John Q. Student History 100 October 14, 1987
Book Review of: Jules R. Benjamin
A Student's Guide to History St. Martin's Press, 4th ed., 1987
Benjamin's purpose, as stated in the preface, is to introduce students to the subject of history and to provide them with study and research skills. The author includes sections on such matters as "What History Can Tell You," "How to Read a History Assignment," "Avoiding Plagiarism," and "Organizing a Bibliography." These subjects and others are presented clearly and succinctly, often with examples. It does seem, however, that
Benjamin has only the beginning student in mind and thus explains some matters (such as how to answer an objective exam question) that seem to be matters of common sense.
The most valuable sections of the book are those entitled: "A Brief Journey into the Past" and "How to
Research Your Family History." In "A Brief Journey . . . " Benjamin makes clear how history surrounds us if we only know how to look for it. The section on family history is very useful to anyone conducting that kind of research. Nevertheless, the author could have given greater attention to this topic, despite the need to cover many other subjects.
Benjamin's point of view is consistently student oriented, attempting to fill study and research needs while still paying some attention to history as an intellectual field. Overall, the book is clearly of the "how to" variety. The discussion of the philosophy of history is very brief, and only passing mention is made of the field of historiography.
Perhaps the most successful part of the book is the long appendix: "Basic Reference Sources for History
Study and Research." Here the author lists dozens of different kinds of reference works (dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, biography collections, periodical guides) and page after page of bibliographies on specialized periods, areas, or topics in history.
The section devoted to bibliographies on "Asian Immigrant
and Ethnic History " was very helpful in finding books for a paper on "The Chinese in Nineteenth-Century■San Francisco." The list of sources in the appendix is very broad but seems to be most complete in Benjamin's own area of interest, which, according to the Directoryof American Scholars, is in modem United States history.
All in all, Benjamin has created a useful and interesting guide for history students. It enables the student to acquire a better understanding of the purpose of a history course and to get more out of it by using the skills discussed in A Student's Guide toHistory.
Here is another example of a book review, this time one written by a professional historian. This is the way it appeared in the book review section of a history journal.1
An Economic History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century.By Laura Randall. New York, Columbia University Press, 1978. Pp. 323. $21.90
Reviewed by Jonathan C. Brown Lecturer in History University of California, Los Angeles
Of the national economies of Latin America, that of Argentina is one of the more thoroughly researched. So why another book on the twentieth century Argentine economy? Laura Randall’s volume is not just another survey but a detailed exposition of the economic policies of the national government and their impact on the development process. Her analysis shows how the government’s policies in banking, agriculture, manufacturing, petroleum, and transport gradually have weaned the Argentine economy from its tum-of- the-century domination by British and foreign interests.Randall’s thesis is straightforward. Shifts in Argentina’s political control provoked change in the nation’s economic structure. Central to her argument is the theory of “alternate profit opportunities,’’ which explains the actions of Argentine investors according to their expectations of future profits. Randall concludes that the behavior of businessmen in Argentina often depended upon who was president. She argues that political policies in a number of areas have mitigated the effect of international determinants on Argentine economic growth. For instance, the Banco de la Nacion determines the supply of money and allocates credit according to government dictates. Thus, the government can and does use its leverage to influence the timing, size, and distribution of economic growth nationwide. This may not assure an even growth pattern, for political policies consistently have favored the province of Buenos Aires over the western and northern provinces of the country.
Growth of Argentina’s domestic manufacturing since World War I provides an apt case study of this increasing governmental direction of the economy. Desiring greater economic autarchy, Argentine policymakers have instituted a series of protective tariffs, tax incentives, and preferential credit arrangements that guaranteed high profits to domestic industrialists. Although President Juan Peron cannot be credited with originating the idea of industrial self-sufficiency, his economic planners in particular vigorously stimulated import-substitution industrialization. Thus, designated “national interest” industries grew three times faster than Argentine manufacturing as a whole between 1950 and 1955.
Randall’s analysis goes to the pith of an important issue: has Argentine economic development in this century been dependent upon foreign factors? She argues that it has not! She cites the decreasing size of foreign investment relative to total investment (from 17 per cent in the 1920s to 2 per cent recently) and the declining importance of exports to total GDP (from 25 per cent in the 1920s to 6 per cent in the 1970s). As further evidence, Randall measures the determinants of economic output in this century. Using regression equations and correlation coefficients, she finds that the variables of the presidency, fiscal policy, and government spending were more important to economic performance. “Foreign factors” such as export earnings, import expenditures, and foreign exchange proved quantitatively less significant.
Scholars will be hard pressed to ignore this important contribution to the understanding of Argentina’s economic development. The arguments are well documented and clearly presented. In addition, Randall’s analysis and statistical measures of the Argentine economy may serve as a model for the assessment of the political economies of other Latin American countries as well.
A short paper (about five to ten pages) is not truly a research project. It is more of a report or essay on a particular topic based on the reading of a half-dozen or so sources. A take-home essay exam is even shorter but is organized in essentially the same way. Many of the aspects of short papers and take-home essay exams, however, are themselves similar to the preparation of a longer research paper. (For the preparation of a research paper see chapters four and five.)
A short paper should combine a brief review of the works read in preparation for the paper with a longer development of a particular theme. The theme is the central focus of the paper, and all your references, arguments, and conclusions should be related to it. (For the development of a theme see pages 85-86.)
