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Resources for Your History Day Research

Sure, there is Google and other Web search engines that can bring you to great sites with good information. But as you research your topic think about the other various kinds of sources* that may be extremely useful, including:

  • Books and Videos (including biographies, autobiographies, histories, documentaries, etc.)
  • Articles (from newspapers, history-related journals and magazines)
  • Primary Sources (such as original letters, diaries, photos, etc.)
  • Interviews (participants and/or commentators on a particular event or topic).
*As you gather your materials you will need to decide whether each is a primary or a secondary source. (You need to understand which is which because your bibliography requires you to divide your list of sources under one category or the other.) You can learn about each kind of source from the National History Day's "Conducting Research" webpage.

As you gather your information be sure to keep track of your sources for your annotated bibliography. And be patient. Good research means search and re-search as one source leads you to others.

Below are some suggestions on how and where to search for various sources of information:

Books and Videos

Useful places for finding relevant books and/or videos include:

Your school library:
Start locating resources available in your school's library collection. Talk to your school librarian for research suggestions.

Your public library:
Public libraries generally make it possible to search for books and videos using their online catalog. They may also make it possible to search other libraries in the area or even the state. If you find resources that look useful but are owned by another library, ask your local librarian to obtain them for you through a free service called "interlibrary loan". (If you're thinking of going in person to a library other than your own, make sure you can use your local library card to borrow their material.)

A local college library:
Take advantage of the resources that may be available at one or more of the colleges or universities that may be near you. You can usually search their online catalogs on the web. If you find something useful, be sure to call or e-mail first to make sure you can borrow their material.

Amazon.com or other online book seller:
There are many, many books published every year that may not be available at your local school, public, or college libraries and therefore do not come up in your search of their online catalogs. To discover these books or videos, take a look at an online book seller like Amazon.com. If you find something that looks useful, jot down the pertinent information (author, title, date of publication) and ask your local librarian if they can get it through interlibrary loan.

And remember to look at the bibliographies and/or footnotes for other potential sources.


Great information on your topic may also be available in articles published in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. Online library databases can help you find articles and in many cases can provide access to the full text for printing! Sometimes your search may only retrieve a citation (basic information that includes the title of the article, the author(s) name(s), publication title, date of publication, volume and/or issue, page numbers) and/or an abstract (a short summary of what the article is about). As with books, remember that if you find an article that looks interesting because of its title or abstract but can't get the full text for it, ask a librarian to help. They will need the article and publication title, etc. in order to find a copy of the article for you.

Through your school library, or with a local library card, you can search the databases listed below that are available online from any computer with an internet connection. Your public library website will have links to these databases, usually under a general link called online databases or electronic resources, or something similar. If you do not have a local library card, but you live or go to school in Massachusetts, you can also get access to these databases (and more) with a Boston Public Library ecard, which you can get online for free in a matter of minutes. (For information on the Boston Public Library ecard go to http://www.bpl.org/general/circulation/ecards.htm)

Be aware that each database that you search can lead to a different set of articles. To do a thorough search, always consider using more than just one database.

Below are the names of some currently available article databases that may prove useful, along with a brief description of each:

InfoTrac K-12 Junior Edition:
Designed for junior high and middle school students. Mainly full-text magazines, newspapers and reference books covering current events, the arts, science, popular culture, health, people, government, history, sports and more.
InfoTrac K-12 Student Edition:
Designed for secondary school students. Includes mainly full-text magazines, newspapers and reference books covering current events, the arts, science, popular culture, health, people, government, history, sports and more.
U.S. History in Context
Information on people, events and topics in U.S. history. Includes articles from reference works, academic journals and magazines, primary source documents, images, video and audio.
World History in Context
Information on people, events, and topics in world history. Includes articles from reference works, academic journals and magazines, primary source documents, images, video and audio.
Biography in Context:
Over 400,000 biographies covering literary figures, science, multicultural studies, business, entertainment, politics, sports, government, history, current events and the arts.
Massachusetts History Online
Full-text articles from 50 magazines and local newspapers for coverage of Massachusetts people, places and historical events.
Academic OneFile:
Citations, abstracts, and full-text content for journals and reference works covering all subjects, including the full-text of The New York Times back to 1995 and NPR, CNN & CBC transcripts and podcasts.
General Reference Center Gold:
Full-text and images from magazines, reference books, and newspapers for information on current events, popular culture, the arts and sciences, sports, etc.

NOTE: Many college and some larger public libraries may have other, more specialized, databases that could be useful, but you may have to visit in person in order to use them. These include:
    • New York Times Historical: Full text and full image database. 1851 - 2006.
    • America: History and Life: Citations/abstracts on history of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present.
    • Historical Abstracts: Citations/abstracts on world history, excluding the U.S. and Canada, after 1450 A.D.
    • Project Muse: Historical coverage of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present.
    • JSTOR: Full-text access to nearly 600 core scholarly journals covering 44 specialized subject areas. Complete sets of many titles are available (but no current coverage for the most recent three to five years.)

Google Scholar [http://scholar.google.com] can also be a useful tool for locating articles; sometimes it can lead to full text but usually you will have to get the full text from an article database, interlibrary loan, or (as a last resort) by paying for it.

And remember to look at the bibliographies at the end of articles for other potential sources.

Primary Sources: Letters, Diaries, Pictures, Songs, and More

Primary sources --- letters, diaries, photographs, songs, etc.--- are extremely important to the study of history and are commonly referred to in books, articles, documentaries, etc. Today, you can find copies or images of many primary sources online. However, there is a much larger number that are owned by specific institutions that will not show up in a Google-type search but only by searching the catalogs at specific websites (assuming their catalog is available online).

Below is a list of some archives, libraries, museums and historic places in Massachusetts with research possibilities, as well as links from the National History Day website to sites with online primary sources related to American History, World History, Photos, and Song:

Archives and Libraries:
The American Antiquarian Society

The Center for Lowell History

Harvard University Libraries and Museums

The John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The Massachusetts Archives

Massachusetts Historical Society
M.I.T. Archives and Special Collections

The National Archives Regional Center (Boston)

The National Archives Regional Center (Pittsfield)

The UMass/Amherst Libraries

Historical Societies, Museums, and Historic Sites
The Basketball Hall of Fame
The Berkshire Museum

Cambridge Historical Commission
The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

The Concord Museum

Springfield Museums

The Falmouth Historical Society

The Hancock Shaker Village

The Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Arts

Historic Deerfield

Historic Northhampton Museum and Education Center

The John Alden House Museum

The Longyear Museum

Lowell National Historical Park

The Marine Museum at Fall River
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum

The Museum of African American History

The National Park Service

The New Bedford Whaling Museum

Old Sturbridge Village

The Peabody Essex Museum

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard

The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

Plimoth Plantation

Salem Museums of Witches and Pirates

The Salem Witch Museum

The USS Salem Naval Shipbuilding Museum

The USS Constitution Museum

Worcester Historical Museum

Primary Source Website Links from National History Day


As you explore your topic you may find references to individuals who are still living. First-hand, eyewitness accounts of events and people can be important and very useful. You might be surprised how many people are willing to be interviewed in person, by phone, or by e-mail when they learn you are doing a project for National History Day! You might also consider trying to contact authors of important books and/or articles to see if they can shed more light on your topic.