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Researching Places: Starting With Google

Google can be a good first step when starting research on local areas, cities, counties, etc. Keep an eye out for:

  • City and county websites
  • Wikipedia articles - these can lead you to websites, articles and links you may not find on your own (e.g., census info, city reports, newspaper articles)
  • Encyclopedia entries - for quick overviews
  • Libraries and museums of the area - often have archives, histories and primary sources related to the area
  • Local historical societies

Searching the Library's Catalog for Sources

After you get some initial background information from the web, you can move on to the library's search tools to find more specific information on your topic.

  • Are there aspects of the area you would like to focus on? (e.g., specific communities, environmental issues, historical events?)
  • Your search can be broad, but the research articles you see (and even some books) will be very specific
    • Example: a search for the terms farmworkers AND Sacramento will retrieve articles about a specific aspect of this topic (rather than just a general history of farmworkers in the Sacramento area), such as Chinese agricultural workers in the Delta, or the role of women migrant workers in labor history
  • You may want to combine your general terms with a specific aspect you saw in the background research, or simply research the more specific term you learned
    • Example: a Google search about Woodland mentioned an indigenous group called "Patwin," and a search for Patwin in OneSearch retrieved many sources about this group
    • Clicking on these results will show that the Library of Congress uses specific "tags" (controlled vocabulary to organize sources into subjects), and clicking on that subject heading will lead to other sources on that topic (Example: "Indians of North America")
    • These sources may include images - especially books! (There are lots of ebooks to explore instantly, look for the link)
  • Not finding the right sources? You may need to think about your keywords...
    • Example: "woodland" is a descriptive word as well as a place, so a search for this area may need to include (or be replaced by) terms like "northern california" (larger geographic area), sacramento (nearest larger city), and your specific focus in order to find sources related to this area, rather than sources talking about "woodland" areas in general.

Historical Ecology

There will be cultural as well as physical/scientific information and research related to the historical ecology of an area. Some steps you might want to take include:

  • Use Google to help brainstorm concepts and keywords related to historical ecology of a certain area (what terms are may be used in the research literature? what terms are specific to the local environment? what concepts are related that you might not be thinking about?)
    • Examples from a Google search on "historical ecology": cultures and landscapes, archaeology and cultural history, ecological processes, species diversity, natural variability, impact of human-mediated disturbances
    • Go beyond the results: clicking into specific webpages can help lead you to more keywords, concepts and even related sources and research
  • After gaining some background information, move on to academic databases to explore the research
    • Choose subject databases (using the "Subjects" drop down) related to historical ecology: Environmental Science, Anthropology, History, etc.
    • Combine historical ecology keywords with those related to visual sources (e.g., photography, image, etc.) - this can lead you to articles that explain how researchers use visual sources, and the types of sources you may want to include in your own searching.
    • After your initial search, use the "Subject" filter in academic databases (usually on the left side) to 1) see what types of subjects people are researching related to historical ecology, and 2) narrow your results list down to one particular subject within historical ecology.
Last Updated: Jul 11, 2024 4:04 PM