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History: Finding and using library resources: 5. Research databases

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

Databases provide access to scholarly research, including journal articles, conference proceedings and books.

A wide range of databases are  available to you at the University. 

Below, you can find out more about research databases , and also browse the Anthropology Databases list.

More support information is provided on a selection of the key databases you will use for your anthropological research.


Take some time to explore the databases and familarise yourself with searching and downloading information.


About 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 should I use a database?

  • 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.



Historical Abstracts

Historical Abstracts is a comprehensive bibliography for material on the history of the world from 1450 to the present. It covers all countries and regions, excluding the United States and Canada. Coverage includes historical and related social science literature.

BBIH & International Medieval Bibliography

The Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) covers the history of British and Irish domestic history as well as the history of British and Irish relationships with the rest of the world, including the British Empire and Commonwealth.

The International Medieval Bibliography is a comprehensive index for Medieval Studies. It covers all subject relating to the Middle Ages from 400-1500 AD.

What is the Bibliography of British & Irish History? How can it help me?

How to search for what you need using the BBHI

The BBHI results page - what you'll see and what it means

Web of Science

Web of Science is a large multidisciplinary research database covering all subject areas, including History.

Top Tip:
This is an index database which means that it does not contain full text. However, content that we subscribe to  can be accessed via links.


JSTOR is a valuable research resource for secondary resources.  You can use it to search and find the full text of published books and journal articles.

Top Tip:
JSTOR is an archive with material only being uploaded periodically. The very latest journal articles and books will not be found in this database. However, it is a good source for older material.


You can Refine your results if you find too many as a result of your initial search.

For example, you can limit it by resource / content type (books or journals) or date of publication.

Use the How to Search JSTOR LibGuide for an introduction to the service, the History resources on JSTOR for subject guidance or take a look at JSTOR's Vimeo channel for instructional videos.

EEBO - Early English Books Online

 EEBO is an excellent resource for primary research, containing full-texts of early printed books from the 16th and 17th centuries.

It has captured the earliest surviving edition of every English-language work published during the first two centuries of printing in England, and converted this material into fully-searchable texts. This means you can search/browse the materials by author and/or topic and theme in order to answer your research questions.

Watch this video to find out how to search EEBO effectively

Starting from the EEBO Home Screen select the Advanced Search option and complete the search form.


You can use the Look up Authors option to help you complete the search form.


The illustration below shows you how to Look for and select Shakespeare from the list

Once you have selected the author click Add to search to continue.

You can also enter your own search terms into a box without using the Look up feature.

In this example, add to your search by manually entering  richard third into the Document Title box

Click on Search once you have added all your search concepts.

You do not just have to search by author and/or title.

You could search by themes such as cunning, disguise, despair, intrigue etc. and discover how these themes appear in the literature across the database. You can add these to the keywords search box.

Once you have run your search you will see a list of matching search results.

If you retrieve too many results you can go back and Refine your search

You can also choose the most relevant results, by using the checkboxes and adding them to your Marked List.

You have a two different view display options either Full Text PDF or Image full text.

Not all formats are available for each item - they will vary between items.

You can adjust the image size if you wish to analyse it in greater detail

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