Before writing your paper, you should first go through the books you have read on the subject and list the most important factual or interpretive points that you wish to use in support of your theme. You can then arrange these points in some logical progression and write a paragraph or two explaining each point and showing its connection to and support of your general theme. These paragraphs (approximately three to six pages) are the core of your text. This core should be preceded by a one- or two-page introduction, the purpose of which is to explain your theme to the reader. The core should be followed by a one- or two-page conclusion, the purpose of which is to draw together and summarize the arguments that support your theme and explain the importance of the theme and its relationship to other important issues. (For more on organizing a paper see pages 86-87.)
When the rough draft is finished, revise any section that is poorly written, that fails to support your theme, or that wanders into other subjects. Check for spelling and grammar. Read it aloud, and, keeping your reader in mind, make sure your theme comes across clearly and forcefully.
The form of a short paper can vary greatly, and you should be guided by your instructor’s suggestions. If footnotes are required, one or two per page usually are sufficient, unless you are advised otherwise. In a short paper, footnote only direct quotations and especially controversial statements. (For rules regarding footnotes see pages 102-107.) In general, a short paper should not contain
lengthy quotations. (For rules regarding quotations see pages 107- 108.) Regardless of its size, however, a short paper should contain a bibliography. (For rules concerning bibliographies see pages 108-110.) A short paper or take-home essay should be carefully and neatly written. If possible, it should be typed double-spaced, with adequate margins on all sides. (For typing form see page 111.)
A common assignment for a short paper is the “thematic essay.” Although you may be given a choice (as with a longer research paper), the topic of a thematic essay is usually assigned. The topic is an important historical issue such as the effects of the French Revolution or the causes of the American Civil War. These issues commonly take the form of such questions as “Was American entry into World War I necessary?” and “Was the New Deal revolutionary or conservative?” The books or readings that form the basis of your research for this paper also are usually assigned. These works contain several selections—written from different points of view or using different historical evidence or methods—all of which deal with the central issue or question. When preparing a thematic essay, it is important to have the central historical issue clear in your mind and to be able to describe the major arguments and evidence of each selection in regard to that issue. (See pages 18-19 on how to carry out an assignment involving the use of such books.)chapter T How to Research a History Topic
In basic history courses, you may be called upon to do historical research. If you take advanced courses, you certainly will be called upon to do research papers. Whether you are preparing a short essay or book review or a long class presentation or term paper, you will need to know how to gather all the necessary materials and how to organize and analyze your information. This chapter will survey sources of historical information and will explain how to use these sources most profitably. The chapter also includes sections on how to record information and how to organize your notes.
Selecting a Topic
If you are given a choice of research topics, choose carefully. Doing research on a subject that does not interest you can be very boring. Try to select a topic about which you are genuinely curious. No matter what subject, person, or event you are interested
in, it has a history. Every subject can be studied backward in time because every event was caused by events that preceded it. A history research project can be made out of almost anything. Perhaps in the neighborhood where you grew up there was a very old building and you had always wondered about when it was built and what it was used for. Finding out what the neighborhood was like when that building was new can be an exciting search.
An ideal topic is not only one about which you are curious but one about which you already know something. Perhaps you read a book about Socrates and want to know more about why he was condemned to death; or perhaps you saw a movie about the Depression and want to know what it was like to live through it. Instructors are eager to help students who show a real interest in a topic. Your instructor can assist you in selecting a subject related to your interests that also suits the particular course you are taking.
Formulating Your Topic
Once you have chosen a general topic (the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, or the Reconstruction government of South Carolina), you should decide which specific aspect is most interesting to you, historically relevant, and most suitable to your limits of time and sources. You will not have time to properly develop a broad topic, and your sketchy treatment would not earn a satisfactory grade.
To pare down your topic to workable size, ask yourself what it is that you are most interested in finding out about. If your subject is the Indians of the Plains, maybe you are most curious about the practice of magic by the Blackfoot tribe or how the Cheyenne got the swift Arabian horses they rode. Be careful that the questions you ask are not too broad (“Why did the Roman Empire collapse?”), too narrow (“Who was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?”), or too unimportant (“Why are Ping- Pong tables green?”).
If you know very little about your topic, you must learn more about it before you can narrow it successfully. If your general topic is the Mexican Revolution of 1910, check a brief outline history of the subject in a good historical dictionary or encyclopedia (for example, the Encyclopaedia Britannicaor the Encyclopedia of Latin America).The description of the Mexican Revolution in these works will likely mention its principal leaders—Francisco Madero, Pancho
Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza. Perhaps your interest will now be triggered by the recollection of stories concerning Villa’s daring raid on a United States border town (Columbus, New Mexico) in 1916 and how the U.S. Army under General Pershing marched into Mexico to capture him—but never did. Or perhaps you have seen the Hollywood movie Viva Zapata, which tells the story (not necessarily accurately) of the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata and his fight to preserve the lands of the Indian villages in his native state of Morelos. If you have ever seen photographs of Zapata (and they were popular in poster form among college students in the 1960s), you know his piercing eyes and look of determination. If your interest in the Mexican Revolution is now focusing on Villa or Zapata, you should next turn to a biographical dictionary. Here you will discover that Villa’s real name was Doroteo Arango and that he was a cattle thief as well as a brilliant military commander. Zapata, you will learn, led a peasant guerrilla army whose aim was to recapture the land taken from its villages by owners of expanding sugar plantations. To flesh out a paper on Villa’s military career or Zapata’s land reform program (some elements of which Mexican peasants are still struggling for today), turn to the subject bibliographies in Appendix A of this book or to the reference section of your library. Subject bibliographies will lead you to individual historical works on the Mexican Revolution, and from the book and article titles (and the descriptions of their contents if they are annotated) you will be able to determine those which may contain information on the topic you are considering.
