Find Sources - Background Information

Country Condition Reports

From the Department of Justice

  • Country Conditions Research a database of "publicly available documents that report on aspects of country conditions that have relevance in removal hearings before Immigration Judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals." Organized by topic (e.g. children) and by country.

From the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees

  • Country Conditions Reports page offers compiled reports for selected countries (including El Salvador and Honduras) and major issues.
  • Refworld: the UNHCR's expansive database of reports and documents from all kinds of sources on all kinds of topic can help you find the components to build your own report

CQ (Congressional Quarterly) Researcher

CQ Researcher offers in-depth reports written by experienced journalists, with a new one added each week.

To find a report relevant to your topic:

  • Type in a couple of search terms to see what comes up
  • Use the "browse topics" or "issue tracker" menu--the disciplines and issues you see listed will also help you think about where your research question fits into current debates
  • Pay attention to dates!
    • Reports from the last 10 years or so (depending on the topic) are likely to provide you with the current state of an issue
    • The contents of CQ Researcher go back to 1923, so older briefings can provide great evidence of how people thought about an issue in a particular time period (e.g. "Television in the Schools," from 1957)
    • When you're reading a report, scan the related reports in the right-side menu for reports that are either more relevant or from a different date

Start here:

Get more specialized

High-quality news reporting, whether in newspapers, magazines, or other media sites, offers helpful descriptions and background for a general audience. It's also a great way to get up-to-the-minute information on a topic, as well as information on material that hasn't yet made appeared in more academic publications.

  • Academic Search Premier: start here. It's an all-purpose search that includes a curated selection of newspapers and magazines. You can filter your search to show only magazines or newspapers.
  • Nexis Uni and Factiva* are the two main databases for current news. You'll find much more material, but it takes a little time to learn how to navigate.
  • NPR and ProPublica are two sites that offer high-quality long-form reporting for free.

*Important note: Factiva limits us to 6 simultaneous users. If you're #7 you will see a variety of errors: wait and try again later.

Introductory chapters:

  • Books are an excellent source of overview and background information.
  • Most academic monographs have an introductory chapter (often called "Introduction," sometimes called something else) which helpfully summarizes:
    • the larger scholarly conversation around the book's topic
    • the argument of the book

To find a book on your topic:

To select the best books on your topic, look for:

  • Books published in the last 20-30 years
  • Books published by a university press, well-respected organization, or generally academic (not "trade") press
  • Book reviews that can tell you what experts thought of the book (search HOLLIS for the book title and look for "reviews" in the filter menu)

Scholarly Companions are a genre of book whose purpose is to summarize a large topic specifically for an audience of scholars. Some of the most popular series include Cambridge Companions, Oxford Very Short Introductions, Routledge Handbooks, etc.

In HOLLIS, (companions OR introductions OR encyclopedia OR handbooks) AND immigration will find scholarly companions about immigration. You can replace "immigration" with other terms that describe your topic.

Sage Research Methods is a wonderful resource for learning more about social science and science methodologies.

For example, you could consult the Sage Handbook of Interview Research, or explore a methods map of Life History Research.

If you want to look for even more advice, a HOLLIS search for subject: interviewing will show you what other publishers have to offer.

Find Sources - Scholarship

General/Multidisciplinary Search Engines

A touchstone for all Harvard researchers---it's the library's main catalog plus a giant index of articles, and it's one of the places you'll search the most while you're here. HOLLIS Help provides more details about how it works.

More curated than HOLLIS, Academic Search Premier is great for general article searching: you'll find material from a nice selection of newspapers, magazines, and academic journals.

Google Scholar is an algorithmically harvested database of articles and other material that is *probably* scholarly. Great for finding very recent stuff, but you need to vet what you find more carefully. Make sure to add Harvard University to your "library links" under Google Scholar's Settings so that you can access articles for free via "Try Harvard Library."

A full-text database of books, part of which comes from scans Google made of out-of-copyright library materials, and part of which are supplied directly to Google by publishers. Great for previewing a book you're interested in, for finding just-published books, and for exploring a topic when you don't know the library subject headings.

A great database for articles from peer-reviewed academic journals in the sciences and social sciences. Notable for its comprehensive coverage and for the tools it offers to identify the articles that have been most often cited by other scholars.


JSTOR is NOT RECOMMENDED for this course because recent articles (last 1-5 years) are often inaccessible or completely invisible in this collection.

Specialized Search Engines - Selected FAQs for Specific Disciplines

Find Sources - First-Person Accounts

From legal proceedings (Board of Immigration Appeals cases)

From advocacy organizations

From journalistic accounts

  • Documentary films -- Harvard subscribes to a number of databases that provide streaming film. Look for "documentaries" on the Streaming@Harvard guide to find a shortlist.
  • Podcasts -- search for episodes at Listen Notes, a podcast aggregator. Try "immigration" or "asylum interview." Look for podcasts that include interviews. Make sure to vet the podcaster for accuracy and quality! (Listen Notes does not do much vetting.)
  • Newspapers and magazines
    • Search for asylum OR refugee* OR immigration OR immigrant* in Academic Search Premier, an all-purpose database that's great for finding articles from magazines, newspapers, and academic journals.
    • Arts & Humanities Database - great for finding good magazine articles by limiting your search to source type=magazines. (It's similar to Academic Search Premier but a little more curated and a little more oriented to the humanities.)
    • Search directly on the websites of well-regarded media outlets and intellectual magazines, which provide "long-form" essays that often include extensive interviews or personal narratives, e.g.: NPR, ProPublica, the Atlantic, the Paris Review, Harpers, the New Yorker, the New Republic. (For most of these, you can use the Bookmark to reload the page via Harvard Key and get free access to all the articles. If you have any trouble accessing something, please contact me.)