These are a few tips for conducting historical research. Please check out the UO Libraries' "Getting Started with Research" guide for more detailed information.
There is a lot of information out there, much of it of questionable value. There is much historical information out there marked by strong ideological or other biases, which can lead to misinterpretation or even falsification of events. When evaluating sources make the following considerations to account for these biases.
- Is the research backed up? Citations exist, in part, to ensure honesty and transparency in our scholarship, allowing us to see where an author found their information, and how they came to their conclusions. For serious research, secondary sources lacking a clear citation system are therefore suspect. This also can apply to works aimed at popular audiences, which may not include formal citations but should clearly identify sources for quotes, statistics, and so on, frequently with links to the original sources. Works that rely excessively on assertion of "facts" without citation or anonymous and/or unidentified quotes are suspect.
- Who is the author? What organization(s) (a university, a government agency, a think tank, etc.) is the author affiliated with, or sponsored the research? Author blurbs and book prefaces or acknowledgments will often explain much of this information, and can help you to situate the work in the larger conversation.
- Some authors, publishers, research sponsors, etc. use neutral sounding names to hide deep biases or advance palpably false historical narratives. For example, the Institute for Historical Review uses a neutral-sounding name and professional presentation style to distribute works downplaying or denying the Holocaust. A little time searching for the organization on open internet resources (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) can expose bad actors behind seemingly "objective" works.
- "Peer Review": The foundation of academic publication is a process called peer review, where publications are sent to other scholars in their field to evaluate whether or not a title meets basic standards. Peer review can be difficult to identify for books, but when searching in article databases like America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts you can see whether or not a journal that published an article follows a peer review standard or not, and can even narrow search results to only those from peer reviewed journals. Peer review is not flawless, and by no means guarantees that a work is 100% accurate, but it does give you some assurance that the title has met basic standards.