If learning about a topic does not help you to narrow it, try formulating a question that you would like your research to answer. For example, were Canadian frontier communities similar to those of the United States in the nineteenth century? This topic can be narrowed by choosing one or two aspects of such communities to compare—for instance, housing, government, economic function, or forms of entertainment. You could also narrow your topic geographically (e.g., prairie towns) or chronologically (e.g., communities founded in the 1850s). Formulating a question will also help you to confine your research to works that help to answer the question.
After (1) conducting preliminary research to help you decide what part of your topic interests you most, (2) narrowing it to manageable size, and (3) formulating a question or theme to direct
your research, you will be ready to seek out sources of information on your final topic. The reference works listed in Appendix A will help you create a list of books, articles, and other relevant sources. If these works lead you to specific sources (e.g., the title of a book or the volume of a periodical), the next step is to see whether your school library has them. You will also want to know of any other books, articles, and so on that your library possesses on your topic. To find these sources, you will first have to learn how to conduct library research.
The best way to uncover sources in the library that relate to your topic is to approach the task with certain key wordsin mind. You will use these words when checking the card catalog or the computer terminal in the library (if the computer can call up books by entering subject headings). Key words, in most cases, will be the nouns that appear in the tentative formulation of your topic. For example, if your topic is the partition of India, your key word is India.If it is the use of the submarine in World War I, you have two key words—submarineand World War I.(Your first lesson in library language may come when you find out that some catalogs list World War I under “Great War,” or “First World War,” or “European War, 1914—1918.”) If you have any doubts, consult the librarian to find out whether your key words are the best ones to use. This is especially advisable if your key words are very general (for example, “Lillian Wald and progressive reform”or “social legislationin the early British Empire”).If you have successfully narrowed your topic, your key words should be narrowed as well.
The Library Card Catalog
The main card catalog is a central file of every book in the library. Most libraries also include nonbook holdings in their main catalog. There may also be a separate catalog for periodicals and another for reference books. (If your library is very large, it is best to obtain a guide from the librarian.) Not all catalogs are organized in exactly the same way, but most set up their book card files according to author, subject, and title. If your library has a computerized, on-line catalog, follow the instructions provided at the computer terminal.
'If your school conducts a library tour for new students, be sure to take it.
Card Catalog Information on People
If your topic is mainly concerned with a particular person (the early career of Sigmund Freud), you will find books bythat person under his or her last name in the “author” catalog. Books about famous persons may be cataloged with books written by that person or separately in a “subject” catalog. Remember, Freud not only wrote books but was the subject about whom other authors wrote.
Before you start out, be sure that all of your key words, especially if they are of foreign origin, are spelled correctly. If you are researching the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and are looking under “Gandy” or “Ghandi” instead of “Gandhi,” you will have trouble.
There are two kinds of author cards, one for persons (for example, Gandhi, Mohandas; Meir, Golda; Nkruma, Kwame; Davis, Jefferson) and one for groups that publish works under their own names (for example, United States Government; Republic of France; Bethlehem Steel Corporation). Examples of the two kinds of author cards are shown on page 60.
When your turn to “Freud, Sigmund” in the catalog, the first cards will be those for books written bythe author. These will be arranged alphabetically according to title. If your subject is a famous person, right behind the books written by that person will be books written abouthim or her. These books will be listed alphabetically according to the author’s last name. If books aboutFreud are not included with those byhim, they will be in the “subject” catalog under “Freud, Sigmund.”
Now you must determine which books by or about the person deal most directly and satisfactorily with your topic. If your topic concerns the early career of Mohandas Gandhi, you will discover that many books have been written about him and that they discuss more than his early life. For example, a book entitled The Assassination of Gandhiis not likely to deal with his early years in much detail, if at all. One entitled Gandhis Role in the Ahmeda- bad Strike of 1917will probably have too much detail on this one issue. However, because the strike was an important event in his early career, you may want to look at it. A book called Gandhi’s Influence on the Indian National Congress Partywill be a political study, and if your interest is in Gandhi’s religious beliefs, it is not the best book to use. As you check through all the books on your topic, you will have to make judgments, based on the titles, as to
Library Cards: Individual Author and Group Author
9?2.91/Sm 42 1fcSmith, John Q.
Call Number (see explanation on p. 70)
Author: Birth and
Death dates f—smith, JohnQ., 1886-1969
►The United States and Guatemala.
Edition of book if there has been more than one, Publisher, Date of Publication,
Number of pages:
12 introductory pages, 253 pages of text, includes maps, bibliography.
►2nd ed. New York, Jones Publishing, Inc./1958/
jcii, 253 p., maps 22cm. Bibliography
U.S., Foreign Relations-Guatemala
Guatemala, Foreign Relations-U.S.
Cross References: other catalog headings under which the book is listed.
PA 630?.A2 8?5.01 73-103108
Call Number (see explanation on p. 70)
Group Author -
Information at the bottom of the card is intended for the use of the library staff.
-327.73/Un 21 rU.S. Dept, of State
Papers relating to the foreign policy of the United States.
Washington, D.C. Office, 1862-
(All other aspects of the card are the same as for an individual author.)
which are most likely to contain the particular information you need. If a book title gives no clue to what aspects of your topic it concerns (for example, My Life and Works, or The Career of Benjamin Disraeli), then it is best to look at the book.
