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Research Guides

History Research

Guide to history research at the University of Toronto Libraries. For beginning to advanced researchers.

Getting Started

Use the Library website to find journal articles

Begin your search at the library homepage. From the LibrarySearch box, you can find books, journals, and other resources in our library catalogue in addition to searching for articles across multiple databases.

In the LibrarySearch box, type in the keywords relevant to your research topic. 

For example, if your topic is about the Catholic ran residential schools in Canada, you can enter the keywords

Catholic residential schools Canada

You will get a list of results such as Articles, Books, Reviews, and more! To find scholarly articles, underneath Filter your results select "Peer-reviewed articles" under Show Only and select "APPLY FILTERS" when prompted.

Narrow down your list to get better articles

Sometimes you will get hundreds of results. Use the filters in the left hand sidebar to narrow down your list of sources. You can filter your search results by Subject, Publication Date, and Language

Use the Library website to find books

In the library homepage search box, type in the keywords relevant to your research topic. When searching for books, remember to use simple, broad keywords.

From the list of results, underneath Filter your results on the left sidebar select "Books" under Format and select "APPLY FILTERS" when prompted to see the the library catalogue search results.

Narrow down your list of books

You can refine your search with various filters on the left sidebar, such as Library, Subject, Publication Date, and Language.

For ebooks, you can also click on the Online checkbox at the top of the page underneath show only.

Use the Library website to find biographies

To find biographical dictionaries in the library catalogue, do a keyword search, as follows:

Enter the 'name of the country' and 'biography' and 'dictionary'

Example: india biography dictionary

To find biographical monographs in the library catalogue, enter the name of the person and the keyword 'biography.' To focus, once you are in the catalogue, choose biography under subjects on the side menu.

Example: Louis Riel biography

Use the Library website to find encyclopedias and dictionaries 

Exploring your topic means finding introductory information to help you broaden or narrow your topic, while also providing keywords and terms needed to conduct further research.

Encyclopedias can be a useful tool to find introductory information on a topic to assist you with researching. Encyclopedias are highly recommended as a starting point for your research on a particular topic.

Using and Finding Encyclopedias

Encyclopedia articles are not research resources, though they may summarize research on a topic. Use them for background and for references to other sources, but generally don't quote them in your paper. This is as true for library resources as it is for Wikipedia.

You'll need to be careful then not to unconsciously use the ideas from encyclopedias without attribution.

Recommended Reference Sources


Use the Library website to find Microform

Robarts Library also houses a vast microform (microfilm, microfiche, microtext) collection which includes nearly 3-million items, ranging from historical documents to contemporary newspapers, both domestic and international. For more information on microform see the microform guide.

Search Strategies

Try narrowing your research by:

  • Geography
  • Chronology (i.e.dates, time periods or time spans)
  • Person, population or group (e.g ethnic, social, political, religious, gender, age, etc..)
  • Event based
  • Case based
  • Political perspective
  • Theoretical perspective (broad theories, e.g. feminist, Marxist; narrower theories on a specific topic, e.g. Goffman's theory of impression management)
  • Movement (literary, artistic, political, philosophical)
  • Specific instance
  • Aspects (e.g. sonnet => symbolism; homelessness => policy) 


Why should you use subject specific databases?

  • The library catalogue may produce too many search results

  • You want to search for more specific time periods

Why would you need to consult a theses for history research?

  • to identify gaps in research
  • look for models of history research 
  • develop your source base

Theses and Dissertations

Primary Sources

primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event or subject you've chosen to study, or by people who were observers of, or participants in that event or topic

More information:

Think about what kinds of primary sources might be related to your topic:

letters                newspapers                                             pamphlets
interviews reports maps
diaries government documents film
memoirs institutional records photographs


Four ways to find primary sources:

1. Start with what you already have to uncover references to primary sources. Consult your:

  • class notes
  • course readings
  • bibliographies of your textbook, journal articles, or other secondary sources
  • historical encyclopedias

They can also help you identify relevant historical figures, authors, or keywords for searching library database

2. Use the library catalogue to find books and other materials

Combine keywords for different kinds of primary sources with keywords for your topic to find them in the library catalogue.


reformation sources

world war 1942 correspondence

national socialism documents

Primary source keywords

documents                             sources                   texts                                 diaries
correspondence pamphlets personal narratives interviews


3. Use reliable online primary source collections

4. Use one of the specialized libraries at U of T, such as the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, or one of our special collections.​

  • Many University of Toronto Libraries have special collections which may include rare books, manuscripts, archival records, prints, drawings, photographs, or audio visual materials. Items from special collections are generally included in the UTL Catalogue. For details see the collection description via the Directory of Special Collections

Need suggestions for other archival collections outside the University of Toronto, check out a subject research guide or contact a subject specialist.

