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HIST 202: Historical Research

This guide is designed to help students gain comfort and skill with introductory historical research.

So you've got a topic and need to find sources...

What kind of sources do you want to look for?

  • Print? --> Try searching the Library catalog for keywords or subjects like:
    • collective memory
    • letters
    • memoirs
    • history AND sources
  • Electronic?
    • Try our digital repository for unique CMU collections that've been digitized
    • Try even Googling a keyword or two about your topic area and looking for .gov, .edu, and .org websites
  • Both? --> Mix it up and try a variety of the above strategies!

Useful Search Techniques for Historical Research

Keywords = the major terms for your topic, research question, or subject of interest


  • Sample topic: Church and Learning in the Byzantine Empire
    • Potential list of keywords: religion, church, education, Byzantine Empire
  • Sample topic: The History of Ethnic Minorities in America
    • Potential list of keywords:  acculturation, American Indians, Black history, Chinese Americans, culture conflict, ethnic discrimination, ethnic groups, ethnic relations, ethnic studies, immigrants, Japanese Americans, Jews, Polish Americans, social attitudes, social discrimination, United States history


Now let's look at how we can use our keywords for searching with Boolean operators!

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SAMPLE TOPIC: What strategies did people develop to live in their environments from 4000-2000 BCE?


Searching with AND...

  • Try searching: strategies AND "early civilization" AND rivers

Searching with OR...

  • Try searching: strategies AND "early civilization" AND (rivers OR irrigation)
    • NOTE: More on using (parentheses) on the Truncation, Wildcards & More tab.

Searching with NOT...

  • Try searching: adaptations AND "early civilization" NOT Egypt
    • NOTE: You would use "NOT Egypt" in your search to indicate you don't want Egypt to be in the title/ keywords/subjects/abstract/full-text (as available) of your search results.

Now let's look at how we can use our keywords and Boolean operators with other sophisticated stategies!

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Often used to conveniently search multiple endings of a word or letter sequence.


child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood

histor* = history, historic, historian, historically, historiography, historiographic

Often used to replace/substitute letters of a word.


colo*r = color and colour

 wom*n = woman and wome

transplant** = transplant, transplanted, transplanter

These can be used to assist with Boolean searches when you need to use both AND and OR...


  (United States OR North America) AND   (extraterrestrials OR "alien life"

  (WWII OR "World War II" OR "second    world war") AND (soldier* OR milit*)

 You might want or expect to see key terms close to one another. 


"civil war" N5 wom*n

Apollo N10 (moon OR mission)