Another clue to the appropriateness of a particular book is the date of publication. For example, a book by Franklin Roosevelt published in 1936 cannot answer questions relating to his conduct of World War II. This system is not foolproof, however, because the date of publication can be misleading. A book of poems by Mao Tse-tung might have been published in 1967, but the poems it contains may have been written many years earlier. Likewise, a
book on the textile industry may appear to have up-to-date information because it was published in 1985. Nevertheless, this may be the date of the third or fourth edition of a work written in 1962, which, if it hasn’t been revised, can tell you nothing about recent developments.
Your ability to squeeze the last drop of information out of the title and date of publication on the catalog card will be enhanced if you know something about your topic to begin with. If you know, for example, that Gandhi spent part of his early life in the Union of South Africa, then you know that a book entitled Gandhis Fight for Racial Justice in South Africawill deal with his early career. Again, if you want to write about the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a book entitled Emerson and Transcendentalismwill leave you cold unless you know that Transcendentalism is the name given to a particular philosophical school. The point is to be able to use the meager information on the catalog card to help you choose from among the numerous listings. If you remain in doubt about any particular book, look at the work itself.3
Card Catalog Information on Places
If your key word is the name of a place, look under the geographical name in the catalog. This may sound simple, but be careful that you are using the most appropriate geographical term. Check a dictionary or atlas first to make sure that you are spelling the term correctly. The modernization of place names can be a problem (for example, Russia becomes the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Palestine becomes Israel, Persia becomes Iran, Peiping becomes Peking, St. Petersburg becomes Leningrad, the Gold Coast becomes Ghana, Ciudad Trujillo becomes Santo Domingo). The card catalog usually will use the most recent name, but if your topic deals with a period when a particular place was known by another name, you need to know that name and to look under that heading as well. Another difficulty with place names is that some areas become absorbed into neighboring territory and take on the name of the larger unit. (Serbia is part of Yugoslavia, the Ukraine part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Wales part of the United Kingdom, Zanzibar part of Tanzania). When this
happens, it is best to look under both names. Some areas have split apart, with the new units taking on new names. (Bangladesh separated from Pakistan, West Virginia from Virginia, the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom, Singapore from Malaysia, Venezuela from Gran Colombia.)
Regional names also create a problem. If your topic concerns an important region like Provence (part of France), the Great Basin (part of the United States), the Atacama desert (part of Chile), or Honshu (part of Japan), you will have to check under both names. This is true as well for important political subdivisions such as Umbria (part of Italy), Alberta (part of Canada), Jalisco (part of Mexico), Kiangsi (part of the People’s Republic of China), Queensland (part of Australia). Knowing the correct and complete name of an area is very important. Finally, be careful with such geographical adjectives as “upper,” “western,” “southeast,” “lesser.” Some are parts of proper names; others are not. “North Dakota” is a proper name and will be found under “N,” whereas “northern California” will be under “C.”
Card Catalog Information on General Subjects
If your key words are general subjects, then your search through the catalog will be a more difficult task. It is tricky—like looking something up in the Yellow Pages, where, for example, car parts are under “automotive accessories” and toasters are under “electric appliances.” If you can’t find a subject heading in the catalog to match your key word, first check your spelling, then think of a larger subject of which your key word is a part. For example, if your key word is “surgery” and you can’t find it under “S,” it may be listed as a subheading under “Medicine.” You might find railroads listed under “Transportation” and capital punishment under “Law.” If your catalog is well constructed you will be aided by “see” or “see also” cards. If, under “Wilderness Campaign,” you find a card that says “see Civil War,” that means your subject is listed as part of that larger topic. If you find cards listing works on your key word, you may also find one that says “see also” and gives another subject. For example, if your key word is “tariff,” together with the books on that subject may be a card that says “see also Trade.” This means that other books related to your topic are listed under another heading. Unless you are sure that the other heading is outside the scope of your topic, see what is listed there.
Many of the books may be the same, but some will be ones that were not listed under the original heading.
General Topics—Subheadings. Extremely large topics (“United States,” “Economics,” “Women’s History,” “Plato,” “Art,” “Education”) are broken down in the catalog by the use of subheadings. For example, the cards on “Argentina” will be broken down into subheadings like “Argentina—Travel and Description,” “Argentina—Politics,” “Argentina—Relations with Brazil.” Some of the subheadings will be broken down even further; for example, “Argentina—History to 1800, History 1800-1900, History 1900-pres- ent.” If your topic is the politics of Juan D. Peron, you should check “Argentina—History 1900-present” (because Peron was in power after 1940), and you should also check “Argentina—Politics.” Because Peron is a well-known personality, you should also check for a main heading, “Peron, Juan D.”
General topics are filed in the subject catalog by subject cards. These cards are filed alphabetically according to subject heading. Within subject headings, they are filed according to author’s last name. The subject and subheadings will be at the top of the card. The remainder of the card will be the same as for the author cards.
