The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students

By Mangun, Kimberley | Journalism History, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students


Mangun, Kimberley, Journalism History


Presnell, Jenny L. The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 242 pages. $12.95.

Many who teach journalism or communication history are familiar with the "deer in the headlights" look of undergraduate students when the dreaded research paper that is due at the end of the term is discussed. The very mention of primary sources and, gasp!, the fact that they cannot be found on Wikipedia sends students into shock. Overcoming their research paralysis can be challenging, and teaching the differences between primary and secondary sources can be time-consuming-especially for those on the quarter system.

Jenny L. Presnell, an information services librarian and a history and American studies bibliographer at Miami University of Ohio, found undergraduate history students at her institution to be similarly unprepared to do basic research. The idea for The Information-Literate Historian germinated during a required course on historical research that she taught to prepare undergrade for capstone classes in topics as diverse as modern China and the fourteenth amendment. Dissatisfied with other textbooks, she decided to write the book she wished had been available.

The paperback aims to give students the information they need to conduct a project successfully, and chapters take them stepby-step through the process of historical research: finding a topic (and making it manageable); developing a research question; locating secondary sources; tracking down primary sources in collections and on the Internet; vetting the information; and presenting the research in written form or via a PowerPoint presentation or Web site. Numerous resources are included in each chapter (there is no bibliography). Students working on journalism history topics will want to pay particular attention to the newspaper indices, and the list of sources of historic images contained interesting leads, including the Internet address for the Daguerreian Society.

Additional "Search Tips" provide concise information for finding items such as articles and monographs in library catalogs or resources in subject-specialized indices such as America: History and Life. "Screen shots" of Web pages often accompany these tips, which help readers visualize the skills being described. For example, Presnell takes students through a keyword search of Historical Abstracts, "demonstrates" how to use the database's date-limiting feature, and then includes a third screen shot to illustrate the results of one search.

These portions clearly are geared for her undergraduate audience, but other sections seem much more appropriate for doctoral students undertaking longer projects. …

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