How to Find Sources for a History Paper

Searching the UVic library to find sources can be confusing.

First, you need to determine your topic.

Second, you need to know what the requirements of the assignment are:

  • How many sources do you need?
  • Does the professor specify a certain number of books and/or articles?
  • Do you need any primary sources?

In the following sections, I will give you a few tips on how to search for books and journal articles. If you still need help, I’ve posted a video at the very end with step-by-step tips on how to search the UVic library website.

If you need primary sources, read my post on Primary Sources (coming soon).

Determine Search Terms

Before you do anything else, you should come up with a number of search terms related to your research topic. If you don’t know much about your topic, it can be a good idea to start with a general google search. While you are not allowed to cite Wikipedia web pages, they are helpful in providing a general overview of your topic.

For example, if I planned on researching Canadian participation in the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947, I could read through a number of Wikipedia pages to get a better idea of the conflict. From this preliminary reading, some possible search terms would be: Lester Pearson, UNSCOP, partition, Palestine, Zionism, Ivan Rand, Resolution 181, Lake Success, and Canada.

Of these search terms, I could come up with a number of variants: Lester B. Pearson, United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, British mandate, Mandate Palestine, Zionist, Jewish, Supreme Court Justice, United Nations, and Canadian. It is a good idea to be flexible with search terms for effective searching.

How to Search Summons 2.0


Once you have a general understanding of what you are researching, open the UVic Library page and click on “Advanced search” below the main search button. While you can use the main search bar, you will get more focused results using the Advanced search option.

From the Advanced search page, you can restrict your search to help find exactly what you are looking for.

In addition to adding search terms, you can restrict the search by content type and exclude results you aren’t interested in. For example, the following screenshot shows that you can ask Summons to only show things published within a certain time period. This can be useful because some professors request that you only cite secondary sources published after 1980.

You can also search by content type. For example, if you only want journal articles, you can select “Journal Article.” Or, if you only want books, you can scroll up and select “Books/eBooks.”


You can also restrict the search results to only show sources that can be accessed from the computer. Or, if you are looking for books specifically, you select “Items in the library catalogue.”

In addition, if you are looking for scholarly, peer-reviewed materials (academic articles), you would select that option.

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If you would like step-by-step instructions, I’ve created the following video to walk you through it. In it, I give you some tips for how to search Summons (the main library search option) to find academic journal articles and books.

In addition, I will also walk you through a particular database that I find useful: American History and Life. It is one of the main databases I use to find academic articles.

Sorry about the watermark. If you open the video in YouTube and watch in full screen, it will be easier to see what I am doing.

In the end, remember to be flexible in your search. Try different search terms, and try different combinations. If you are still having difficulties, talk to a UVic librarian. You can find their contact information at: UVic Subject Librarians.


Cover image of the UVic library at night: “Morning glow (N27)” by gehat is under a CC BY-NC license.


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