Subject CardCall Number - (see explanation on p. 70)
Tracings • (see below)
-N Art - History - Modern 5300
J l*' Jones, Alice M. , 1939- 1970
A History of Surrealist Art,
3rd ed. Chicago, Acme Publishing/19?0/ ix, il-26 p., illus. 28cm. Bibliography
1. Surrealism 2. Literature - Surrealist
' 1fc’3. Art - History - Modern I Titl
eIf you are lucky, the catalog card may contain a description of the contents of the book. If it does, as is the case with many older catalog systems, then be sure to note the book’s contents because this is the best way to determine its relevance to your topic. If the
catalog card is of the new type originated by the Library of Congress, it will not have any information regarding contents, but toward the bottom of the card it will have “tracings,” that is, other catalog headings under which the particular book is listed. Though this information is more useful to librarians than to researchers, it is a clue to other headings and subheadings that might contain books on your topic. Whenever you find a book that bears on your topic, write down the tracings; if they seem like good leads, be sure to check them. Some tracings will be further removed from your topic. For example, if your topic is the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and you find a book under the catalog heading of “Atomic Energy—Military Use—World War II” that lists tracings to “Japan—World War II,” this is part of your topic and should be looked into. However, if the tracing lists “Physics—Atomic Theory,” this is removed from your topic and need not be pursued. The purpose of following tracings is to check every possible subject heading that might have more books on your topic. But don’t get too broad in your search, or it will never end. (See section on budgeting research time, pages 81-82.)
The Periodicals Catalog
Your library probably will have a separate catalog for periodicals or serials such as magazines, journals, and newspapers. This catalog might be a card catalog, it might be on microfiche, or it might be part of the on-line computerized catalog. The periodicals catalog has no subject or author headings and can be used only when you know the name of the periodical you want. The entries are listed alphabetically either by the name of the periodical or by the name of the organization that publishes it (for example, “American Academy of Political and Social Sciences—Annals,” “American Political Science Association—American Political Science Review”). For a list of periodicals most useful in historical research, see Appendix A, section 5, pages 126-128.
Because this catalog tells you only which periodicals the library has and where they are located, you have to look elsewhere to find the articles that deal with your topic. Books that list periodical articles according to subject are known as periodical “guides” or “indexes.” The reference section of your library should have several of them.
Different periodical indexes deal with different kinds of periodi
cals. Some, like the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, index popular magazines such as Newsweek, Esquire,and Readers Digest.Others, such as the Social Science Indexand the Humanities Index,deal with journals written for an academic audience. (For a list of periodical indexes especially useful in historical research, see Appendix A, section 4, pages 125-126.)
Periodical indexes have special forms of organization and use special abbreviations in listing articles. At the beginning of the index is an explanation of the subject organization and the abbreviations used. Be sure to read these pages before you begin to look for articles on your subject. These pages will tell you if the subject organization of the index is different from the one used by your library card catalog. If it is very different, you will have to master it in order to find out all the subject headings in the index that relate to your key words. Among other things, the index will explain the meanings of the abbreviations of the names of the periodicals (for example, C.H. for Current History,H.A.H.R. for Hispanic American Historical Review).
When you find an article in which you are interested, be sure to copy down in full the name of the author, the name of the periodical, the title of the article, the date, the volume number, and the page numbers. You will need all of this when you return to the catalog to see if your library has the periodical you want. Moreover, the library keeps all the volumes of a particular periodical together, organized by volume and date. Unless you know the exact volume number and date of the article you want, you won’t be able to find it.
A special problem that you may encounter is that smaller libraries don’t receive many of the periodicals listed in the indexes. If you come up with what you feel may be a very useful article but it is in a periodical that your library does not have, ask the librarian if it is available at a larger library nearby. There are many ways of tracking down materials, but always keep in mind the time you have to prepare your work. Don’t spend too much time looking for a particular source; it might be better to look deeper into your own library’s resources for other materials.
Some libraries catalog their newspaper collections separately. Others include them in their book catalog or in their periodicals
catalog or in both. To find newspaper articles on your topic, however, you will have to go to newspaper indexes.These are published by particular newspapers and list the articles in the paper by subject and date. If your topic is the Geneva Conference of 1954, then you might want to know what a particular newspaper was reporting on that event at the time. One of the most complete newspaper indexes, and one that most libraries possess, is the New York Times Index.To find out what the Timeswas saying about the Geneva Conference, take the 1954 New York Times Indexand look up “Geneva Conference” in the subject headings. Here you will find a listing of the days in 1954 on which the Timescarried articles or editorials on the Conference. As with the periodical indexes, you will have to learn the abbreviations so that you can determine the exact place in your library’s collection of the Timeswhere the articles you want can be found. Again, be sure to copy down all relevant information.
Using newspaper articles as source materials can be very important. They are often on-the-scene and even eyewitness accounts of the particular historical event in which you may be interested. They can also contain detailed information on a particular occurrence that broad historical sources will not have. However, newspapers have their drawbacks too. First, because they are written just as an event is taking place, newspaper articles may contain inaccurate information. Second, they can tell you only whathappened. To understand the historical significance of the event, you will have to read historical works. For on-the-scene accounts of what took place, however, there is often no substitute for newspapers. If your library’s newspaper collection goes back to the years with which your subject is concerned, especially if there is an index to this collection, then it is wise to find out what those who reported the event at the time had to say about it. If your topic is broad, however, newspaper articles may not be as helpful to you. (For a list of newspaper indexes, see Appendix A, section
Most libraries catalog their government documents separately. Collections of government documents contain publications by foreign countries, by international organizations (like the United Nations), and by numerous agencies of the United States federal
government (like the Federal Communications Commission and the Internal Revenue Service). Such collections contain publications by state and local governments as well. These collections, especially of United States government publications, can be quite large. If your topic concerns government policy or international relations, or if it deals with a subject on which governments have published reports or statistics, then you should examine your library’s collection of government documents. Because these are so numerous, special indexes and aids for finding them exist. (See the bibliographies on government publications in Appendix A, section 6, pages 129-131.) When looking into these documents, it is best to get help from the librarian.
