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HIST 3072 (special collections): Research Process Tips

Research Process Guides

Historical research can be incredibly exciting and interesting, but getting started can be daunting--especially if you are starting from scratch in coming up with a topic. 

In general, the most important thing to remember is that getting started early is essential.  Give your self time to browse, connect, reimagine, and revise.  Below are some links walk you through steps for developing a topic and writing an interesting paper.  These aren't the only way to approach the work, but they give you a place to start.  Remember to consult your professor for big questions or concerns and to re-read the assignment.

Learning to Do Historical Research: A Primer
How to Frame a Researchable Question
Created by historian William Cronin and his graduate students to help undergraduates develop research topic in environmental history, but ideas and concepts are useful for any area of historical research.

Stages of A Historical Research Project
Independent project on the Web. offers a streamlined outline for research processes that may be a good quick reference tool

Glossary of Terms

Archives lingo made easy...

Puzzled by other words?
Visit the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Terms site 

Tips and Tricks-Keyword Searching

Keyword Search Tips and Tricks

Brainstorm terms related to  your topic

  • For views of Georgians the best keywords to try are:  constituent, correspondence, opinion polls, forum, citizen, views, letters
  • Try different versions of the same word (example: Cuba, Cuban)
  • Try terms that are specific and general (example: Athens, Georgia, the South)
  • Explore the variety of descriptive terms that different groups used to describe the same people, events, places, and ideas (example: Civil War vs. War between the States, activists vs. agitators, protesters vs. rabble) 
  • Explore the evolution of meaning of terms over time.  Words that mean something to us today may have different meanings earlier in time or at specific moments in time.  ("busing" in the early 1970s is about implementation of desegregation orders in the early 1970s in the American South, whereas today, "busing" might be about environmental issues related to transportation)
  • Think like a file clerk. sometimes collections are organized by subjects, but often they are organized around dates, alphabetical listings of names, or by the group or individual that produced the records. If you don't find any files called "Cuban Missile Crisis" in a search of a politician's papers from the early 1960s, there is a good chance that there are relevant materials in  a folder called "1962." (The more you know; the MORE YOU KNOW!)

Never Admit Defeat!

  • If you try all of the tricks described above and still don't find what you are looking for, consider browsing the finding aids for materials donated by  people who are likely to be involved  in your topic.  Remember, every finding aid has a biography abotu the person or group that created or collected the materials.  
  • Never be aftaid to ask an archivist for help; that's why we're here. We work for you! 

Tips & Tricks--Reading Cursive Handwriting

Palaeography: reading old handwriting
1500 - 1800
A practical online tutorial

Palaeography is the study of old handwriting. This web tutorial will help you learn to read the handwriting found in documents written in English between 1500 and 1800.

At first glance, many documents written at this time look illegible to the modern reader. By reading the practical tips and working through the documents in the Tutorial in order of difficulty, you will find that it becomes much easier to read old handwriting. You can find more documents on which to practise your skills in the further practice section.

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography