, "primary documents"

  • Once inside a primary source collection, search using terms that would have been used in the historical period you are studying. For example: Boston Griffins Wharf vs. Boston Tea Party, Negro vs. African American.

  • Limit search results to a specific date range when you have the option to do so.

  • No idea where to start? Try a historical newspaper or government document collection - they will support most topics. 

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.

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

Alice Swabey's picture
Alice Swabey
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