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HIST 165: Slavery, Race, and Rights in American History: Getting Started

Gathering background information

The first step in your assignment is to do some general reading about a topic related to slavery, race, and rights in Massachusetts history that interests you. Doing this background reading will give you some of the tools and vocabulary you need to find the primary sources for your assignment. You will also find valuable citations to primary sources in your initial investigation.

Bringing in Scholarly Sources

Where is the information coming from? 

When doing preliminary research, be critical of where the information is coming from. When doing historic research we think of our sources in two ways, primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are anything produced in the time period you are studying. Secondary Sources are about the time period you are studying. Secondary Sources can be broken into the categories of Scholarly and Popular. Scholarly sources are detailed analysis produced by scholars in a field. Popular sources are produced for the enjoyment of the general public. 

Why use scholarly sources? 

Scholarly sources are generally more reliable because they have gone through the process of peer-review. They generally go into greater detail about an event than a secondary source, and will have detailed citations leading you to the primary sources consulted. 

How do I find scholarly sources? 

Scholarly sources can be found in the library databases. See the list of databases below to get started. When searching Ram search, use the "scholarly, peer-reviewed" limiter in the left-hand bar. 

Relevant Library Databases

EBSCO Search Box

Ram Search

Search for articles, journals, and more!

Creating an Effective Search

Boolean Operators and Wildcards

Boolean operators tell the database how to put your words together in a search. Wildcards allow you to search for a a word, or part of a word with any ending. Here are some examples: 

  • "fugitive slave act" AND massachusetts --> This search will combine the two search terms. The phrase "fugitive slave act" AND the word Massahcusetts
  • "fugitive slave act" AND (resistance OR opposition) --> This search will search for the phrase "fugitive slave act" AND the word resistance OR search the phrase "fugitive slave act" AND the word opposition
  • massachusetts AND slav* --> This search will search for the word massachusetts AND any word that begins with slav, like slave or slavery.

When you are starting to think of search terms think of synonyms! This will help you find everything on your topic. For example, if I'm interested in research on college campuses, I may want to include the words university OR higher education in my search. 

Keyword Searching vs. Subject Searching

Keyword searching is when you type a word or phrase into the database search bar and search the entire database record or a specific part of the database record for that keyword. 

Subject searching is limiting your search to the subject terms in the database record. 

Both are effective methods of searching, and can be used in combination.

Useful Video Tutorials

The following tutorials show the basics of how to search Ram Search, Worldcat, and interlibrary loan.