Because the organization of governments is complex, be sure that your research is directed toward the right branch and the right level. Obviously, U.S. Treasury Department documents won’t help you to research the city budget of Milwaukee, and the records of the Kansas state legislature won’t shed much light on American relations with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the three branches of the United States federal government (the executive, legislative, and judicial) are each so large that they publish materials on an extremely large number of topics. Again, it is best to seek the help of the librarian in determining which government publications relate to your topic.
Finally, government departments, their official names, and the kinds of affairs that they administer, change over time. The organization of the United States government and that of most state and local governments have changed greatly since the early years of the nation. The period of time covered by your topic will determine what kinds of government records you need to examine.
Many libraries have collections of nonprinted materials which can be useful for historical research. As technology progresses, new ways of recording the past are developed. Some of these are microfilm and microfiche, still and motion pictures, sound recordings and tapes, and other oral history techniques. Check with the librarian to see whether your school library or one nearby has photograph, microfilm, tape, or oral history collections.
Photographs can be important pieces of historical evidence and motion pictures even more so. Oral history collections, usually
consisting of recorded interviews or reminiscences by people who have been active in public life, can add both facts and excitement to historical research. Most libraries have a microfilm department where they store miniaturized photocopies of books, magazines, newspapers, and documents that the libraries do not have in printed form. These nonprinted sources are often filed in the main catalog along with printed works. However, it is wise to check for these sources in the special catalog that most libraries maintain. (For guides to nonprinted sources, see Appendix A, section 9, pages 155—156.)
A reference book is specifically designed to give you particular information or to list works on a particular subject. Reference books form such an important part of your library that they are usually shelved in a separate place, often with their own catalog.
The reference library has books to help you find materials in dissertations, archives, atlases, other libraries, government documents, encyclopedias, microfilms, yearbooks, and other places. Many of these sources are specialized and will be of use only if you go on later to do more complex historical research. There are several kinds of reference books, however, that can be helpful in the kind of research you will be doing for introductory history courses. Most important of these are bibliographies, biographies, dictionaries, and encyclopedias.
Bibliographies are usually books that list a series of works on a particular subject. These are called subject bibliographies, and there are many of these dealing with historical works. (A list of the most useful subject bibliographies can be found in Appendix A, section 7, pages 131-153.) These works can be used to supplement the books listed in the card catalog. For example, if your topic is Chinese nationalism in the 1940s, you may want to look at the subject bibliography entitled An Interdisciplinary Bibliography on Nationalism 1935—1953.In the section dealing with China, you will find a long list of books related to your topic. For any books that interest you, copy down allthe information. You can then check under the author’s name in the author cards to see if your library has the book. A problem with this method is that, unlike your library’s card catalog, subject bibliographies list books that may not be in your library. Some of these bibliographies are very
extensive, and only a large university library is likely to have most of the books listed in them. If you find a book listed that you believe to be of special importance but that is not in your library, the librarian may be able to help you obtain it from another library. However, this may take time, and you should be careful not to spend too long searching for one book. Of course, if your school library is very small, the interlibrary loan system (by which libraries share books with one another) may be the only way to research your topic adequately.
Another type of reference work that may be useful is the biography collection. These books contain outlines of the lives of well- known people. They do not contain enough information on which to base a research paper on a particular person, nor were they meant for that purpose. But they can be useful. For example, if your topic is the New York newspapers and the Spanish-American War, you may need some information concerning William McKinley, who was president during the war. By looking him up in, say, the Dictionary of American Biography, you will find such information as when and where he was born, his educational and religious background, the various political offices he held, and even a short description of his role in the Spanish-American War. If a particular person is a minor part of your topic, biography collections can give you much of the information you need. However, if a person is a focus of your research, you will need to read works specifically devoted to that person’s life. (For biography collections most useful to historians, see Appendix A, section 2, pages 117-122.)
You should use dictionaries and encyclopedias only to become familiar with the general outline of a topic. They cannot form the basis of a research paper because they only skim the surface of a subject. If your topic is the building of the Trans-Canadian railroad, you may want to get a quick introduction to the topic by looking it up in an encyclopedia. You may also want to get some general information on the geography of the region through which the railroad was built. For this, you could look under “Canada” or “British Columbia” (or some other Canadian province) in an atlas or a specialized geographical dictionary. This general overview will help you determine which headings of the card catalog will be most promising. General knowledge of your topic will also aid in selecting titles that are closest to your subject. (See list of dictionaries and encyclopedias in Appendix A, section 1, pages 113-117.)
Locating Materials and Using Call Numbers
When you come across a book or periodical in the catalog that you think might contain relevant source material, be sure to copy down all the relevant information. (It may not seem important at the time, but if you eventually use the volume in your research, you will have to include this information in your footnotes and bibliography. If you don’t get the complete data now, you will only have to return to the catalog later to look it up again.) Also copy down the call numbers—the classification numbers in the upper left-hand corner of the catalog card. Without them, neither you nor the librarian will be able to find the materials you want.
The call number indicates where the book is located. If your library is one where only the librarian takes the books from the shelves, then you only have to write down the call numbers of the books you want. If your library has “open stacks,” that is, bookshelves to which readers have access, then you will need to know something about the classification system.
There are two classification systems in general use—the Dewey Decimal system and the Library of Congress system. The Dewey call numbers begin with a numeral; the Library of Congress call numbers begin with a letter. They are both complex systems, though once you master the principles, you will have an excellent road map to your library’s shelves. If the stacks are open, obtain from the librarian a pamphlet explaining the classification system. Without the pamphlet, you will waste a lot of time looking for the books you want. (An explanation of these two systems can be found in Appendix B.)
