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Roots of Contemporary Issues Writing and Citation Guides

Searching for Historical Monographs

Historians rely on what other scholars have already researched and written about a chosen topic. These are called as secondary sources. A book-length treatment of a topic, also called a monograph, is a type of secondary source. Scholarly articles are also considered secondary sources for historical research.

What is meant by “historical” monograph is not that the book was written during the period that you are studying, but rather that the author is writing more recently about the past you are studying. Usually, that author is a professional historian who has done original research on the topic and is writing to help students and other historians understand that topic.

Locating historical monographs using WSU Libraries:

Perform a search in Search It (WSU’s central book database) from the advanced search field. Type in your keyword(s) or phrase(s) in the search box. Refine “Material Type” to “Books” (right-side limiters). If you are retrieving too many irrelevant books, change your search from “Any” to “in the title” in the advanced search interface. IMPORTANT: For History 105 and 305, your monographs must centrally address pre-1980 history related to your topic and research question(s).

Search It contains 100s of millions of records. It labels a large amount of its holdings as “books” even though many are not technically books. Books that will be appropriate for this assignment include (but are not limited to) items published by scholarly presses, popular presses, and university presses. Avoid items published by government agencies (considered primary sources), unpublished dissertations, materials available on microform, and material labeled “continually updated sources.” They are in the catalogue, but are not that helpful to you for this project. [see Part II Tutorials]

Your goal is to find accessible, interesting, useful history books that can help you learn about your topic. You might find it helpful to read a more general history — like a history of the country you are studying or a general history of the theme of your research — before looking at more specialized studies. That way you can learn some of the basics — the names of different ethnic groups, the forms of government, basics of that economic system, for instance.

If you’re going to figure out whether a book will be useful for your research, just looking at the library’s record and reading a brief description of it isn’t going to be enough.  You will need to look at the book itself, to make sure it is as helpful as you were hoping. So head to the library’s bookshelves! Since books are organized by subject on the shelves, it is highly likely that if you locate the book you’ve selected, you’ll find many more relevant titles on the shelf next to it. In fact, once you’ve located the book’s library record online, you also can use the “virtual browse” function to see what sits next to it on the shelf. But it’s often faster just to go straight to the shelves and start browsing for a book that looks helpful and appropriate!