Skip to Main Content

History 356: Culture and Identity in Latin America

Tools and tips to locate secondary, primary and visual resources on Latin American history.

What is a secondary source?

Secondary source material serves several purposes for the historian. These sources provide: 

  1. background overviews of a topic
  2. scholarly interpretations of primary source evidence
  3. citations to primary source materials
  4. bibliographies leading to other secondary sources

Just like with primary source material, ask yourself if what you have is biased in any way. How old is the publication? Has new evidence or historiographic methods appeared since the publication of the item at hand? 

This means you are going to deep dive into books and scholarly journals. Expect to find differing viewpoints and interpretations and be sure to bring these into your own work. Not that you necessarily agree with the arguments you find but you need to acknowledge the disagreements and provide evidence to support your interpretation. This is entering the scholarly discussion and part of being a historian.  

In the case of books, it might be helpful to look at book reviews written by history scholars (not the promotional blurbs so popular with publishers.) scholarly book reviews will point out strengths and weaknesses in the research methodology and resources. This can be very helpful as you become acquainted with key contributors, current arguments, and sources on your historical topic. 

Evaluating secondary sources

Secondary sources can be books or articles found through the library catalog or databases. Here are some things to check for to be sure you are getting quality material: 

  • What is the publication date?
    • Information may be dated by the time it is published as new information can come to light or new interpretations can change the usefulness of the piece. 
    • Be careful with publication dates as reprints may feature the reprinted date prominently and the actual date could be much older. 
    • Is this a revised edition? What revisions were made as simply correcting grammatical errors is not a substantial revision. 
  • Who wrote it? 
    • You can look for degrees, institutional affiliation, etc. on the internet but be sure you are looking at the correct person. 
    • If the piece has two or more authors, they act as peer reviewers for each other (even if it is a book) and catch mistakes, etc. to improve the writing and research. 
  • Who published the item? 
    • University presses are some of the best publishers as they have the institutional reputation to protect. 
    • There are high quality publishers that are not university-affiliated so do not dismiss them out of hand. 
    • There are pay-to-publish predatory companies to watch out for. Check with your professor or librarian when you are not sure. 
    • Self-published is not acceptable for secondary research. 
    • Works published as textbooks are not generally considered scholarly, especially if written for the K-12 level. 
  • Is there an editor (book) or peer-review (article?) 
    • Editors do more than check grammar and writing style. They generally have a say in who contributes to the work and will only want the best scholars. 
    • Peer-reviewed articles meant the manuscript was submitted to one or more recognized experts on the topic for comments and recommendations regarding whether to publish or not. This adds to the time before publication but will ensure a better quality resource. 
  • Bibliography or notes
    • What sort of resources are cited? 
    • Are there statements made in the text that should be supported by a cited source that are not? 

Finding Books in the Library Catalog

The Library Catalog is the place to search first. Why? Because the librarian in collaboration with the History faculty has carefully selected most of the collection for quality and relevance to our disciplines. Some ebook titles come in packages so not every title is individually selected but the ebook vendors we deal with are chosen for the overall quality of the publishers they source titles from. 

See the video clip below on searching the library catalog and limiting to ebook format. Some titles will need the Libby app downloaded and if you use the public library, you may already have this app installed. 

If you find something in our print collection--due concerns about everyone's safety, our print materials are not available for check out and sadly, the stacks are not open to browsing (a favorite pastime of historians.) Never fear! The library has put procedures in place to get what you need in digital versions for touch-free access whenever possible. Details on ordering books is in the Getting Full Text Materials page. In addition to mailing hard copy materials to your home, we also offer Digitization on Demand (DoD.) Place a request and the Interlibrary Loan staff will be in touch to let you know how we can get you what you need.   

Finding Articles in the Library Databases

We have a robust collection of digital scholarly journals in a number of databases. Not every database in the collection is going to be useful for historical research but will give you something based on your search term! Save yourself time and effort by searching the most relevant/history-specific collections, you will be glad you did.

If you find an article that is not full text, check the Getting Full Text Materials page for how to obtain a copy. It may be available using either GET IT (from another of our databases), or through Digitization on Demand (DoD) from another library, which is part of our traditional Interlibrary Loan service. We are committed to getting you what you need! 

Here are recommendations for where to start: 

Highest Recommendation due to content and special search features: 

America: History & Life covers United States history from the 15th century on. Canada and Mexico are included to a lesser extent. 

Historical Abstracts is the companion to America: History and Life, covering the rest of the world.


Also Useful: 

JSTOR has a large collection of history studies journals. In some cases, because there is content as far back as 1838, earlier articles might serve as primary sources. 

Project Muse has some titles that duplicate JSTOR but also has unique content not found elsewhere. 


Other databases to search with some history-focused content: 

Sage Journals Online Choose the Social Sciences & Humanities collection to focus your results.

Academic Search Ultimate Not all content will be scholarly or peer-reviewed, so you need to be selective. 

Wiley Online Library Scroll down to the Humanities group to focus on history journal results. 


Subject-focused databases may have some history-relevant content such as Women's Studies International, Art Full Text, and Communication and Mass Media Complete. Ask for assistance in narrowing your choices.