If you get to the place in the shelves where you think the book should be and it is not there, you are facing one of several problems: (I) the book is in use by another reader; (2) it has been transferred to another part of the library; (3) it has been shelved incorrectly; or (4) you have an incorrect call number.
When you find the book you want, it is wise to look at the books on the surrounding shelves because they will be on related subjects. Once you find a book, however, your search is not finished. Now you need to determine its relevance to your subject.
Determining Whether a Book Will Be of Use
Once you have a book, you must determine whether it deals with your specific topic and whether its approach is appropriate for
you. Book titles can be misleading. The Election of Woodrow Wilson may turn out to be about the inner workings of the Democratic Party. If you are preparing a paper on Wilson, this book may not be of much use to you, despite its title. Even when a book deals specifically with your topic, its handling of the subject may make it less than satisfactory. For example, a book that is written for less advanced students, even though it is on your topic, will not make a good source. Its coverage will be too general, and it will also likely gloss over or omit important facts or interpretations that your research should include. You should avoid textbooks or works that seem to be written more for entertainment than information. If the author does not include footnotes and a bibliography, the book may not be a proper source for a research paper. A glance at the introduction should help you determine the kind of reader for whom the book was written.
Another problem you may encounter is the author’s viewpoint or bias. For example, a history of World War I by a French author is likely to have a different viewpoint from one written by a German author, especially if the books were written close to the time of the war. It is very important for you to understand the point of view from which a book was written. Many historical events and their interpretation are the centers of profound controversy. It is almost impossible for a historian to investigate one of these controversial areas without the involvement of certain biases. A particular attitude toward the topic is not necessarily bad, however. Historical problems are immensely complex, and without a sense of which things are important, the historian will not be able to choose from among those facts that can give some clear meaning to the larger questions involved. In any event, it is important for you to become familiar with the biases of the authors you read so that you will not unknowingly accept their viewpoints. If you agree with an author’s bias, it is natural that you will favor his or her work in your research. But unless you understand the biases of the authors you read, and your own as well, you will not know why you agree with some authors more than others. Furthermore, you won’t be able to make a logical presentation in your research paper of the varying points of view.
The first place to check for determining the usefulness and bias of a book is its table of contents. Although some chapter titles are vague, most will give you a clearer picture of the contents than the
work’s title. If your topic is the Caribbean policy of Theodore Roosevelt, and you have come upon a book entitled The Era of Theodore Roosevelt, you will be pleased to find a chapter called “Hemisphere Diplomacy.” Though the entire work may be of value to you, it is this chapter that will contain the most material on your specific topic. On the other hand, if the chapter headings are all concerned with Roosevelt’s domestic policies or the cultural, scientific, and intellectual trends of the early 1900s, there may be little in the book on foreign policy.
If the chapter headings are not clear enough for you to determine the book’s usefulness, your next move is to look at the index. Not every book has an index, but when one does, it is an invaluable tool. The index lists in alphabetical order the pages on which different persons or subjects are discussed. The index in a book on the Progressive Party in Wisconsin will list each of the pages on which Robert M. LaFollette is mentioned. It may even break this down and tell you which pages discuss LaFollette’s early career, which discuss his campaigns for the presidency, and so on. When the scope of a book is very broad, the index is the best guide to finding that portion of it that is closest to your topic. Remember, however, that unless you read more of the book than just those pages which deal with your topic, you will not know the author’s biases or conclusions, and these may be of great importance. Although you may want to select only small portions of a book to use in your research, if any of your own conclusions are drawn from a particular work, you will need to know its overall contents.
If the book has no index, or if you wish to get the flavor of the work as a whole before selecting it as a source for your paper, the introduction and bibliography may be of help. Authors often explain some of their purposes and conclusions in the introduction, and a look at the bibliography (if one is included) will give clues as to what sources the author felt were important and how extensive his or her own research was.
Perhaps the best way to gain an overall impression of a work is to skim its contents by reading the introductory paragraph of each chapter and perhaps the introductory sentence to each paragraph in those parts of the book that seem most important. If you have mastered a method of rapid reading, that skill will be very useful here. Once you have chosen a book for your research, of course, there is no substitute for careful reading.
Reading books may sound easy, but, unless you have had experience in reading serious historical studies, you may have problems. First of all, some of the vocabulary may be new to you. A book on the French Revolution will contain such words as Jacobin, Thermi- dore, and Girondin. A study of the atom bomb will talk about implosion and fission and such places as Tinian and Eniwetok. It is best to have a good dictionary handy. Another problem will be the academic or scholarly style of writing often found in specialized works. You will come across sentences like this:
Despite the innumerable, and often contradictory, in- . tellectual themes reflected in the ideological position taken by the right wing of the movement, it nevertheless managed, despite the defection of a small fascist element, to maintain the loyalty of the land-owning peasantry of the Central Highlands as well as the professional and shopowners associations of the capital, not to mention that of several union organizations which still maintained a craft orientation.
By the time you finish such a sentence, you may have forgotten how it began. To make matters worse, such tongue twisters are often filled with words like: balkanization, corporativism, Hegelianism, Mandate of Heaven, negritude, neomercantilism, Pan- Slavism, Pax Romana, popular front, primogeniture, Reconquista, shogunate, Trotskyism, utilitariansim, White Terror, or Zoroastrianism. Unfortunately there is no shortcut to understanding such terminology. As you become familiar with your topic, you will learn the meanings of the terms used by scholars. The only way to get through the complex prose is to have a good background in English grammar and a familiarity with the subject being discussed. Therefore, among the books you have chosen for your research, you should read first the most general and then the more specialized ones.
