American history: Essentials: starting points
This guide focuses on principal research resources in a subfield of history, supplementing the main subject guide for the field and the comprehensive guide to online primary historical sources.
It incorporates the VT Library's Special Collections & University Archives guides in a tab. This guide also reproduces tabs in Bruce Pencek's other subject guides: Advice for searching/citing/engaging scholarly literatures; and Accessing VT Libraries' resources from off campus.
This landing page is organized into these sections: Indexes to scholarly historical literature; full-text journal archives; Indexes to popular US periodicals; Background and reference sources; and tabs identifying additional information.
American history includes the history of peoples and countries of all the Americas since their initial human settlement, not solely the United States and its colonial antecedents. Nonetheless, a bias toward Anglophone North America is a reality in the tools for discovering the scholarly literature.
Researchers interested in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the history of the Atlantic or Pacific basins should also consult the resources in the world history subject guide. For scholarship regarding the pre-colonial history and prehistory of the Americas, see also the anthropology subject guide.
Locating historical scholarship and resources
- America: History & Life from EBSCOhostAmerica: History and Life is an index of literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. The database includes citations and links to journal articles, dissertations, primary documents, and book and media reviews. Some content is available full-text (PDF and HTML). Allows limiting to peer reviewed articles, those with references, and to historical periods (date ranges). 1863-present.
- ArchiveGridComprehensive, searchable collection of archival finding aids, mainly from the US but with some international coverage. Collection records include linked cross-references by subject heading, genre, personal names, groups, and places as well as providing maps and contact information to make arrangements for examining the collections in person or, occasionally, online. Affiliated with WorldCat .
- Congressional Serial Set (from ProQuest) Don’t be misled by the title: as the official historical record of the U.S. government, these resources are essential for any historical, political, or cultural research of the United States. The US Congressional Serial Set(incorporating American State Papers,1789-1838, and maps,1789-1969) includes documents on virtually every topic the US Congress has taken an interest in – which can be just about anything anywhere in the world -- since 1789 both for law-making and for oversight of executive-branch agencies: congressional reports on public and private legislation considered during each Congress (example); reports of investigations commissioned or conducted by Congress or its parts (example); reports from federal executive agencies (including land surveys, research and statistical publications, and reports of scientific investigations and explorations) submitted to Congress (example); budgets of the United States (since 1923) (example); treaties presented to the Senate (since 1979) (example); and reports and other documents of select nongovernmental organizations (example), from the Red Cross to the Smithsonian and the American Legion to the American Historical Association. Comprising only documents Congress has declared to be particularly important, the Serial Set does not (usually) include text of bills and resolutions, hearings, nor committee prints. See ProQuest's Serial Set guide. Alternative access to the Serials Set: HeinOnline. Our existing Hein databases have always contained substantial portions of the Serial Set, including the American State Papers, comprehensive coverage of Foreign Relations of the United States, and thousands of House and Senate reports and documents inside compiled federal legislative histories.
- Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, 1895-1976"MOCAT" and its successors index all types of US government documents, including congressional reports, hearings, debates, and records; judiciary materials; and documents issued by executive departments (Office of the President, Defense, State, Labor, etc.). Includes a bibliographic citation in each record. Researchers can search for keywords across all issues or during a specific period, find documents by individual or corporate author, or search any of the other fields included in the records.
- For post-1976 coverage, see the GPO Monthly Catalog from WorldCat, which continues the coverage contained in this database.
- To discover and access federal information more broadly, see GPO's free govinfo.gov (which replaces the old FDsys).
- Social ExplorerSocial Explorer focuses on representing patterns in historical demographics of the United States since the first census in 1790. International coverage has less historical depth but includes recent census data from Canada and the UK, EuroStat's European Statistics, and the World Bank's World Development Indicators. The easy-to-use web interface lets users create maps and tables to illustrate, analyze, and understand demography and social change. In addition to its comprehensive data resources, Social Explorer offers features and tools to meet the needs of demography experts and novices alike.
Complements the broader but recent US coverage in PolicyMap for social policy and the US and Canadian coverage in SimplyAnalytics for business.
- Document Bank of Virginiathe Library of Virginia’s initiative to get documents into classrooms. Using primary sources, teachers can make history relevant to students while helping them learn and understand state standards. DBVa will teach students to be critical thinkers as they analyze the original documents and draw their own conclusions about Virginia’s past.
- Virginia Heritage Archives Databaseindexes finding aids (collection descriptions) to manuscripts and archival materials held by libraries across Virginia. These finding aids may link to digitized versions of these materials, but the majority of these collections have not been digitized, requiring researchers to go to the respective repositories.. 1607-present.
Academic journal archives (could be primary or secondary, depending on use)
- PAO: Periodicals Archive OnlineComplementing the better-known JSTOR with a more international orientation, PAO is a archive of more than 700 periodicals in the humanities and social sciences since their first issues. More than 150 are in languages other than English. Coverage is from volume 1, issue 1 of each journal, and all issues are digitized from cover to cover.
- JSTORan archive of academic journals in the humanities, social science, and sciences, back to their earliest issues. So for some purposes, it is a collection of secondary sources and for others, primary sources.
If you want to do a comprehensive search of the literature on a topic, don't start in JSTOR; use a discipline-specific database instead and/or Humanities & Social Sciences Index Retrospective: 1907-1984, a simple but historically deep index of academic articles that includes historical headings mapped to current ones:
- Although a few journals in JSTOR include content up to the current issue, in most cases the latest content in JSTOR will be at least two years old.
