Social Studies 98vw: Some Ways to Begin

1. Check to see if a good subject bibliography can direct your reading.

Oxford Bibliographies Online is the database of curated reading lists, and we recommend it for this approach. 

Selective rather than exhaustive and combining a bit of description with a little bit of evaluation, OBO entries help you identify some of the most important and influential scholarship on a broad social, political, cultural or interdisciplinary disciplinary topic.

Often the issue in information-seeking isn't scarcity of material but overabundance. OBO entries can help you solve the dilemma of knowing who to read first, what to read for, or simply which voices in the conversation you should give some fuller attention to.

Sample Entries

Sample Leads for Student Projects


2. Look for a more or less recent literature review on your topic or its broader dimensions.

Annual Reviews is the database we recommend with this approach.

Literature reviews help you easily understand—and contextualize—the principal contributions that have been made in your field. They not only track trends over time in the scholarly discussions of a topic, but also synthesize and connect related work. They cite the trailblazers and sometimes the outliers, and they even root out errors of fact or concept. Typically, they include a final section that identifies remaining questions or future directions research might take.

Other Strategies for Locating Lit Reviews:

  • In subject databases, like those on this guide, you can often limit your search results this way.

If a literature review option exists, you'll probably find it under filters for document type or methodology.

Review essay is another filter to try, when it's offered. Typically, a review essay will take two or three recent publications as an occasion to discuss trends, approaches, and research directions more generally. 

Special Note for Historical Approaches

  • The preferred term for "literature review" in this discipline is historiography.

3. Build on what you have already: the "item in hand" approach.

You already know the value of examining footnotes and bibliographies for related scholarship or for identifying primary source material.  And you know that whenever you find material by these means, a quick HOLLIS search by book or article title will identify your access options.

Sometimes, though, you want to look beyond the item in hand -- not look at its antecedents but at its descendants -- the scholarship produced later, that has cited your item in its bibliography and footnotes. Following citation trails is a common scholarly practice.

For that strategy, Google Scholar is a great option. Enter the book or article title, and click on Cited By.

Scholarly Journal Databases


Academic Search Premier (EBSCOhost)

Why: The advantages of Academic Search Premier are 1) its multidisciplinary; 2) its inclusion of very recent content; 3) its mix of scholarly, news, and magazine content.


Why: This tried and true database is probably one of the first places you learned to search for scholarly literature. "Smallish" (in relative terms), it's also mighty because the journals it includes are those that, historically, have been considered the most important and most impactful in the fields they cover.  

One nice feature of JSTOR is the ability to zero in on a particular discipline. Scanning the left side limits after you run a straight keyword search might help you pinpoint where the scholarly conversation is clustering (history, Asian studies, urban studies, etc.)

One downside of JSTOR: it typically excludes the most recent 1-5 years of the publications it includes (with some exceptions). That means you may want to supplement / update with  in HOLLIS,  Google Scholar, or one of the subject databases described below. 

Google Scholar

Why: GS searches differently from most library databases, including HOLLIS. In addition to searching "metadata" (lots of descriptive info about a book or article, it also searches full-text . This can be an additional advantage when you've got a very narrow topic or are seeking a "nugget" that traditional database searching can't surface easily.

Google Scholar incorporates more types of information -- not just books and journal contents-- and depending on your need, comfort level, and perspective, that eclecticism can be an advantage.

It's also an excellent way to follow citation trails. Enter the title of a book or journal article and then click on Cited by when the item appears.


Sociological Abstracts (ProQuest)

Why: A core resource for Social Studies students ecause of its concentrated access to research in sociology, social planning/policy, and related disciplines. Coverage is global. It includes citations and abstracts from over 1800 journals, relevant dissertations, selected books and book chapters, and association papers, as well as citations for book reviews and other media.

Worldwide Political Sciences Abstracts (ProQuest)

Why: WPSA provides citations to and summaries of journal literature in political science and related fields, including political sociology, political theory, economics, law, and public policy, perspectives that Social Studies students often need to access.

