HIST 101.002: Creating a Nation

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About this Guide

A brief research guide for Jeffery Bradley's class, Fall 2010.

This guide has been archived

Please note: this course guide was created during a previous semester, and is no longer being actively maintained. For a list of current course guides, please see http://lib.berkeley.edu/alacarte/course-guides.

The Research Process

Choose a topic.  

Do a brain dump: Write down what you already know about your topic, including

Fill in the gaps in your knowlege: get background information from encyclopedias or other secondary sources.  Wikipedia can be good here.

Select the best places/ databases to find information on your topicLook under the History Databases tab of this guide for article database suggestions. Or use a catalog like Oskicat or Melvyl to search for books and other resources.

Use nouns from your brain dump as search terms.

Evaluate what you find.  Change search terms to get closer to what you really want.

Refine Your Topic - Using the information you have gathered, determine if your research topic should be narrower or broader. You may need to search basic resources again using your new, focused topics and keywords. 

Take a look this short tutorial on beginning your research for more ideas.

The Craft of Research [book]

This classic book on writing a college research paper, is easily skimmed or deep enough for the truly obsessed researcher, explains the whole research process from initial questioning, through making an argument, all the way to effectively writing your paper. 

This link is to the Google Books preview.  But buy a secondhand copy for yourself. It's worth the $8 bucks.

Guide to writing history papers

History Databases : Secondary Sources

Three suggested scholarly databases... there are more.

Primary Sources

Here are some primary source databases to begin with, but some students' topics will need different ones.

The library has created a strategy guide to searching for primary sources in the catalog.

Off-campus Access to Library Resources

Before you can access UCB Library resources from off campus or via your laptop or other mobile devices, make sure you have configured your machine using one of two simple methods (Proxy Server is the quickest and easiest):

Proxy Server
After you make a one-time change in your web browser settings, the proxy server will ask you to log in with a CalNet ID when you click on the link to a licensed resource. See the setup instructions, FAQ, and Troubleshooting pages to configure your browser.  Make sure you check the proxy configuration before you start researching.

VPN (Virtual Private Network)
After you install and run the VPN "client" software on your computer, you can log in with a CalNet ID to establish a secure connection with the campus network.

Session Notes

Here's some of what we covered in the library session on July 27.

Three kinds of topics   ||  Three research strategies


1. The evolution of Stokely Carmichael

          This is a kind of biographical topic, which is pretty easy to get started with because the search term is obvious, but the topic still needs to be narrowed to say something meaningful in a short [10 pp] paper


2. RFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis

         This is a political history topic, with a specific event in mind, and a specific individual.  This is an easy kind of topic to start researching because there are two very obvious search terms, and the time frame is self-defined.  However it still needs to be narrowed to say something meaningful in a short paper.


3.   Automobiles: Unions, Consumerism, and Social Change (1950s)

          This is a social history topic, not associated with a single person, or a single event. This is a little harder to research because you need to specify what you mean, in order to narrow the topic.  It helps to find the names of specific unions [in this case], and to consider what specific social changes you are interested in.

          You need to think: what kind of primary sources would give evidence of this/these social change/s?  How will you prove there really was an impact on society from this phenomenon?


What kind of topic do you have? 


Where to search & what words to use [the fool and the street lamp]

What kinds of evidence [i.e., primary sources] do you want to find?


Do a brain dump: note down names, dates, organization, events—anything you know about your topic.  Use Wikipedia if you need more information.  Which words do you think will be the best search terms?


  1. Open up the course guide:  http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/alacarte/course-guide/52-HIST124
  2. Click on the History Databases tab.
  3. Search for secondary sources in one of the recommended databases.
  4. The library has created a strategy guide to searching for primary sources in the catalog. Read it for advice on how to find the kinds of primary sources you want.  Then try to find a primary source written by somebody involved in your topic.


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Well, what do you think?

Your individual topic probably requires sources I haven't mentioned.  Let me know what else you'd like to discover.

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