- While JSTOR journals are among the most reputable in their subject areas, not all subject areas are included.
- JSTOR articles are presented as they were originally published: they will include terms and information that today could be regarded as inappropriate, incomplete, or worse. But if you want to know what scholars in, say, the 1930s said about controversial topics like race, some religious traditions, gender and sexuality, or mental or physical impairments, you will need to use search terms that match those of that time, even though they may offend you deeply.
- HeinOnline Portal Large and wide-ranging collections of historical and contemporary legal materials, including codes, treaties, constitutions, topical collections of historical documents, law reviews (resembling JSTOR), legal treatises from the US, Canada, and the UK. Not limited to narrowly legal topics: includes, for example, Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law.
Indexes to popular and specialist literatures
- C19: The Nineteenth Century Index: Periodicals (from ProQuest)C19 will shift to the more robust ProQuest platform in late 2022. Portal to citations in American and British periodical indexes from the "long" 19th century. Search individually or cross-search with several governmental and book indexes. Tech won't necessarily have online or physical access to every indexed item.
Currently on Chadwyck-Healey platform: linking to full-text can be flaky, even to other ProQuest databases; you may want to use the bibliographic information to search Discovery Search by author names or article titles to find in full-text online and/or by publication title for our print or microform holdings of the periodical.
- Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 from EBSCOhostReader's Guide Retrospective indexes citations to articles published in popular magazines and newspapers published in the United States.
- Book Review Digest Retrospective from EBSCOhostCollecting nearly eight decades of H.W. Wilson's Book Review Digest, this archive database provides over a million book review citations from 1903 to 1982. It covers adult and juvenile fiction and nonfiction and provides at least one review excerpt per book.
- Humanities & Social Sciences Index Retrospective: 1907-1984 from EBSCOhost Humanities & Social Science Index Retrospective offers the ability to search a wide range of important journals in the humanities and social sciences as far back as 1907. Coverage also includes content from H.W. Wilson’s International Index.1907-1984.
- Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective: 1908-1981 from EBSCOhost The Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective indexes citations to articles and summaries in annual surveys of laws and courts, legal journals, and legal yearbooks. 1908-1981.
Background: overviews and themes in United States history
- Oxford Research Encyclopedias : American HistoryThis continuously updated scholarly reference work is part of Oxford University Press's Research Encyclopedias series. It contains commissioned articles in the field of American History.
- Gale EbooksGale Ebooks is a collection of searchable ebook reference works, formerly known as Gale Virtual Reference Library. You can search within a particular work or across the entire collection. Individual articles from these sources are presented in HTML and PDF. Illustrations, photos, maps, and multimedia content is often included.
- U.S. History in Context from GaleGale in Context: U.S. History provides curated topic pages with academic journal articles, primary sources, reference works, news sources, multimedia, and biographies on people and peoples, events, places, conflicts, the government, movements, and economics. Use only as a starting point to help you frame your own, original research. Talk to your instructors about whether using materials from pre-selected sources in this database is acceptable under the Honor Code.
- CQ Researcher Plus Archive Begun in 1923 as a service providing background information and pro/con arguments for American editorial writers, CQ Researcher Plus Archive is a window on hot topics in public life across the 20th century as well as a tool to make sense of today's controversies. It can function as starting point for background information, search terms, and topics to use in searching archived journalistic sources. Language and viewpoints in archived reports are products of their time and culture; a browseable "issue tracker" allow you to connect historical and recent discussions without needing to know or use obscure and possibly offensive search terms. Part of CQ Press Library collection of political, news, and reference works.
Social Sciences & History Librarian
560 Drillfield Dr
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Email is the best way to contact me with questions or appointment requests.
Office hours (walk-in and/or Zoom): T 1-3:00 pm, W-Th 2-4:00 pm (Eastern time), and by appointment.
Ask a Librarian
Interlibrary Loan Services
All current Virginia Tech students, faculty, and staff, regardless of your location, may request through ILLiad for materials:
- not owned by Virginia Tech (books, articles from journals and conference proceedings, book chapters, standards, and technical papers)
- owned by Virginia Tech but are unavailable for use (print books)
- owned by Virginia Tech and available in print (scans of articles from journals and conference proceedings, book chapters, standards, and technical papers)
We ship requests via UPS to users outside the immediate Blacksburg area (Montgomery, Giles and Pulaski counties).
Articles, book chapters, and many technical papers are delivered in PDF format to your ILLiad account. Occasionally, due to copyright restrictions, a paper copy of an article or standard is held for your at the Newman User Services Desk or sent o the mailing address listed on your account.
Temporary, trial access only -- use while you can
The University Libraries at Virginia Tech regularly secure short-term, trial access to online resources in order to gauge their appropriateness to our university's teaching and research missions. These trials run in October, February, and sometimes April.
Trials are listed in a sidebar in the main Databases A-Z directory.
Each entry includes a link to a user survey. I and other subject librarians invite you to email us your detailed assessments of resources. Responses from the Virginia Tech community are vital to the library's deliberations about whether and when to acquire or enhance databases and the like.
As appropriate I will list trials and user survey links a resource trials tab in this and my other libguides. Entries for trials I may include in the body of my libguides will go away when the trial period ends.