Research: Suggested Sites and Sources
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Where Do I Start?

While Google is a helpful starting place, it has many limits.  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 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.

Sources for Your History Day Research 

Finding sources for your National History Day project can be both fun and challenging.  You will need to use a variety of primary and secondary sources for your project, which may take some creative thinking!  You can learn about each kind of source from the National History Day's "Conducting Research" webpage.

See the chart below for examples of different types of sources:

 Primary Source
 Secondary Source

A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.
A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian’s reading of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue. The purpose of a secondary source is to help build the story of your research from multiple perspectives and to give your research historical context.

  • documents
  • artifacts
  • historic sites
  • songs
  • interview from someone who witnessed the time or event
  • movies from the time period
  • photographs
  • any other written or tangible items created during the historical period you are studying
  • books on your topic
  • journal articles
  • documentaries
  • interviews with historians
An example of a secondary source is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson, published in 1988. They are a great starting point in helping you see the big picture. Understanding the context of your topic will help you make sense of the primary sources that you find.


For more information on primary and secondary sources, check out the NHD How-To page and the Contest Rule Book linked there.

Sources in Different Languages 

A note for students for students who speak multiple languages: your sources do NOT have to be in English!  While your final project does have to be written in English, you can use sources from any language that you want.  This can be a huge help when researching history--use it to your advantage!

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 local 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.)

The Boston Public Library: The BPL is free for all Massachusetts residents to use.  If you don't already have a BPL card, you can register for one online and start browsing immediately! In addition to books from libraries all over Boston, you will have access to the Leventhal Map Center, online article databases, and much more.  Plus, you can ask the librarians for suggestions as well.

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. 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 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.

NOTE: The bibliographies and/or footnotes are a great place to find other other potential primary and secondary sources to look at!


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

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.

The Boston Public Library

With a BPL card (free for any Massachusetts resident), you can access a number of great research databases including the following:

  • Britannica Library: Three levels of age-appropriate encyclopedia content for adults, middle and high school students, and children. Includes articles, primary sources, audiovisual materials, dictionaries, a world atlas, web links, and a country comparison feature. Research tools include citation assistance and a step-by-step planner and tutorial for research and reports.
  • Britannica Spanish Reference Center: Consiste en dos recursos principales: Enciclopedia Moderna (para edades de escuela secundaria y posteriores) y Britannica Escolar Online (para edades de 6 a 12).
  • Research in Context: Designed for middle school students, this resource includes magazine and news articles, reference books, primary sources, and audiovisual materials covering a wide range of topics, as well as research and writing tips and teacher resources.
  • JSTOR: Full-text articles from hundreds of scholarly journals from the mid-19th century to the early 21st century covering a wide range of subjects, including complete runs of many historical journals.
  • National Geographic Virtual Library: Full reproductions of National Geographic magazine (1888-present) and National Geographic Traveler (2010-present), as well as searchable collections of books, maps, images, and videos.
  • Historical Newspapers: Explore hundreds of 17th, 18th, and 19th century newspapers.
  • Archives Unbound: A diverse collection of mostly U.S. primary source and historical materials, including city and business directories for southern states, miscellaneous county & regional histories and atlases, Civil War reports, newspapers, and narratives, and more
  • Slavery and Anti-Slavery: Primary sources on the transatlantic slave trade and the global abolitionist movement

Below are the names of some currently available article databases that may prove useful, along with a brief description of each.  Ask your local library if they offer access to any of the following databases:

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.

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:

Google Scholar 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.  Check out resources like StoryCorps, the Oral History Association, or the Minnesota Historical Society for ideas on how to structure your interview.