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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History Proseminar

Introduction to the University Library for new History graduate students.

Reference Collections

Few disciplines are as well supported by auxiliary reference material as history. There are a host of bibliographies on virtually any era, movement, or major event, as well as regional and thematic encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, chronologies, catalogs of special collections, and guides to historical literature. Some of these sources are available online, but most exist only in print, and savvy researchers know that this wealth of reference material can save them vast amounts of time otherwise spent reinventing the wheel.

Among guides to the literature, three good starting points are:

There are also hundreds of encyclopedias and dictionaries devoted to particular regions, time periods, and genres. These vary widely in degree of scholarly sophistication and completeness. The difference in quality from one encyclopedia to another can be very striking. The best way to become familiar with these resources is to browse the reference sections in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library and also in the Stack Reference area (in the 300s, 900s, and 016s), and for online sources, consult our guide to:

Government Documents

If you will be working extensively with government documents, be sure to take advantage of the expertise of our Government Information librarian, offered via the Government Information Virtual Library. The University of Illinois is a designated government depository library, with extensive holdings of federal, state, UN, and other government documents.

Princeton University Library maintains excellent online research guides to sources for European history, including historical government documents:

Digital Collections

To find digital collections available to UIUC students and faculty, please consult the A-Z Database List. The list can be filtered by subject and database type.

General Sources for Archival Materials

Depending on your research project, archival materials may be anything from the central core of your research to merely very nice icing on the cake if you can find them. There are few shortcuts to locating archival materials, but it is a good idea to start with these basics:

Or use the classic WorldCat search interface.

Other useful starting points:

You can also find printed catalogs and bibliographies of archival collections by including the subject terms sources and catalogs in a library catalog search.

Finally, good biographical reference works often give detailed information about the location of individuals' private papers. Consult this guide to biographical sources for ideas:

Microform Collections

The term "microform" encompasses microfilm and microfiche (as well as the now mercifully extinct microcard).

Locating and Using Microforms

The UIUC Library owns almost 300,000 reels of microfilm and hundreds of thousands of cards of microfiche. Why? Because microform is still the safest medium for long-term preservation, and there are many collections of useful primary source materials that have never been reproduced in any other medium, including archival materials, manuscripts, newspapers, ephemera and other niche publications.

Microforms are located in the stacks of the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library. Microfilm is arranged in a single call number sequence starting just inside the door to the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library stacks, and it continues on the floor above.

Many microform sets will have accompanying guides; spend some time familiarizing yourself with the guide, as this will save you time in the long run. The guides sometimes have the same call number as the associated microfilm or microfiche, but sometimes they are cataloged separately, with separate call numbers. If they are cataloged separately, the call number will usually begin with 016, which is the Dewey classification for bibliographies. They are located on the shelves to your left just inside the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library stacks.

Microfilm Collection Highlights

Armenian Sources. This project is intended to make available as complete as possible a spectrum of Armenological material. It includes newspapers, journals, and text‐editions of Armenian authors in the field of Armenian philology in a broad sense. This collection has 5732 fiches.

Burmese cultural microfilm collection. 47 reels of microfilm.

The Yoruba Collection of William and Berta Bascom. This collection contains 470 titles, and covers the Yoruba people of Nigeria for the years 1841‐1973.

Sultan Qaboos Collection. This collection on Oman and Ibadi Islam contains 100 volumes.

Yamagiwa Collection. This collection consists of materials dating from the 14th to the 20th centuries. It contains 1800 volumes.

Mauritanian Arabic manuscripts collection. 104 microfilm reels and includes 2,054 works Charles C. Stewart Papers, University of Illinois Archives.

An Extensive collection of pamphlets on the East Indies and China . 46 microfilm reels.

North Korean Collection. This unique collection contains works of literature, history, and official documents on North Korean leaders.

South Africa: the early years of apartheid = South Africa press digests, 1949‐1972. 13 microfilm reels. This collection consists of weekly typed digest summarizing South Africa’s principal newspapers and magazines issued by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies throughout the first 24 years of Apartheid.

Special Collections at UIUC

A brief summary of some of our outstanding collections is available at the web site of the Associate University Librarian for Collections.

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, located on the third floor of the Library, houses over 250,000 books and over 7,000 linear feet of manuscripts, including the papers of H.G. Wells, Carl Sandburg, and W.S. Merwin; a Spanish Civil War collection of material documenting the U.S. literary and military involvement in Spain's fight against fascism; the Baskette collection on freedom of expression and censorship; the Meine collection of American humor, and thousands of rare books from the 15th -20th centuries. For more information on their collections, see their web site.

The Illinois Historical Survey (Illinois History and Lincoln Collections), located on the third floor of the Main Library, maintains an extensive collection of printed materials on Illinois state and local history and the history of the old Northwest, as well as a manuscript collection with strengths in the history of the colonial and territorial periods, communitarianism in the 19th century, and late-19th and early 20th-century labor history. For information on the Illinois Historical Survey, contact the curator, John Hoffmann (333-1777).

The University Archives, located in the basement of the main Library, houses the largest collection of historical manuscripts in Illinois. The focus of the collection is American social, intellectual, and cultural history, but there is significant material pertaining to other parts of the world. Because archives are unpublished, these materials are not classified according to the Dewey Decimal Classification, and they do not appear in the online catalog. Instead, they are arranged according to a system based on "provenance" (the person or entity that created the material) into record groups, sub-groups, and series. A searchable database containing descriptions of the papers and records held by the University Archives is available at http://web.library.uiuc.edu/ahx/archon/.

Both personal papers and organizational or institutional records are held in the University Archives. Examples include the papers of the journalist James B. Reston (reporter for the New York Times from 1939 to 1989), the papers of Avery Brundage, the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee (1929-52) and International Olympic Committee (1952-72), the records of the American Society for Cybernetics, and the Alpha Tau Omega archives.

Contact Bill Maher, University Archivist, or Chris Prom, Assistant University Archivist, for further information on the Library's archival collections (University Archives, Room 19 Library, 333-7998).

The Student Life and Culture Archive offers a wealth of source material documenting student involvement in fraternities, sororities, student government, political activities, religious associations, publications, social events, and athletics.  The SLC Archives is located in the old Horticultural Field Laboratory at 1707 South Orchard Street in Urbana (east of the President's house on Florida Avenue).  Contact Ellen Swain, Archivist for Student Life and Culture, for more information (333-7841)

The Communications Library and the University Archives hold three major collections of print advertising. The Communications Library curates the D'Arcy and Woodward Collections. The D'Arcy collection, containing 2 million ads published between 1890 and 1970, has its own online index of products and brands (http://www.comm.uiuc.edu/darcy/). The entire collection has been microfilmed, and you can obtain color photocopies of these ads. Contact Lisa Romero, Communications Librarian, for help with this material (l-romero@uiuc.edu). The Communications Library also houses the Woodward Collection of approximately four million ads from the late 19th century through the 1980s.

The University Archives houses the Advertising Council Archives ("Only you can prevent forest fires"), which includes material from their campaign ads. The Advertising Council was established in early 1942 to support the war effort through public service advertising. For more information on the Advertising Council Archives, see http://web.library.uiuc.edu/ahx/adcouncil, or contact the staff in the University Archives (listed above).

Past Prelims Digital Collection