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History: Reference Sources

Begin your research with the best resources recommended by the subject librarian for history. Here you will find the specialized databases, indexes, reference works, primary source databases, and guides to archival sources for history.

Reference Universe

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Reference Universe indexes the contents of 20,000+ print and electronic reference titles and links to Dartmouth Library holdings.

This is an "academic" alternative to Wikipedia.

Reference Sources

Subject Bibliographies

In Published Works

The notes and list of sources (primary and secondary) cited by scholars in their books and journal articles are a good place to begin building a working bibliography on a topic.

For example, in this monograph the author provides a 60 page bibliography of sources:

Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution, New York : A.A. Knopf, 1992, Edition 1st ed, Descript x, 447 p. Includes bibliographical references (p. [371]-430) and index. Baker Berry E209 .W65 1992


In the Library Catalog

To learn if the library contains a bibliography on a particular topic search by KEYWORD(s) and s:bibliography.

For example, a search for "imperialism and s:bibliography" returns several titles including -

Bibliography of imperial, colonial, and Commonwealth history since 1600/edited by Andrew Porter ; research assistant Austin Gee.   Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002. Descript xx, 1060 p. Baker Berry Z2021.C7 B53 2002


"Reference" sources are entres to research.
They provide definitions or introductory information of the sort found in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks. They lead to published or unpublished scholarly writing, or to "primary source" material via library catalogs, article databases, and bibliographies.

Their purpose is to answwer factual questions and to help researchers identify and eventually obtain the information needed to investigate and learn about a topic.

* There are a few significant differences between the type of sources recommended here and Wikipedia,  for example.
   • Subject dictionaries, handbooks, etc. acquired by the library are almost always written and
      edited by scholars in the field.
   • Authors are identified.
   • Entries, chapters, etc. are based on broad and deep knowledge of a subject, not on a single source.

The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipedia

The Chronicle Review, February 12, 2012

Oxford Reference Online

Oxford Reference Online

Oxford Reference Online brings together language and subject reference works from one of the world's biggest reference publishers into a single cross-searchable resource.

The Premium Collection offers over 175 fully-indexed, cross-searchable dictionary, language reference, and subject reference works published by Oxford University Press, including detailed information across a broad subject range from titles in the world-renowned Oxford Companions Series.


See Also: Reference Universe for biographical entries in print compilations such as Who's Who in America and many subject encyclopedias.

Biography Index Retrospective  (1946-1984)

Provides citations to more than 625,000 biographical articles and book references. It compliments "Biography Index" (1984+).

Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, Neue deutsche Biographie [electronic resource] : Digitales Register

Provides a searchable index to the biographical entries in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie and Neue deutsche Biographie. Includes core biographical data and a reference to the complete entry in the print volume. In addition this site includes full text to the vols. of the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie.

American National Biography 

The ANB contains concise but informative biographical sketches of more than 17,000 people. Biographical entries are followed by excellent bibliographies listing important archival and secondary resources about the person; relevant web sites are also included for a number of entries.

African American National Biography

The AANB is constructed along the lines of the ANB, above, and is part of a larger online African American resource entitled the Oxford African American Studies Center.

Current Biography Illustrated
1940 to date.

Lengthy biographical sketches of people from all walks of life.

Dictionary of Canadian biography online  = Dictionnaire biographique du Canada.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 

The Oxford DNB provides concise articles on noteworthy people in all walks of life who died before 31 December 2000. It covers people who were born and lived in the British Isles, people from the British Isles who achieved recognition in other countries, people who lived in territories formerly connected to the British Isles at a time when they were in contact with British rule, and people born elsewhere who settled in the British Isles for significant periods or whose visits enabled them to leave a mark on British life.

Biographical entries are followed by a valuable bibliography of "Sources," "Archives," and the location of "Likenesses" (portraits).

Biography and Genealogy Master Index 

BGMI indexes current, readily available reference sources, as well as the most important retrospective works that cover individuals, both living and deceased, from every field of activity and from all areas of the world.
Sources include biographical dictionaries and who's whos, subject encyclopedias, volumes of literary criticism, and indexes.
The total number of biographical sketches indexed by BGMI is now more than 13.6 million.

World Biographical Index 

Contains over 3.8 million entries for eminent individuals who lived in North and South America, and Western and Central Europe. The entry for each person contains the name, variations of the name, pseudonyms, the years of birth and death or years mentioned, occupation, source quoted and bibliographic information about the sources used.

The index provides references to biographies appearing in print sources. To locate the full biographical sketch search for the source title in the library catalog.

History Guides

Rampolla, Mary Lynn.
A Pocket Guide to Writing in History

6th ed.
Boston : Bedford/St. Martin's, c2010.
Baker Berry Ref. D13 .R295 2010 

This guide contains a very helpful section on documenting sources excerpted from The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed

Presnell, Jenny L.
The information-literate historian : a guide to research for history students / Jenny L. Presnell.
New York : Oxford University Press, c2007
xiv, 242 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Baker Berry Ref.  D16.2 .P715 2007
Baker Berry  D16.2 .P715 2007 c.2

Howell, Martha C.
From reliable sources : an introduction to historical methods / Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier.
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 2001.
viii, 207 p. ; 23 cm.
Baker Berry  D16 .H713 2001
Baker Berry Reserve c.4, c.5, c.6