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HIS 400: Understanding Deviance: Science and the Construction of Normality in the Modern World [Fall 2017]

Finding books

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.

  • 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 Press.
  • 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.

Finding journal articles

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.

  • America: History and Life
    This database covers the history and culture of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present. It indexes scholarly articles in books and journals published from 1954 to the present.
  • Historical Abstracts
    This database covers world history, except for the US& Canada, from 1450 to the present. The coverage includes abstracts of journal articles, books and dissertations from 1960 onwards.
  • History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
    Indexes journal articles, conference proceedings, books, book reviews, and dissertations on the history of science and technology and allied fields. Coverage includes all languages in which these materials are published.
    Full text archive of core journals in select disciplines.

A few pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Resist the temptation to limit your search to JSTOR. JSTOR covers many important journals in history, but by no means all of them. And JSTOR does not include the most recent issues of most journals. AHL and HA link to JSTOR, so you can find links from articles indexed in AHL and HA to the full text in JSTOR.
  • Don't begin with the big general article databases like Omnifile, Proquest Research Library, or EBSCO Academic Search Premier. The coverage of historical journals in all of them is limited. Start with AHL or HA, then try the more general databases if you still don't have enough information.
  • Neither AHL nor HA covers ancient and medieval history. Please ask for help if you are working on a topic in those fields.
  • Besides databases for history, you may also need to consult databases for art, African-American Studies, law, literature, politics, or many other disciplines. Go to the Articles & Databases list on the library web page, and then use the "Subject" drop-down menu to select the databases for a particular field. The history lists are at but it is well worth exploring other databases, especially if you do not find what you need in AHL or HA.

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.

Subject heading tips

No single subject heading will completely cover your topic, but here are some ideas for "Subject heading" searches:

  • Repression (Psychology)
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Psychopharmacology--Sex differences
  • Homosexuality--France--History--20th century
  • Mental illness--Chemotherapy


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.

Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography  (Classical antiquity to modern times.)
Provides information on the history of science through articles on the professional lives of scientists.