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Roots of Contemporary Issues (Hist 105/305) Research

This page provides links to short videos demonstrating databases required for the Roots of Contemporary Issues research assignment

LRA 1: Key Database Links (different sections use varying sets of these databases)

LRA1: Database Specific Video Tutorials

Proquest Newsstream:

Oxford Reference Online:

Sage Knowledge:

LRA 1: Finding Specialized Encyclopedia Entries Instructions (only some RCI instructors require use of specialized encyclopedias, check your research assignments)

1. Examine the encyclopedia titles listed in Thomas Mann's Oxford Guide to Library Research (available in PDF format in the Blackboard Learn Library Research Assignments folder). If a title is appropriate for your topic, perform a title search in Search It to locate the full encyclopedia in WSU Libraries. To find an appropriate article, you will need to write down the call number, go to the appropriate library, and locate the encyclopedia using library call numbers.  Also, it is important to note that beyond Mann’s guide, you can also often find helpful encyclopedias in Search It by typing in a search like this – (encyclo* OR dictionar*) AND your topic.  “Your topic” should be a keyword or two that best describes your topic, and might need to be placed in a wider context.  For example, a topic about human trafficking would need to be searched with broader historical terms such as slavery or prostitution.

2.  Search for an encyclopedia article using Oxford Reference Online. To increase the likelihood that your article will be historical in nature, check the box at the top right that says "search within my subject specializations" and then check the box for "history."  Then perform your keyword search. Oxford Reference will take you directly to the individual encyclopedia entry.  But it will also provide a link to the larger encyclopedia that contains that entry.  You can decide whether or not to explore other potentially useful entries within the encyclopedia using the alphabetical list of entries.  [see link to Oxford Reference Online demo video above]

3. Search for an article in Sage Knowledge, which has a large though by no means comprehensive selection of encyclopedia articles. Once you're in Sage Knowledge, click advanced search, uncheck all document type boxes except for "encyclopedias" and "dictionaries," and then perform a "full text" search. You will need to examine encyclopedias and their lists of entries to find appropriate material. For example, a search for "South Africa" returned, among others, The Encyclopedia of World Poverty. There is an entry for "South Africa," and the text of the entry contains other potentially useful terms, some that also have entries. These include "apartheid," "colonialism," and "maternal mortality." If the encyclopedia broadly covers a topic of use to you, you can also simply browse the alphabetical list for entries (or chapter titles), or examine the "related keywords" on the right side of any entry's page. You will more than likely find multiple useful entries.  [see link to Sage Knowledge demo video above]

LRA 1: Writing Research Questions

What is a research question? A research question is a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question on which you center your research and writing.
Here are six tips on how to prepare a research questions:

  1. Make sure it is a question that you are genuinely interested in. You will be working on this question all semester; your work will be far more enjoyable and meaningful if you are interested in learning the answer.
  2. Make sure that the question centers on a debatable point. It should not be simply factual. If the question can be answered with a simple search engine search, is it not a research question. Too Factual: “Who invented the light bulb?” Debatable: “How has the disparity in household energy use between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa over the past hundred years affected health in these two regions?”
  3. Make sure that your question is focused enough that you will be able to be confident in your conclusions by the end of the semester. Too broad: “What caused the global prominence of the U.S. in the twentieth century?” More narrow: “Were military or economic factors of greater importance to U.S. global dominance starting after World War II?”
  4. Make sure that your question is significant, not just to yourself, but to others. Unimportant: “Why is Mohammed such a common Arabic name?” Significant: “How has the relationship between pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism changed since 1800?” If you are not sure whether your question has historical significance, keep reading, or ask your instructor and/or TA.
  5. Make sure your question is researchable. That is, are you likely to be able to find evidence that can actually answer this question? Too vague and broad: “Why is gender discrimination such a common phenomenon in the world?” Researchable: “How did women’s experiences of discrimination during the late nineteenth century affect when women learned the right to vote in the U.S. (1920), South Africa (1930), and Japan (1945)?”
  6. Imagine a possible answer. Later this semester, your thesis statement will be your well-informed and thought-out answer to a research question. Don’t worry if your research slowly encourages you to revise your research question. But do make sure that your question is capable of being answered using a clear statement on a debatable issue. If you cannot imagine answers to your question that fit the bill, you might need to review your research question.

LRA 1: Roots Research Question Example

The biggest problem that most students have with this aspect of the project is posing historical questions. Here’s an example:

  • Topic: Global economic inequality and the climate crisis (too broad, narrow by geography or time period) 
  • Non-historical question: What can be done to reduce wealth gaps and empower the people in developing nations to reduce their consumption of their natural resources and still become economically stable? Comment: An important question, but it does not propose to understand anything about the historical roots of global economic inequality or its relationship to environmental problems. Rather, it is focused on present and future solutions.
  • Historical question (too broadly conceived at this point, but note use of past tense): How did the European industrial revolution impact the economies and natural resources of non-European countries through the mechanisms of globalization? Comment: Historical question but will need greater refinement as you conduct more research and come to some preliminary conclusions.
  • Specific historical question (refined after some initial research): How did the introduction of railroads in colonial British India impact local grain production and markets from 1870 to 1900? Comment: Great question. It is specific in terms of time period, geography, and industrial technology. Moreover, it is a historical question that you can reasonably answer given the parameters of this assignment. Not too ambitious, but plenty of source material available to conceive and support a historical argument.
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