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History: Identifying Key Scholars on Your Topic

This guide is meant to be a short introduction to finding resources for historical research. Originally developed by Jason Ezell.

Reference Books

Perform a subject search on your general topic in the SOUTHcat catalog and limit to "Marx Library Reference".  If you find a good reference item, scan relevant entries and bibliographies for major scholars.  As you look in multiple sources, be sure to take note of names which re-appear, and the dates of their major works.

Sometimes, a very broad reference work on historiography, like the one below, may be available:

How to Use a Book

How to Gut a Book

  • Table of Contents--this is a DUH!
  • Read the intro chapter (or chapter one as the case may be) closely.
    • The author(s) *should* lay out their thesis and basic sub arguments here–even stubborn authors like myself succumb to editorial pressure and start writing sentences like “In this book I argue…” Look for “keywords” that are associated with that scholar(s) to discern what they’re going to do. Here they often give a lineup of what is to come in each subsequent chapter or essay.
  • Read the first few paragraphs and the last few paragraphs of each chapter carefully looking for specific patterns and evidence proffered in relation to the thesis.
    • look for subheadings–stop at these–the title will give you clues to the sub-arguments that the author is using to establish her thesis. 
    • the last few paragraphs probably link back to BOTH the main thesis and the sub-argument of the chapter. Read these closely.
  •  Read the conclusion closely.
    • the conclusion should wrap back around and reiterate the thesis while also suggesting links to sub-arguments and also ways forward for piggyback research etc.
  • Read any extended or block quotes in a chapter. 
    • If a scholar is using precious page space to quote another scholar or author at length then it’s significant…either because it supports the primary scholar’s argument (or he/she has built his/her argument out of that scholar’s idea) OR the primary scholar is trying to dispute the quoted scholar.  Either way, it’s important to understanding the primary argument.
  • Read footnotes (or endnotes as the case may be) & the bibliography

    • scholars are notorious for “hiding” some of their best, and most illuminating, ideas in the notes.  
    • one can also build one’s own bibliography from other’s bibliographies and footnotes, always make your own “to read” list--pearl growing. 
  • Use the index--another DUH!

Citation Mining

Searching Specific Journals

Reading Introductions

The introductions to book-length histories usually not only name the primary source materials used but also situate the scholarship in relation to other histories and historians in the field.

Note how, below, in Dr. Strong's introduction to Education, Travel and the 'Civilisation' of the Victorian Working Classesshe cites positions her own book in relation to the other scholars' work on travel.  On page 5 alone, she mentions works by Engerman, Clifford, Benson, Bailey, and Rose.