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United States History: Reference Works

Reference Spotlight

Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection is a 4-volume set which covers the breadth of women's contributions to American history through thematic essays, detailed articles, and primary documents.


Getting Started

Why consult an encyclopedia or dictionary? Scholarly subject encyclopedias and dictionaries are excellent starting places for researchers just beginning a project. For one, they can provide contextualization for any number of topics. They can also provide helpful key terms that can be employed in other searches. Fortunately, many subject encyclopedias and dictionaries provide bibliographies for these entries. These bibliographies can be invaluable in pointing you to important resources on your topic. 

The Duke University Libraries have an outstanding collection of dictionaries and encyclopedias, both in print and online. 

 Online Reference Collections

ABC-CLIO ebook Collection, formerly History Reference Online, is an online collection of hundreds of history reference titles published by ABC-Clio. This is a fantastic resource, which can be browsed by subject categories or full-text searched by keyword. 

 Oxford Reference Online provides access to a selection of reference titles.  The database homepage displays a listing of all the accessible titles. so you can quickly identify the ones that pertain to U.S. history.

Specific General Titles of Interest: Print and Online

A Dictionary of American History (online) Thomas Purvis. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

Dictionary of American History. 3rd ed. 10 v. New York: Thomson Gale, 2003. Perkins/Bostock Reference E174 D538 2003

Encyclopedia of American History. Ed. By Gary B. Nash. New York: Facts on File, 2010. Perkins/Bostock Reference E174 .E53 2010

The Oxford Companion to United States History (online) Ed. by Paul S. Boyer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001; print copies Perkins/Bostock Reference and Library Service Center E174 .O94 2001

To find additional encyclopedias on a range of topics related to US history, use the subject heading,  United States-History-Encyclopedias.