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French Colonial Legacies: Getting Started

Tips for Effective Search Strategies

  1. Searching works best when you have a research question in mind. You should be able to identify key concepts related to your research. These concepts form the basis for your search terms.
  2. Know your topic. Exploring general sources (a chapter in your textbook, an encyclopedia article or other background reading) is a good way to start. The better you undestand a topic, the easier it is to evaluate sources.
  3. What is your purpose? You may be writing an argumentative or persuasive paper. Or, your assignment may require you to analyze research on a topic. Perhaps you are developing a slide presentation based on your evaluation of key sources.
  4. Start early. Until you have done some searching and reading, you might not recognize if your topic is too broad or narrow.
  5. Don't wait until the last minute. Good resources may not be available locally. Allow yourself time for an interlibrary loan.
  6. Select resources appropriate  for your topic. Your professor may ask that you use only peer-reviewed journals. Other professors may want you to use a combination of texts and articles, or news sources. Perhaps you will be doing primary research using interviews or observations.

Background Information on Countries

If your prohect involves a specific country, it migth be a good idea to get a brief history of the country. Encyclopedias are a good place to start but there are also other sources to check out.

  • Country Studies There are approximately 100 countries included in this series prepared by the Library of Congress for the US military. These books are particularly good for historical overviews.
  • World Factbook - Current snapshot of over 250 countries/entities prepared by the CIA

Biographical Information

 Biographical information is avaiable in a variety of sources. The Biography Reference Bank and Britannica databases are good places to begin.

For background information on a contemporary author, such as Assia Djebar, an Algerian novelist who has explored the treatment of women in Algeria during the Algerian revolt against the French, consider

Check the onlline catalog and WorldCat to determine if books have been written about the person. This is a good bet for historical figures.

Historical Handbooks

Other suggestions to help you get started.

There are several excellent hsitorical handbooks published by Cambridge University Press.

  • Cambridge History of Africa                     Call number: DT20. C28
  • Cambridge History of Southeast Asia      Call number: DS525 .T37 1992
  • Cambirdge History of Latin America         Call number: F1410 .C1834 1984
  • New Cambridge Modern History              Call number: Ref D208 .N4
  • Cambridge History of Islam                     Call number: Ref DS 35.6 .C3
  • Cambridge Illustrated History of France   Call number: DC33 .J66 1994


Selected Reference Sources

There are many subject reference sources that provide good background information plus a list of recommended books and articles at the end of each article. You can find thes by searching the online catalog for the phrase "historical dictionary" or "encyclopedia" in combination with the name of a country, region or topic. Or, ask at the Reference Desk for assistance.


  • Historical Dictionary of Algeria (REF DT283.7 .N39 2006)
  • Historical Encyclopedia of Southeast Asia (REF DS524 .S68 2004)
  • Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism (REF JV22 .E535 2007)
  • Chronology of World Slavery (REF HT861 .R63 1999)
  • Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery (REF HT861 .H57 1997)
  • Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural and Political Encyclopedia (REF JV22 .C59 2003)