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History: Tutorial - Effective library research: 4. Where should I look? The A to Z database list

This guide introduces you to the skills and resources required for effective library research for history.

Library Search is often a good starting point for introductory material, but if you want to research the global literature on a topic, and go beyond quick full text results, then you should follow up with a database search. 

Databases allow you to tailor your search more precisely by using the sophisticated search options available. 

It's important to note that not all database content is available via Library Search. If you want to search across all of our collections, search the databases too!

You can access the databases via the A-Z Database List 

Use the A-Z Databases list:
- To conduct comprehensive literature review of a topic
- To search specialist resources such as archives, news, mapping, image sources etc.


Research Databases

What is a database?

Research databases enable you to see what has been published in the area you are researching. They contain detailed records of thousands of journal articles, book references and conference proceedings. These records usually include the article title, authors, abstract (a brief summary), keywords (to enable your search to find it) and more.

Why use databases?

  • Research databases will contain content not freely available on Google!
  • They are a valuable way of searching for published scholarly research across a wide number of sources
  • You can build complex searches using sophisticated search interfaces. There will be plenty of options to refine your searches, ensuring that the results are likely to be relevant to your needs
  • They contain huge numbers of records, and thus provide comprehensive subject coverage
  • They also provide frequent (often daily) indexing, and so are very up to date

There are many different databases. Their interfaces will all vary, and they may use different terminology.

However, they all have similar features. Once you are familiar with these, you'll be able to find your way around different databases. You can see the main features in the examples below.

This is what a standard database interface looks like:

Once you click the Search button, the results page appears:

It is important to note:

  • Some databases provide full text access to the articles themselves.
  • Some databases are primarily indexes or bibliographic databases, and although they provide information about the content of a journal article, they may not provide full-text access to the actual article itself.
  • Some databases are a mixture of full-text and indexed/bibliographic access.


So, when searching databases, be prepared for an extra step. 

After finding a relevant article or book you need to check whether you have access to that item, either in print or in full-text online.  Many of the databases will have a Check for this at Exeter button; clicking on this link will check whether we have access to the item.


For more information and top tips on finding the full text, see the How to access full text articles libguide.

In most cases, you should be able to access electronic resources off campus, exactly as you would do on campus. There are only a few resources which are restricted to on campus use only and this will be specified on the Library Search. However, sometimes it can be slightly more complicated accessing resources from off campus, so here are some tips on how to make this easier:

1. Log in via the Electronic Library or Library Catalogue

A lot of resources authenticate by IP address, which is fine if you are on campus, but won’t work if you are off campus, so where possible please try to log in via the Library Search Page, as this will ensure that you are fully authenticated.

2. Check for an Institutional login option

If you are trying to access resources directly from publishers’ sites etc. please look for ‘Institutional login’ or ‘UK Federation’ links and follow the steps on screen to select the University of Exeter and log in using your UoE username and password.  Again, where possible please try to log in via the Library Search Login, as this will ensure that you are fully authenticated.

3. Check for additional usernames and passwords

In some cases, an additional username and password is required for off campus access. Please consult the list of usernames and passwords.

4. Dial-up or VPNs (Virtual Private Network)

Although it is not necessary to use dial-up or VPN to access electronic resources off campus, some people may find it useful. A dial-up or VPN connection will allow you to access the University network from home or from any other location with an Internet connection, making it appear to resource providers like you are on campus. Further information on dial-up and VPNs can be found on the IT Services webpages.

5. Check your local settings

Some computers have security software which may interfere with access to the library’s electronic resources.  Access to electronic resources requires that you allow cookies (including some 3rd party cookies) and that your network allows you to be routed through the library’s proxy server.  Please check this with your local IT support.  

6. Clear cookies & cache in the event of errors

If you are encountering error messages when logging into electronic resources when on and off campus the most common error is caused by stored information on the browser causing conflicts. To rectify these please follow the instructions here: Clear Cookies and Cache.

If you cannot find an answer here then please do get in touch by emailing us at

A- Z Databases

You can scroll through the A-Z and choose a database if you know exactly what you are looking for.

Alternatively, you can select your subject from the drop down subject menu to see a subset of resources in that category.

The subject listings will highlight the 'core resources'; these are key databases that are likely to be of interest to anyone studying and researching in that area.

Explore the history listing so that you are familiar with all the resources that are available to you.

Each entry in the A-Z database list has an information icon. Hover over that symbol for information about the content that is available in the database and an idea of why it might be useful for research purposes. Shown below is the information for Project Muse, which is a valuable humanities research database.


You can search for databases by the type of content they contain. This can be particularly useful if you are only interested in one type of source such as Primary sources or News sources.


Research material can be drawn from a wide range of different types of information. You may wish to use specialist sources such as news items, statistical data, archival and audiovisual materials.

Find out more by visiting the Searching for specific types of information libguide

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