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Senior Essay in History: Search Tools & Tips

Welcome to the YUL guide for the Senior Essay in History! Click on the link below to schedule an appointment with your research librarian, and take a few minutes to look at the resources and tools highlighted on these pages as you start your research.

Yale Library Search Tools

The main search tools for finding books, articles, databases, archival collections, and more at Yale (and beyond) can all be found on the "Find, Request, and Use" page of the library's website. Here are a few quick refreshers, but be sure to visit the page for a full overview:

Finding Periodical Articles: Secondary AND Primary

You can find periodicals in the Yale University Library several different ways, but remember that periodical records in Orbis can be messy, and often there are multiple records for the same periodical. If you're not finding the periodical you need after ten or fifteen minutes of searching, ask a librarian for help.

When you know the name of the periodical you need, search the "Journal Title" field on the Basic search page of Orbis.

Keep in mind that scholarly articles published on a topic of interest in a time period you’re studying may end up being great primary sources for your senior essay.

A few tips about specific scholarly journal databases:

  • America: History and Life covers the United States and Canada.
  • Historical Abstracts covers world history (excluding the United States and Canada), focusing on the 15th c. to the present.
  • JSTOR covers a variety of academic disciplines, including history, but does not include the most recently published five years for many journals.

The takeaway: look in several places, not just one!

ORBIS: What It Can and Can't Do For You

Orbis is the library’s catalog. You can use it to find books, periodicals, archival material, maps, government documents, music and sound recordings, oral histories, visual material, dissertations, and more. Important: Orbis does not search for individual articles in periodicals and journals!

Orbis can help you find both secondary and primary materials. You have to know the difference between primary and secondary sources for your topic. If you’re unsure, the Primary Sources at Yale website is a great resource to help you think about primary sources for your research topic.

To find primary source material, you might want to run keyword searches combined with some of these terms: sources, diaries, correspondence, letters, interviews, personal narratives, pamphlets

Limiting searches by the date range of the time period of your research is also a good way to find primary sources produced in that era -- use the Advanced search page, where you can also limit your searches by type of material, language of material, and other facets. These are all successful strategies for reducing results from thousands or more to a more manageable number!

Savvy users of any catalog or database will pay attention to the subject headings that are usually assigned to a book, article, or other information resource. Subjects are often rendered as links, which can lead you to additional potentially relevant resources within Orbis, Quicksearch, and other catalogs and databases.

Note: Orbis will not provide much detail about archival materials. To learn more about archival collections at Yale, you will need to examine the finding aid. In Orbis, look for the link near the top of the record for the archival collection you find -- this will take you to the detailed description in the Yale Finding Aid Database -- an example is here.


The Yale University Library has a large collection of government documents from not only the United States but also other nations and international organizations such as the United Nations. This information is available in multiple formats, including print, digital, and microfilm. Beyond Yale, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preserves the records of the federal government for archival research.

Many government documents can be found through databases licensed by the Yale Library, such as ProQuest Congressional and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. Most print documents in the Yale collection are off-site and must requested from the Library Shelving Facility. They can be found and requested in Orbis. Yale also has a large collection of microfilm that might contain the records you need. You can search for microfilm in an Advanced Search in Orbis by limiting “Medium” to “Microform.”

Be sure to check the detailed subject guide on government documents for the most commonly used resources at Yale!