History students are often asked to find both primary sources and secondary sources for their research papers. Primary sources are sources that were produced in the time period under study. Primary sources are the most crucial building blocks of historical research. Secondary sources are works written by professional scholars that evaluate and analyze the time period under study based on reading and studying hundreds of primary sources. Secondary sources can take the form of monographs (book-length studies) or scholarly journal articles.
For most topics, there are also a significant number of reference works (sometimes known as tertiary sources) available. Many of these sources are compilations of information about a topic based on many secondary sources, but do not feature original scholarly research based on primary sources. As a result, some professors do not allow students to use reference books as official sources in their papers. Please follow the guidelines of your individual professor when deciding whether or not to add reference sources to your bibliography.
In the field of history, the book, rather than the article, is the principal publication for authoritative views. Students would be wise to rely on books more than articles as the main sources of information about the past. Books, both print and electronic, can be found by searching the online library catalog.
Scholarly Journal Articles
The UAH Library holds extensive scholarly journal articles, available either in print in the library or through online databases. Scholarly journal articles are sometimes called peer-reviewed or refereed articles. This is because scholarly articles have been subject to the review of experts in the author’s field of study prior to publication.
Be careful: some of these databases also contain short magazine articles that are not peer-reviewed. You will want to avoid magazine articles. For more information on the difference between a scholarly journal and a magazine, see this our guide on determining if a source is scholarly or not. If you are still unsure if the journal you have chosen is scholarly, look it up in Ulrich’s Periodical Directory.
In addition, many of these databases contain book reviews. You will want to ignore book reviews when you select your sources. For some of the databases, you can use “Advanced Search” options to limit your search to journal articles and overlook the book reviews.
The most recent editions of style guides are available at the Library Reference Desk. Be sure to consult with your professor about what documentation system is expected for your research paper.