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History, General Resources

While history courses each have their own unique focus, there are some general principles that apply to almost every history class in terms of research.

Using Boolean to find sources

Once you have keywords, you can do what is called a "Boolean search" which is based on Boolean logic, something developed in the nineteenth century that is used today in computer programming and in searching computer databases. 

Here is an example of a Boolean search using the keywords I outlined in the Keywords tab:


"James Madison" AND (Sac OR Fox OR  Winnebago) AND ("Lake Michigan" OR Wabash OR Canada)

  • the first thing to note is the use of AND/OR. AND is the equivalent of +, it is literally telling the computer I want this AND I want this as well. The OR is a way of telling the computer that this OR this OR that is of interest to me, all or any of those topics are OK. 
  • Note that I put AND/OR in caps: this is extremely important because that is the only way a computer knows the word is a command as opposed to just a regular word to look for.
  • So in this example I am telling the computer I want it to find the name "James Madison"  AND any of the tribes I have listed (Sac, Fox, Winnebago) in any of the places I have listed (Lake Michigan, Wabash, Canada). If I find an article about James Madison and Sacs living on the shores of Lake Michigan that's great, if I find an article about James Madison and Fox living along the Wabash River or in Canada that's ok too. 
  • Also note that I put the terms "James Madison" and "Lake Michigan" in quotes. I do this because they are phrases: by putting the quotes I want to make sure I get these exact words in this exact order. If I don't put the quotes in I might get something about James Smith who lives in Madison Wisconsin who used to live by a small lake when he grew up in Michigan. The computer has given me all the words I wanted, but it has nothing to do with my topic.
  • A key thing to keep in mind when using AND/OR is that AND gives you less hits and OR gives you more. 
  •  Let's say I do the Boolean search example above and I come up with 10,000 results (very unlikely, but let's go with it).
  • If I want to narrow things down further I need to add an AND to my search. With that in mind I decide to search for


James Madison" AND (Sac OR Fox OR  Winnebago) AND ("Lake Michigan" OR Wabash OR Canada) AND "Red Children"

  • By adding the phrase "Red Children"and focusing on the use of patriarchal language towards Native American tribes  I will only get articles that use the phrase, which means that the results will be less than they were before.

Understanding and using Boolean is crucial to successful research: if you need any help developing a Boolean search please contact a librarian for help.