Background or "reference" sources are a great place to start your research. Reference works include bibliographies, scholarly encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and other sources that provide overviews of topics and suggestions for further reading.
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History
A scholarly encyclopedia, often really useful for a variety of U.S. history research topics. Each article has a discussion of the literature, including primary sources -- a great starting point for finding more sources. Examples of articles include:
Link to the general collections of Cambridge University Press, including the Cambridge Histories and Cambridge Companions. Titles include:
An extensive collection of annotated bibliographies often pointing to both primary and secondary sources. Examples of articles include:
Oxford Handbooks Online
Lengthy chapters in the Oxford Handbooks usually provide helpful overviews of scholarly topics and historical literature, along with suggestions for further reading. A number of the handbooks may be helpful depending on your research topic. Examples of titles include:
A large collection of resources. The Wiley Companions will be especially useful -- for instance:
Navigate to "Humanities" and then "History" in order to find a detailed listing of titles by subfield.
Biographical background source: American National Biography Online
Subject-specific databases are a key resource for finding secondary literature, including the latest scholarly journal articles in the field, and the main subject databases for finding historical literature are:
America: History and Life Provides historical coverage of the United States and Canada and indexes over 2000 historical journals. A key resource if you are searching for historical scholarship related to your research project.
Historical Abstracts Provides historical coverage of the world, not including the United States and Canada, from the 15th century to the present. Indexes thousands of journals in multiple languages.
Searching these databases will allow you to check for the latest scholarly articles, reviews of books, citations to book chapters, and more in a wide array of historical journals. Please note: the full text of articles will not always be available in these databases. If you find the "YaleLinks" icon instead of a PDF, click on the icon to discover whether we have online access to the article.
JSTOR: Another main resource for journal articles is JSTOR, which contains more than either of the two databases above because it encompasses scholarship in several disciplines other than history. Provides access to more than 12 million academic journal articles.