As you become familiar with the style and terminology used in a work, your main task will be to understand the points the author is trying to establish. All good works of history do more than just lay out a series of historical events and then combine them to form an understandable story of what occurred. Good historians want to prove a point, to show that a series of historical events mean one
thing rather than another. A history of the rise of Adolf Hitler won’t merely tell you that the National Socialist Party, which he led, increased the number of its representatives in the German Reichstag (parliament) from 12 to 107 in the election of 1930. It will attempt to describe the conditions that led to such an outcome and to explain the impact of the election on later events. Perhaps the author will discuss unemployment. German nationalism, the cartelization of German industry, the Treaty of Versailles, the growth of the German Communist Party, anti-Semitism, the structure of the German family, the philosophy of Nietzsche, or the insecurity of the lower middle class. The author will probably deal with some of these more extensively than others, and will attempt to show how the emphasized factors offer a better explanation of the subject than any others. Although almost all historians will agree on the number of National Socialist members of the 1930 Reichstag, each will construct the causes and effects of that fact in different ways—sometimes in very different ways. If you wish to understand a particular author’s interpretation of an event, you must know how the author arrived at that interpretation and what significance he or she believes it to have. Only a careful reading of the entire work and close attention to the book’s main arguments can give you such knowledge. Remember, history books are a selection of certain facts and interpretations constructed to explain a particular writer’s understanding of a historical subject. If your own research relies heavily on a particular book, you will need to know its theme and bias.
The first rule in note taking is to know in advance what you are looking for. In order to avoid either taking note after note that you will never need or failing to note things that you will, you should have a clear understanding of your topic and the kind of evidence you are seeking. This is especially difficult at the outset of your research when your understanding of your topic is still somewhat vague. It is thus important to define the scope and content of your topic as quickly as possible or your research and note taking will wander, and valuable time will be lost.
As you go through a book, you will find portions that you will want to refer to in your own research paper. You will want to note the author’s general idea or perhaps even record the actual words
used. If you wish to quote, be careful to copy exactly the words in the book. Be sure that the meaning of the words you quote is clear and that you have not altered the author s point by quoting it out of context. If you wish to use a quotation, say, to show that Robert E. Lee was a good military strategist, a quotation such as “Lee was more admired by the average soldier than any other commanding officer” doesn’t make that point because it refers to his popularity, not his generalship. Moreover, if the following sentence in the book is “However, his strategic decisions were not usually equal to those of Union army commanders,” then you have actually altered the author’s point by taking it out of its original context. Make sure you understand the author’s meaning before you use a quotation. Also, be sure not to overquote. Do not quote more material than is necessary to convey the desired point clearly and accurately. Finally, never quote something simply because you find it difficult to express it in your own words. You will have to compose the idea in your own words when you write your paper, and it is best to think about the meaning of your research material now.
The most important points made by an author usually cannot be summed up in easily quotable form. When you want to record general arguments and conclusions, it is best to write your own paraphrase or summary of particular points. If the author has spent several pages relating the decline in trade between Spain and Mexico to the Wars of Mexican Independence, you may want to summarize the findings by noting that the author feels that the diminishing economic tie between colony and mother country was one of the major factors leading to Mexican independence. If you wish to note the evidence itself, you may want to paraphrase the author’s description of the decline in trade with several sentences of your own that include the main factors of this decline.
Whether you are quoting an author’s exact words or summarizing a point, the rules of note taking are the same. As you read, it is best to have a pile of index cards beside you (4" X 6" or 5" X 8", not 3" X 5"). When you come to something you want to note, write the author’s name, the book title, and the page number or numbers at the top of the card.4 The exact page numbers are essential because you will have to use them when you write your footnotes.
If your quote or paraphrase covers more than one page from your source, be sure to make that fact clear on your note card. Also, it is essential to place each paraphrase or quotation on a separate card so that you can arrange them by date or topic when you prepare your paper. Placing a brief topic heading in the corner of each card will make such arrangement easier. (See examples of note cards on page 77.)
If you are quoting, be sure to use quotation marks and to copy the quotation word for word. If you are quoting something that the author has quoted, you must be sure to point this out when you use the material and to identify the original source. Be sure to include in your note an introduction to the quoted material in your own words, stating who said it (if other than the author) and in what context. This will insure that you use it properly in your paper. If a quotation is very long and if there are parts that relate to matters other than the one you are referring to, then you may omit portions of the original quote by inserting ellipses—three periods ( . . . )—in the quoted material. For example, if the quotation reads “Feudalism, despite later idealizations of it, was maintained by an oppressive social order,” you may want to leave out “despite later idealizations of it,” and quote the sentence as “Feudalism . . . was maintained by an oppressive social order.” However, never omit anything if doing so would change the meaning of the material. If the sentence had read “Feudalism in its later stages in Moravia was maintained by an oppressive social order,” the entire sentence would have to be quoted, or its meaning would be seriously altered.
To give a clearer sense of what note taking involves, there are two sample note cards on p. 77. The first contains a quotation from a book and the second a paraphrasing of several paragraphs from an article.
The only thing worse than misquoting from your sources is plagiarizing from them. Plagiarism is easy to fall into. Because of your inexperience with your subject, it will be tempting to use the more sophisticated language of the historians you are reading. In most