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HIS 401: Historical Research and Writing: Introduction

This guide was created for HIS 401: Historical Research and Writing.

Welcome to the HIS 401: Historical Research and Writing library guide.  This guide will assist you in conducting research for you research project.  If you have any questions or need assistance, reach out to librarian Alexis Becker at or stop by her office in McGovern 113.


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What is Historical Research?

Research in history involves developing an understanding of the past through the examination and interpretation of evidence. Evidence may exist in the form of texts, physical remains of historic sites, recorded data, pictures, maps, artifacts, and so on. The historian’s job is to find evidence, analyze its content and biases, corroborate it with further evidence, and use that evidence to develop an interpretation of past events that holds some significance for the present.

Historians use libraries to:

  • Locate primary sources (first-hand information such as diaries, letters, and original documents) for evidence
  • Find secondary sources (historians’ interpretations and analyses of historical evidence)
  • Verify factual material as inconsistencies arise

Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age, Fifth Edition, by Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister, Bedford/St. Martin, 2010

Sources Used in Historical Research

Historical research relies on a wide variety of sources, both primary and secondary including unpublished material. 

Primary Sources

  • Eyewitness accounts of events
  • Can be oral or written testimony
  • Found in public records & legal documents, minutes of meetings, corporate records, recordings, letters, diaries, journals, drawings.
  • Located in university archives, libraries or privately run collections such as local historical society.

Secondary Sources

  • Can be oral or written
  • Secondhand accounts of events
  • Found in textbooks, encyclopedias, journal articles, newspapers, biographies and other media such as films or tape recordings.

This guide was created for Dr. Sean Flynn's HIS 401: Historical Research and Writing class, Spring 2021.

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