You are here

Finding information on the history of Canada

This page has some ideas and sources for finding information on the history of Canada. It may be helpful for students in courses such as HIST 101, HIST 102W, 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:

  • Cultural contact between First Nations and British settlers in pre-Confederation British Columbia.

Next, take some time to think of any related terms or ideas. Examples here might be Indigenous peoples along with First Nations, English colonizers instead of British settlers, or Vancouver in addition to British Columbia. 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 also 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  "First Nations" AND colonialism will connect these different ideas and show results that contain both of them anywhere in the text.
  • Searching for  Vancouver OR Victoria will connect these related words and show results that contain either of them.
  • Searching for nation* will search nation, national, nationalism, nationalist, etc.
  • Searching for "Indigenous title" 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 can often give more relevant 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:

    • The Canadian encyclopedia
      Fact-checked and up-to-date broad online overviews of Canadian history, culture, landscape, and events.
       
    • KnowBC
      An online encyclopedia of articles, images, statistics, maps, tables, charts and diagrams related to British Columbia.
       
    • Dictionary of Canadian biography
      An authoritative online source of Canadian biographies. Bibliographical references are appended to each sketch. Biographies are written in the appropriate volume according to date of death.
       
    • The Oxford companion to Canadian history
      An authoritative and comprehensive guide to the significant events, issues, institutions, places, and people that have shaped Canada from earliest times to the present.
       
    • The Canadian who's who (print only)
      An annually updated listing of important people in Canada.

    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:

      • America: History and Life
        Indexes literature on all aspects of U.S. and Canadian history, culture and current affairs from prehistoric times to the present from approximately 2100 journals published worldwide.

      • Bibliography of Native North Americans
        Covers all aspects of Native North American culture, history, and life and including topics such as archaeology, multicultural relations, gaming, governance, legend, and literacy.

      • Canadian Research Index
        Includes all depository publications of research value issued by both the federal government and the ten provinces and three territories; hard to find non-depository publications issued by hundreds of Canadian government agencies and departments; scientific and technical report literature issued by research institutes and government laboratories; policy, social, economic, and political reports.

      • CBCA Complete
        Comprehensive Canadian periodical collection for reference and current events. Publications include scholarly journal articles, trade publications, dissertations, books, newspapers and magazines.

      • Early Canadiana Online
        A full text, searchable, online collection of thousands of books and pamphlets documenting Canadian history from the first European contact to the late 19th century. The collection is particularly strong in literature, women's history, First Nations studies, travel and exploration, and the history of French Canada.

      • Early Encounters in North America
        Prints, drawings, paintings, maps, bibliographies, letters, and photographs documenting settler colonialism in North America from 1534-1850. The collection presents the perspectives of traders, slaves, missionaries, explorers, soldiers, officials, and others.

      • JSTOR
        A searchable, online, full-text collection of core scholarly journals mainly in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

      • Project MUSE
        A searchable, online, full-text collection of over 110 humanities and social science journals.

      You can also look at the full list of History databases. Depending on your topic, you might also want to check databases for other fields, such as Sociology and First Nations studies. 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: Canada. You may also be interested in the Primary Sources: Definition and Resources page.

      Additional sources