Recommended Open-access Resources

Images, Oral History, Audio Visual


See the Image and Visual Resource Collections guide for comprehensive links to image and visual resource databases. 

Oral History

Oral history may be in manuscript, print, microform, audio, or video format. It may be identified through a variety of tools throughout this guide, using relevant keywords.

For example, to find oral histories in the library catalogue, use keywords such as the following with your subject:

  • oral history
  • oral histories
  • testimonies
  • interview

For primary source resources see Subjects A-Z and filter by subject and research type 


Use the Library website to find Newspapers

For newspaper databases and tips on searching for newspapers take a look at this guide: Newspapers Current and Historical

Recommended Open-access Resources  

Choosing the Best Sources

When choosing books or articles for your paper, consider the following:

  • Are they relevant to your topic, and the argument that you wish to make?
  • Are they current? Some of your sources should reflect current research.
  • Are they substantial? Beware of an article that is only a couple of pages.
  • Are they scholarly? Distinguish between popular and scholarly sources 

Scholarly journal articles report on original research by experts in a particular academic discipline. Often they go through a peer-review process, which means that they are evaluated by reputable scholars in the field before they are published. 

Criteria for evaluating scholarly journals


Who wrote it? What are their credentials?


Does the author acknowledge his or her sources? How?


Is the content substantial?

Does it appear to be valid and well-researched? 

Does it make sense, based on your own background knowledge, or what other articles have to say on the topic? 


Is the language scholarly? 

Is the article well written?

Do illustrations and data support the content in a scholarly fashion, or do they appear to be attention-getting, or sensational?


Who is the article written for? 

Is it written for experts and researchers in the field, or for members of the general public?


Is it published in a scholarly journal?

RADAR (Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracy, and Relevance)

Another helpful way to evaluate the credibility of a information source is through the framework RADAR (Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracyand Relevance). See the guide for using RADAR for more detailed guidelines about how to evaluate the quality and usefulness of an information source for your research

Adapted from: Mandalios, J. (2013). RADAR: An approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. Journal of Information Science, 39(4), 470–478,

Research and Writing Help

For more resources on researching and writing in history search the library catalogue for:

or include subject headings such as:

  • History -- Methodology
  • History --Research
  • Historiography
  • Academic --Writing

Recommended Books

  • A short guide to writing about history
    •  Designed to help students learn how to think and write like an historian and go beyond merely compiling dates and facts.Teaches students how to use their own ideas in papers and to tell a story about history that interests them and their peers. Covers brief essays, the writing and researching processes, different modes of historical writing (including argument), and offers guidelines for improving style as well as documenting sources.
  • Writing History: a guide for Canadian students
    • A writing guide that ensures Canadian students master the best current practices in historical research and writing. Provides students information on researching and writing history assignments, including article reviews, journal responses, proposals, document analysis, and historical research papers.

Citation Help

Style Guides

Books From the Library

Ask Us!


How do I get the full text?

  • Make sure you've chosen a journal article - only journal articles link to the full-text: Doublecheck that you're not trying to link to an article in a book.
  • WORKAROUND if the link to a journal article doesn't work or if the search for your specific article doesn't bring up the article:
    • Search the journal title in the library catalogue. Find the online version of the journal - it has [Electronic resource] beside the title.
    • Often, more than one subscription is listed. Choose the one with the right date to cover your article.
    • Then find the volume and issue that holds your article.
  • It's possible the Library does not have your article  - our collection is enormous but we still don't have everything. The Library can get things for you from other libraries through inter-library loan
  • You can always check with a librarian. Contact the Library through chat, email or in-person.


This guide is currently maintained by Jesse Carliner. Please send any suggestions, comments, and reports of broken links to 

  • Winter 2023 update: Samantha Zani, TALint student