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HISTORY 300: Imperialism and Colonialism


Feeling overwhelmed with picking a topic or finding sources? Try these:

  • Do informal background research. Just Google your ideas and see what comes up! The first part of topic selection and research can be messy, and fun, and time to just explore your options. Keep notes about things that look interesting, no matter what they sound like.
  • Read a Wikipedia article or encyclopedia article and write down keywords and ideas that pop out at you.
  • Think about something you've seen on TV, in a movie, in the news that interests you... how can you turn that into a research question? Write about what you care about!
  • Do not give up if you can't find any sources on your first try! Sometimes it is just a matter of finding the right keywords to unlock the right sources. You are not expected to know these words right off the bat (you are here to learn!). Librarians, your instructor, or classmates can help you.
  • Talk out your research ideas with your classmates! Sometimes putting it into natural language and not worrying about being "academic" can help you come up with new angles and keywords.

Finding Books via Search It

Tips for finding books in Search It, the WSU Libraries' catalog.

Use BOOLEAN operators to refine your searches.

  • AND will search for BOTH of the words together (colonialism AND gender will bring back resources that have both of those words, not one or the other)
  • OR will search for EITHER of the words (this is good for when you have synonyms, or want to search for multiple places or people at once. Example: capitalism AND (Vietnam OR Cambodia)


  • Use quotation marks around phrases to search for words that you would expect to appear together. (e.g. "world systems theory" or "British empire")
  • Use an asterisk * to truncate a word and allow for variant endings or spellings: (religi* for religion, religions, religious). 
  • Use specific names, places, events, or time periods to avoid being overwhelmed by extraneous results; this is especially important when searching for primary sources.
  • Use the FACETS on the left side of the screen to refine your search by resource type, date, subject area, and more. You can also refine so that it shows you only sources online at WSU.
  • When you locate relevant items in your search results, open the full record to look at the subject headings listed under the "Details" section in the Search It record. You can click on relevant subject headings to see other titles with the same heading, or reuse them in a new search that incorporates additional keywords.
  • Use reference lists/bibliographies in relevant works to locate other research materials. 
  • Search It has a 'Browse Library Shelves' feature within each item record (scroll to the bottom), visually displaying the books located next to your book on the shelves. Or, visit the library after you've found one book and look around on the shelf; you'll find related materials.
  • Search primary sources by adding the following to your keyword search in Search It: sources, correspondence, letters, personal narratives, diaries, church records, wills, documents etc. For example: refugee* AND correspondence.
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