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Finding information on the history of Britain

This page has some ideas and sources for finding information on the history of Britain. It may be helpful for students in courses such as HIST 106, HIST 200, HIST 215, and more. 

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Librarian for History, International Studies, Liberal Studies, & Political Science at 778.782.5033 or byousefi@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

Ways to look for academic sources

This section outlines some tips and strategies you can use when searching for information in academic sources. To learn more or to get more search ideas, see the Library Catalogue search guide or the general Help pages.

Generating search terms

To come up with terms that you can use to start searching, think about the topic or title of your project and decide on the most important words. For example:

  • The origins of Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church.

Next, take some time to think of any related terms or ideas. Examples here might be Church of England, Anglican Church, or English Reformation. As you search, try different combinations of these words, and look for other words that may also describe your topic. You may find that the results you get change significantly based on which words you use.

Also keep in mind that the words used to describe something may have changed over time. You can get more ideas for search terms from background sources or articles on your topic.

When searching the Library Catalogue and most databases, you can use the filters on the left side of your search results to narrow your results by resource type, date published, and more. Narrowing your results by date can be especially helpful as one way to find primary sources from a certain year or era.

Using AND, OR, asterisks, and quotation marks with your search terms can also help you focus your search and get different combinations of results.

  • Searching for  Henry VIII AND Clement VII will connect these different concepts and show results that contain both of them anywhere in the text.
  • Searching for  Roman Catholic Church OR Church of Rome will connect these related words and show results that contain either of them.
  • Searching for reform* will search reforms, reformed, reforming, reformation, etc.
  • Searching for "English Reformation" will only show results where these two words appear together.

You can also use some of these techniques in general web searches. For more examples, see the Library Catalogue search guide to power searching.

Using subject headings

Once you have found a book or article that works for you, you can sometimes use the subject headings for that item to find similar materials. Subject headings are specific phrases that are assigned to items. Searching for subject headings, or adding them to your existing search, can sometimes give more focused results than searching by keyword.

You can find and click on subject headings in the records for many items. You can also search for subject headings using the Advanced Search in the Library Catalogue and in many databases. Here are a few examples of subject heading searches for this area:

Places to look for information

Background sources

Background sources can be helpful if you are trying to get quick facts or basic information about important ideas, people, events, and more. Some examples in this area include:

To look for information from other background sources, search for your terms in the Library Catalogue and select 'Reference Entries' from the Resource Type filter on the left side of the results. You can also see the pages on general Background reference sources and Background information for History.

    Article databases

    Databases are collections of information that often deal with a specific topic or type of resource and can include academic articles, newspaper articles, reports, images, and more. Searching in databases can give you more focused sets of results, though you may notice some overlap with the Library Catalogue. Here are some suggested databases for this area:

    • Bibliography of British & Irish History 
      A guide to British and Irish history from the Roman period to the present day. Includes citations for books, book chapters, and journal articles.

    • British History Online 
      This digital library contains some core primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles.

    • Historical Abstracts
      A search engine for academic journal articles focusing on world history (excluding Canada and the United States). Searches can be narrowed to a specific region or era.

    You can also look at the full list of History databases. Depending on your focus, you might also want to check databases for other fields, such as Sociology and Anthropology. To find these, go to the main Article databases pages and pick the field you want from the dropdown menu in the first box.

    Primary source databases

    For primary sources in this area, see Primary Sources for the Humanities: Europe & UK. You may also be interested in the Primary Sources: Definition and Resources page.