Most historians publish their work in books. So, for many topics in
history, your best starting point is a good recent scholarly book. The
easiest way to find that book is to ask someone else who is
knowledgeable about your topic -- for example, your junior seminar
instructor or spring JP advisor. But a thorough search of the library
catalog is also essential. Here are some tips on finding books about
historical topics in the Princeton University Library Main Catalog.
- Identify the Library of Congress Subject Heading for your topic, and use it in a subject
search. You can look up LC Subject Headings in the big red books in the
Trustee Reading Room (and elsewhere in the library). You can also look
up a known book on your topic and check the long view for the subject headings assigned to that book.
- Use the word "history" as part of a keyword search.
- To find material about a person, an government agency, or an organization, search for it as a subject
- To limit your search results to English-language materials, "Set Limits" before searching.
- Didn't find enough? Expand your search in Worldcat to identify items not held by Princeton, then use Borrow Direct or Interlibrary loan to get the books you discover there.
Assessing what you find -- is this book worth your time?
- Who is the author? Is he/she associated with an academic institution?
- Who is the publisher? Most good history books are published by
academic presses, e.g. Princeton University Press or Oxford University
- When was the book published? Your first choice will probably
be a book published in the last ten years or so, because a recent book
will refer to all the previous work on your topic. But some older books
are still very valuable, so do not worry if the most recent book you
can find on your topic was published long ago.
- Does the book include the scholarly apparatus that will
enable you to verify the author's work? Look for footnotes or endnotes
plus a bibliography. A book with no notes or bibliography will not be helpful to you at this stage of your research.
Once you have a book in hand, read it. Alas, there are no shortcuts to this part of the research process.