Skip to main content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 200D: Race, Sports, and Politics: Developing a Historical Perspective

Introduces history majors to basic research library concepts. Provides both a broad overview of the source types collected by research libraries, as well as lists of specific sources relevant to your assignment for this class.

What are Periodicals?

As explained in the section on Documents, the periodical evolved from the book, and the reason is that the periodical filled two main needs that the printed book could not:

  1. Publication of current information. Periodical publishers and book publishers operate under very different business models, and the former are able to publish new information far more quickly and inexpensively than the latter.
  2. Publication of information that does not lend itself to publication in book format, either because even a full treatment of the subject would be too short to warrant publication as a book, or because the audience for the information is so specialized that publication as a book would represent too great a market risk for a publisher to assume.1

There are dozens of types of periodicals. Four important types are described below:

  • Scholarly. Often called journals. Intended for academic audiences. Many scholarly periodicals are published by university presses, learned societies, and other not-for-profit publishers, but others are published by commercial (or "for-profit") publishers like Routledge, Brill, De Gruyter, Springer, Brepols and, Sage. Not all scholarly periodicals are peer reviewed.
  • Popular. Often called magazines. Almost always published by commercial ("for profit") publishers, and often cease publication when they become unprofitable for the publisher. Intended for popular audiences, but can cater to smaller audiences (like hobbyist magazines) as long as the audience is segmented such that the magazine can still be profitable. Pornographic magazines, like the gay fetish magazine Bound and Gagged, are also technically commercial, and form part of the Library's periodical collection.
  • Trade. Often called trade journals or trade newspapers. Intended for members of a profession (Chronicle of Higher Education), occupation (Railway Carmen's Journal), or industry (Hollywood Reporter). They often resemble newspapers in frequency of publication (weekly and even daily) and appearance (printed on large format, inexpensive paper, with no cover).
  • Alternative. Have an acknowledged political bias that is considered to be outside the "mainstream".  Alternative periodicals are usually not expected to turn a profit.They are intended to motivate readers to action, or form coalitions from like-minded people. They are often low-budget newsletters, but can also be expensively produced magazines or organs of societies and special interest groups. Alternative newspapers and periodicals are sometimes mistakenly referred to as "underground newspapers." Strictly speaking, an underground publication is one that is published secretly--in other words, the place of publication and identity of the publisher are not disclosed. Most alternative newspapers and periodicals in library collections do not meet this criterion.

These distinctions are simply a method for classifying sources; and, like all classification schemes, it provides a method for quickly completing a task, in this case the task is drawing certain conclusions about the nature of a source. The conclusions you draw should not be your final judgment on the question of the source's value. Classification schemes often obscure as much as they reveal about whatever they are attempting to describe.

Neither source type ("scholarly" or "popular") definitively indicates the value or reliability of a source, but recognizing the difference can sometimes make it easier to predict the probability of a source's value and reliability. You still need to evaluate each source critically.

Other Article Databses

There are many article databases for finding periodical articles.  These databases are often called article indexes, but they are essentially searchable bibliographies of journal articles organized by subject.

Because the Library does not subscribe to every journal, and because not all journals are digitized, and because not all digitized journals are available in a single collection, the article indexes provide the only efficient means of identifying relevant articles from across the widest possible range of periodical publications.

Most of these article indexes include a mixture of academic and popular sources (and remember that sometimes the distinction is not clear).

The principal database for identifying journal articles in American history is:

Other article databases relevant to research for this class include:

Digitized Journal Collections

There are several major collections of full-text electronic journals. In these databases you can browse individual issues of journals, or you can do a search across the entire database. Most of the journals in the following collections are scholarly journals:

Digitized Periodical Collections

Alternative Press

Serial publications of the non-mainstream media, often referred to as "alternative" or "underground" press publications, can be difficult to locate. Publications in this category include newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and other types of serial publications. These periodicals tend to be written from an acknowledged political perspective--for example, liberal or conservative--and they often promote a specific agenda. They might, however, report on news that is of interest to a specific community--often a marginalized one--without endorsing any defined ideology. Examples of these might be African American newspapers, gay and lesbian magazines, military newspapers, or publications of immigrant groups. The guide covers primarily alternative press publications of the United States, with some coverage of Canada and the United Kingdom.

The African American periodical press is covered in a separate guide:

Online Sources

Microfilm Sources

The University Library has hundreds of alternative newspapers on microfilm, with coverage back to 1960 and earlier. The best way to check for availability of specific titles, or to browse by date and place of publication, is to consult the Library's Newspaper Database. Listed below are specific collections of interest.

Reference Sources

How to Find a Periodical Article

If you have a citation for a periodical article, and you want to locate that article, the essential pieces of information you need to locate that article are the name of the journal (or magazine), and the publication date.

Let's look at the following citation as an example:

Houston, R.A. “Poor Relief and the Dangerous and Criminal Insane in Scotland, c.1740-1840.” Journal of Social History 40 no. 2 (2006): 453-476.

The key pieces of information are the name of the journal, Journal of Social History, and the date, 2006. You will use catalogs to determine whether or not the Library owns that journal. To reiterate: the title of the journal, not the title of the article, is the key piece of information when trying to locate that article in the Library.

Since most of our journals are now available online, the first catalog you will use is called:

If you do not find the journal in the catalog of Online Journals and Databases, you will next search for a print copy in the traditional Library catalog:

If the Library has neither an online nor a print copy of the journal, then you will request the article through Interlibrary Loan:

Notes

1. D.E. Davinson, The Periodicals Collection: Its Purpose and Uses in Libraries (London: Andre Deutsch, 1969), 38.