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 knowledgable 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 New Catalog.
Once you have a book in hand, read it. Alas, there are no shortcuts to this part of the research process.
While books are very important, historians also publish their work in articles in academic journals. The easiest way to find journal articles is to search a bibliographic database that covers your topic. For easy access to all of Princeton's subscription databases, start from the library's Find Articles & Databases list. Most of these indexes are linked to full-text databases where possible. Use the "Findit@PUL" button to check for availability of full text.
Every historian needs to know about Historical Abstracts and America History & Life. These two databases cover US and world history comprehensively, except for ancient history. Get in the habit of checking one or both of them early in the research process for almost any topic in history. I like the "Advanced Search" feature that allows you to limit your search to material about a particular decade or century.
A few pitfalls to watch out for:
Caution: Most of these indexes are linked to full-text databases where possible, but keep in mind that many journals published before circa 1990 have not yet been digitized, so you will need to look for print editions of those journals in the Firestone stacks. Use the "Findit@PUL" button to check for availability of full text or the call number of the print edition of the journal.
No single subject heading will completely cover your topic, but here are some ideas for "Subject heading" searches:
Companion encyclopedia of the history of medicine. Edited by W.F. Bynum and Roy Porter. 1st paperback ed. London; New York: Routledge, 1997.
Firestone Stacks R133 .E5 1997
Reader’s guide to the history of science
London; Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000
Firestone Library - History Reference Q125 .R335 2000
Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non-western cultures
Berlin; New York: Springer, c2008.
General and Humanities Reference (DR) Q124.8 .E53 2008
Isis cumulative bibliography (1913-1995)
History of Science Grad. Study Room (SSS) Z7405.H6 I2
Cambridge history of science
In progress: thus far, vols. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 have been published.