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Humanities and History Research - Characteristics

Research in the humanities differs in a number of important ways from standard social science or natural science research.

  1. Central Focus of Research: The central focus of research is on the analysis of textual, archival, and historical-cultural materials and events, people and organizations, rather than design and implementation of a research study.
  2. Research Article Structure: The format of a social science research article is usually quite clear, including sections on Literature Review, Methods, Data, and Interpretation. In humanities scholarship, the format is much less important. Key factors include in-depth interaction with primary and secondary source materials - often taking place both in the text and footnotes.
  3. Primary and Secondary Sources: In humanities, both books and journal articles are key formats for secondary sources. Primary sources consist of a wide range of historical-cultural materials created by the key subjects of the research study, or which are contemporary evidence related to the key subjects.
  4. Comprehensive Research Databases: Humanities databases usually include these multiple secondary source formats. In more general periodical databases, such as Academic Search Complete, limiting searches to "academic journals" is a good starting point for finding humanities research articles.
  5. Is this a Research Article?: Length of articles (10+ pages is a good indicator) and amount and complexity of footnotes/endnotes are good signs of whether or not a source is a good humanities research source. Article and books should include regular use of both primary and secondary source material throughout.
  6. Value of Older Materials: Studies typically retain their value more, over time, than social science studies. As a rule of thumb, if a book or research article was published in the last 25 years or so, it may well still have value as a research source. Of course, currency is also important, so, whenever possible, earlier studies need to be supplemented by more recent ones.

Humanities Research Databases




Human Communications