Historical Abstracts (EBSCOhost)

Why: The premier database for deep access to scholarly books, journals, and dissertations on world history, 1450- present (excluding the United States and Canada.HA includes all the leading English-language historical journals as well as some international publications.

The important companion database for U.S. and Canadian history, prehistory to present is America: History and Life.

Pro Tips:  

  • Historically-focused databases allow you to limit to scholarship about a particular time period.  You'll find that option by scrolling below the search boxes. 
  •  Try adding historiograph*  to a keyword search; you may pull up the history equivalent of a "literature review" that way. 




Latin America

Middle East/Palestine 





Basic Search Conventions



                image of 5 search techniques

Widener Call number Chart  [PDF]

HOLLIS Searching FAQs


Finding Primary Sources on Protest and Revolution in HOLLIS

Tips for Finding Primary Sources in HOLLIS

  • Sometimes, adding the word sources to a keyword string will retrieve published collections of primary source materials. Other words that you can try include document* (for documents and documentary); anthologycasebook.
  • Using the right side limits, adjust the date parameters of your search results. Items that were published on or around that date/historical period/moment in time that you specify will usually qualify as primary sources.
  • Using the right side limits, examine the Form/Genre categories. Items that have been tagged with words like interviews, autobiography, memoir, speeches, photographs, correspondence, images (and so on) might help you target various kinds of primary sources.

Primary Source Databases

Revolution and Protest Online (Alexander Street Press)

Gathers in one place comprehensive, comparative documentation, analysis, and interpretation of political processes through the lens of revolutions, protests, resistance and social movements.

Database content focuses on the most studied and important events and themes related to revolution and protest from the 18th century through the 21st century.


This database of primary source material allows researchers to track the contemporary history of protest movements and political reforms from around the world. A mix of government-level analysis and journalism (translated speeches, broadcasts, news accounts) produced by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, an intelligence monitoring arm of the U.S. government (and eventually, of the CIA). 

U.S. Declassified Documents Online (Gale Primary Sources)

Identifies as "the most comprehensive compilation of declassified documents from the executive branch." 

The types of materials include intelligence studies, policy papers, diplomatic correspondence, cabinet meeting minutes, briefing materials, and domestic surveillance and military reports. 

Digital National Security Archive (ProQuest)

Declassified government documents covering U.S. policy toward critical world events – including their military, intelligence, diplomatic and human rights dimensions – from 1945 to the present.

Each collection is assembled by foreign policy experts and features chronologies, glossaries, bibliographies, and scholarly overviews.

Gale Archives Unbound 

79 topically-focused digital collections of historical documents from the Middle Ages forward-from Witchcraft to World War II to twentieth-century political history. Particular strengths include U.S. foreign policy; U.S. civil rights; global affairs and colonial studies; and modern history. 

Examples of collections focused on protest and revolutions:

Foreign Office Files for the Middle East, 1971-1981 (Archives Direct, UK)

This collection is an essential resource for understanding the events in the Middle East during the 1970s. It addresses the policies, economies, political relationships and significant events of every major Middle East power. Conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli War, the Lebanese Civil War and the Iranian Revolution are examined in detail, as are the military intervention.




News Sources (Current and Historical)

  • NexisUni: news (including some broadcast transcripts) from ~1980 to present
  • Factiva: the competitor news product to Nexis Uni, produced by Dow Jones; coverage ~1980 -present
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers:  major  US, UK, and some international newspapers, from their first issue up through ~early 2000s. 
  • Retronews: French language news, ~1631-1950


Getting Around Paywalls on the Web


  • Google Scholar Settings: One simple change can turn Scholar into what's effectively a Harvard database -- with links to the full-text of articles that the library can provide. Here's what to do:  Look to the left of the GS screen and click on the "hamburger" (); then click on .  Look for "Library Links."  Then type Harvard University into the search box and save your choice.  As long as you allow cookies, the settings will keep
  • Set up a Check Harvard Library Bookmark. It works like a browser extension; click on it when you want to check Harvard's access and it will "unlock" content we provide.

Directions are available here:

  • Lean Library: a browser plugin that (nearly always) identifies digital availability of items at Harvard and runs automatically as you search books and articles.  Some users find it intrusive, however.