The American West

HIST 311 ; Prof. C. Meyer
Guide for finding sources at the George T. Potter Library


February 5, 2007

Susan B. Kurzmann

 I. Library Homepage:

  • Provides access to the catalog (OPAC), databases, interlibrary loan forms, etc.

II. Finding Primary and Secondary Sources

  • Primary sources enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. The information and ideas were either created during the time period or created later by a participant or observer of the event being studied.
  • Some examples of primary sources to study the history of the American West:
    •  Memoirs, diaries, letters, interviews, and other first-person accounts
    • Government documents
    • Newspaper articles
    • Paintings
  • Catalog: Use this to find books, periodical titles (NOT articles ), government documents, reserve items, music, and movies owned by the Library. You may limit a search by language, year(s) of publication, type of material, etc. This may take a few seconds to load.
  • Searching the catalog for primary source material :   
    • Use the Advanced Search option
      • or
    • Use the Command line / Boolean terms search option under Basic Search
    • Both these options allow you to enter additonal terms that will insure that your results will be primary source material
    • For example
      • in Advanced Search, enter american west and sources
      • in Command line / Boolean terms option, enter "american west " and sources
    • Using words like correspondence, memoir, letter, interview, autobiographies, or diaries will help you to locate source material
    • Click on the Related Records tab on the top of a record to see the subject headings associated with that particular item. These linked subject headings will take you to other material on the same subject matter.
  • Searching the catalog for secondary source material:
    • In Basic Search, use the keyword default setting for a basic search to find material, for example:
      • search for "lewis and clark " or "national parks " to locate a broad range of materials the library has on these keywords
      • Your results will come up ranked by relevance; you may then re-sort them by title, author, publish [=publication] date, or publish date descending
      • When you find an appropriate title, click on the Related Records tab located at the top of a catalog record to see which Library of Congress subject headings are discussed in that particular book/DVD/periodical


    • Search the catalog using Subject Browse feature if you know the relevant Library of Congress (LC) subject heading, for example:
      • Northwest, Pacific--Discovery and exploration

      • Indians of North America

        • may subdivide by various topics:
          • --Treaties
          • --Legal statutes, laws, etc.
          • --Politics and government
          • --Intellectual life
          • --Economic conditions
          • --Government relations


    1. Start with broad searches. It is much easier to discard too much rather than start with too little.
    2. If you don't know the Subject Heading, use the Related Records tab located on the top of a catalog record to get to the headings. This will help you focus in on more relevant material.
    3. Can "virtually" browse the shelves by clicking on the call number in a record.

III. Reference Material

  • The reference stacks are located on the 3rd floor (this is also the library's entrance).
  • Some useful materials for your projects:
    American Decades                                                                                              Ref E169.1. A471977 2004
    Annals of America Ref E173 .A793 2003
    Artists of the American West Ref N6536.D38
    Dictionary of the American West Ref PE2970 .W4 B5 1993
    Documents of American History Ref E173 .D59 1988
    Encyclopedia of the American West Ref F591. E485 1996

    The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures:

                  The Pacific Region; The Rocky Mountain Region;

    The Southwest

    Various call numbers

    The Native North American Almanac Ref E77 .N37 1994
    The New Encyclopedia of the American West Ref F591 .N46 1998
    Historical Atlas of the American West

    Ref atlas tables

    G1381 .S1 B4 1989

    Mapping America's Past

    Ref atlas tables

    G1201 .S1 C3 1996

    Rand McNally's Pioneer Atlas of the American West

    Ref atlas tables

    G1380 .R35 1969


IV. Electronic Resources

JSTOR Comprised of the full-text of more than 500 academic journals

America: History & Life

History of the United States and Canada from pre-history to the present. Links to JSTOR full-text and use Primary Catalog link to search our library holdings.
Academic Search Premier

A multi-disciplinary database containing both full-text articles and citations. When only a citation is included, click on the "Check availability at Ramapo" link to see if the full text of the article is available in our collection.

*May limit search to "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals"

*See "Cited References" feature

The Historical New York Times This database offers full-text and full-image articles for the New York Times dating back to the 1851.
Ethnic NewsWatch A full-text interdisciplinary database of the newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority and native press
Humanities Index Cites articles from English-language periodicals. Periodical coverage includes some of the best-known scholarly journals and numerous lesser-known but important specialized magazines .


Scholarly/Peer Reviewed/Refereed articles have been reviewed by a selected panel of experts in the discipline covered by that journal. Many of the databases allow you to limit your search to these articles.

  • Journal Finder: Journal Finder: locate the full text of articles in specific periodicalss (journals, newspapers, magazines)to which we have access either in our print or microform collection or through a full-text database.
    • Find this link under Quick Links on the library's homepage. Useful journals for your reserach to which we provide access via a database and/or print:
  • Interlibrary Loan: allows studens to borrow a book or article that the George T. Potter library does not own. There is a link from the Journal Finder page and under Quick Links on the library's homepage.



  1. Always switch to the Advanced Search page in a database. This will give you more control over your results.
  2. Always use Boolean Operators-AND, OR, NOT and Quotation Marks when running a search. For Example: Indians and (United States or Canada) and Indians OR ("economic conditions" or "social conditions")
  3. Always check your Spelling if the database results are zero.
  4. Use the Subject Terms or Thesaurus link, if available, to find the best terms to use in a database.

V. Using Web Sources

Check the following Subject Resources linked under History:


Check the following Subject Resources linked under United States Government:

Check the following Subject Resources linked under Newspapers & Electronic Media



Use Evaluating Websites to determine if a website is authoritative enough to use in your paper.

Useful Websites:

  • WestWeb Catherine Lavender, College of Staten Island, CUNY
  • Old West James A. Janke; Dakota State University

American Experience and many other PBS programs are great sources of information.


VI. Bibliographies and Annotated Bibliographies


Need more help? Visit or call the Reference Desk: 201.684.7574

Use QandA NJ: a 24/7 virtual chat with a reference librarian.