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November 1, 2010

And Here They Are … The Top Ten History Day Research Tips

Filed under: Parents, Students, Teachers — Jessica Ellison @ 1:57 pm

As we roll into November, more students across Minnesota are beginning the History Day research process. Whether you are knee-deep in primary sources at this point or have just opened your first encyclopedia, here are some helpful hints to guide you along your research path.

  1. Start your research with secondary sources. Once you have a basic understanding of your topic and its context and impact, it will be easier to find and comprehend the primary sources that you discover.
  2. Be wary of Internet sources. Wikipedia is convenient, but not 100% reliable. Make sure that the information you are collecting from the Internet is from reputable sources.
  3. Learn how to use sources as springboards. Most scholarly works will have bibliographies in the back that you can use to find other relevant sources.
  4. Read sources with a wary eye. You will find sources with information that conflicts with other sources, sources that have bias, and sources that force you to read between the lines. A wide variety of sources will help you draw conclusions when you run into these research difficulties.
  5. Don’t forget that primary sources can be a variety of different things. Newspapers and letters are primary sources, yes, but so are government documents, diaries, pamphlets, advertisements, commercials, historic sites, telegrams, paintings, court case decisions and autobiographies, among others.
  6. Use interviews if you can get them. Primary interviews, with witnesses to your event, are outstanding sources, and secondary interviews, with professors or other experts, can give you direction.
  7. There is no magic number of History Day sources. A solid project with good research will probably not be based on one or two sources, but that doesn’t mean you have to have 100 sources, either. Research until all your questions are answered to your satisfaction and you can prove your thesis.
  8. There is no perfect source. You will not find an 1850 diary entry from Harriet Tubman that explains exactly why and how she decided to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad. It is your job, as a historian, to find the information you need from various sources.
  9. Continue researching, even if you think you’ve found everything. You never know where you might find an amazing source. Visit public and academic libraries, archives, and historical societies to seek out additional sources.
  10. Ask for help. Don’t hesitate to ask if you feel stuck or frustrated or lost. Librarians, archivists, teachers and the History Day staff are all here to help you, and chances are you’ll be more successful if you have someone help you than if you ignore your questions.
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