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HIST 284: Native North America (HC)

History 284: Native North America (Saler) Fall 2021

Understand the Process

  • Research is an iterative process, meaning a cycle rather than a straight line. Assuming you have a research question in mind, you may follow a process like this:
    • Brainstorm search words -->
    • Explore initial search results -->
    • Refine your research question, and add or remove search words based on your initial search -->
    • Conduct a more targeted search -->
    • Evaluate results --> 
    • Check the sources used in the most promising articles or books-->
    • Repeat! -->
      <--  <--  <--

When getting started, I will look at handbooks or encyclopedias to see the way my topic is discussed. 


Once you're ready to find scholarly literature, you'll want to use a library catalog, journal database, or research archive to help you find appropriate sources, but searches in background sources and Google can be helpful in the brainstorming phase. 

Tips for Searching

If you search a catalog or database and receive a large number of results, add a limit or additional keyword in order to retrieve a manageable and relevant number of results to review.  At the same time overly narrow search terms can return too few results.  One way of solving both problems is to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT). They allow you to define concepts and determine their relationships.  They also give you opportunities to limit or expand searches depending on your needs. 

A search for women AND  castas will return items that contain both terms:


women OR  gender allows you to put related words together with results that contain either one of the terms or both:


english NOT great britain returns items that talk about issues involving Engish but do not mention the United Kingdom

Phrase searching:

An important strategy to use when searching for phrases ("triangle trade") or titles ("black atlantic"

Quotations will ensure a search for those words in that order, finding in the latter example the 2009 book, The Human Tradition in the Black Atlantic, 1500-2000, that features sketches of individual life stories.


Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.

For example, one could search for politic*  to find poltic, politics, political, politicking, and so on.

Wildcard searches are for differences within words: a search for wom?n will return results for woman, women, and womyn.


Nested Searching:

When pairing two or more keywords and connecting them to other concepts, it is important to "nest" the former terms within a larger Boolean search.  (race OR racial OR casta*) AND  ("latin america* OR caribbean) AND history

Focus Your Search:

Choose where the database is searching.  It may be set automatically for keyword.  You can make the search more precise by looking instead for title words only or for subjects.


Putting Your Search Statement Together for a search in Historical Abstracts:

  (race OR racial OR casta*) AND  ("latin america* OR caribbean) as Subjects AND Historical Period 1700-1799

Resuts include:

"Gender, Sexuality and the Formation of Racial Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Anglo-Caribbean World" 

By: Newman, Brooke N. Gender & History. Nov2010, Vol. 22 Issue 3, p585-602. 18p. Historical Period: 1701 to 1800


"Janet Schaw and the Complexions of Empire"

By: Coleman, Deirde. Eighteenth-Century Studies. Winter2003, Vol. 36 Issue 2, p169. 15p. Historical Period: 1760 to 1799