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History 2291 - Espionage in Film and History - Research Guide

What Types of Sources Might Inform Your Essay?

You may find it challenging to find and recognize the types of sources that can inform essays in a film history course. Some suggestions:

  • An historical analysis of your chosen film, like this one, is ideal - but is unlikely to exist for every film/topic

  • If you can’t find any academic discussion of your specific film, look for broader discussions of its issues/themes/events within the context of film, literature or popular culture in general, similar to this, OR separate from any discussion of film, as more traditional, historical discussions similar to this

  • Biographical information may be helpful if you are studying a film with a character from history. Look for scholarly biographies or specialized academic encyclopedias.

  • High quality film reviews like this one may be helpful in addition to the scholarly books and journal articles you find. Note the length and depth of this review, compared to a less appropriate, standard film review.


Starting Points for Espionage Research

The following reference books (specialized encyclopedias and other tertiary or background sources) are great starting points for getting an overview or helpful context on historical events, issues and individuals related to espionage in history:

Planning a good search strategy

  • Avoid long strings of words and/or sentence fragments when you search
    • Good search: espionage "motion pictures" history 
    • Poor search:  History of the depiction of espionage in the movies
  • Be flexible with your search terms, and substitute with synonyms or related terms, for example:
    • (espionage OR "military intelligence" OR counterintelligence OR spying)
    • (Film OR Cinema OR "Motion Pictures")
    • (World War II OR Second World War OR World War 1939 -1945)
  • If a search yields too few results, broaden or generalize your search terms
    • Specific search: women Mi6 "world war II"
    • Generalized search: women British espionage history

Finding Scholarly Books & Journal Articles

You will always find books, book chapters and  journal articles via LibrarySearch (the Books, articles and more  box on the library homepage)

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)
  • Sign in for enhanced results, to save "pinned" items and search queries.

Key point: Keep in mind that unlike many other disciplines, books are an important form of publication within the discipline of History. Along with providing information to help you write your paper, browsing book titles and chapter headings can often help in identifying or narrowing a research topic in the earlier stages of research.


Finding & Recognizing Scholarly Secondary Sources

Scholarly books and articles for History - what they are and how to find them in MRU's LibrarySearch 10:00 
Skip straight to Using LibrarySearch: 3:33



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. You will find fewer, but likely more relevant, results. Recommended databases:

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. Most of the advice will also apply to Masterfile Premier.

Notable Film Magazines

For high quality film reviews written by professional film critics - rather than short, journalistic reviews - watch for the following publications. You can also search directly within the magazines below.

Finding Films

Accessing Materials Beyond MRU Library

Related Subject Guide


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Alice Swabey
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