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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Library Research for Undergraduate History Students: An Introduction

A general guide to using the library for historical research.

Looking at the Secondary Literature Critically

You've identified some of the main currents of thought on your topic, and you've begun to reflect on your findings:

  1. Are there aspects of the topic that haven't been addressed by previous historians? How will this affect your research strategy?
  2. Do you trust all the conclusions that have been drawn by other historians? You might need to consult their original sources yourself, if you have access to them, and form your own interpretations.
  3. Does the current scholarship offer enough evidence to make a convincing case? You might need to collect more evidence, and see if it corroborates or complicates our present understanding of the subject.

Managing Your Sources

With citation management tools, you can store and organize citations downloaded directly from the online library catalog and most Library databases.  We recommend Zotero, which is free. It works best with the Firefox web browser, but offers a "standalone" version that can be used with other web browsers. 

Zotero was developed by historians to support historical research. Flexible software allows you to take snapshots of web pages, and to organize your notes along with your sources. A special plug-in allows you to insert formatted footnotes and bibliographies into MS Word.

Citing Your Sources


Even experienced writers can benefit from a consultation with an expert writer/editor. The UIUC Center for Writing Studies offers writing consultations at the Undergraduate Library and on several other locations on campus.

They also maintain a very useful page of writer's resources.