Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498C: A Queer United States

A guide to library sources for your research paper. Also reviews some basic library research concepts that should have been covered in your History 200 course.

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.

Article Indexes

Article indexes are a type of bibliography. The purpose of bibliography is to list documents, usually published documents like books and articles. This type of bibliography is more accurately called "enumerative bibliography". An enumerative bibliography will attempt to be as comprehensive as possible, within whatever parameters established by the bibliographer.

Think of a bibliography as a guide to the source base for a specific field of inquiry. A high quality bibliography will help you understand what kinds of sources are available, but also what kinds of sources are not available (either because they were never preserved, or because they were never created in the first place).

For more information on the role of bibliography in historical research, see our guide to Bibliography and Historical Research:

Bibliographies can be as short as a few pages, or as long as several hundred volumes. Bibliographies can also be published as databases, and these are the bibliographies that are often called "article indexes" or "indexing and abstracting services" because they index the contents of journals.

There are many article indexes for finding periodical articles. 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 include:

Full Text Journal 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 from this latter group might include African American newspapers, LGBTQ periodicals, military newspapers, or publications of immigrant groups.

For more information on finding publications of the alternative press, please see our guide to the Alternative Press:

I've listed here some article indexes and full text collections that should be specifically relevant to your course:

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.

The Library has many guides to, and bibliographies of, alternative press publications. For the most complete listing, see our guide to the Alternative Press (linked above). Below are four especially relevant source:

More Full Text Periodical Collections


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