HIS 329U: Perspectives on Math and Science

Finding Background Information

Having a basic understanding of your topic is the first step to finding primary and secondary historical sources. It is imporant to know the who, what, when and where of your topic so that you can generate appropriate search terms and evaluate sources. Try the following sources to find authoritative background information on your topic:

Cambridge Histories Online - Covers historical science topics. Use the advanced search option to limit your search by subject.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography - A collection of biographies of notable scientists. 

Gale Virtual Reference Library - A collection of encyclopedias which cover broad topics, theories, historical events, etc.

Wikipedia - An online, crowdsourced encyclopedia. Though wikipedia generally should not be used as a source in your assignment, the "References" section of Wikipedia section can lead to more authoritative sources and some primary sources. Remember that information found on this site can be misleading or incorrect!

Finding Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are documents, objects or items that were created during the time period you're studying. They include things like diaries, letters, pamphlets, photographs, autobiographies, speeches, and even physical artifacts like clothing or pottery. 


Searching for Books

One way to search for primary sources is to look for reprinted materials in books. This is a great way to find diaries, collections of letters, autobiographies, and more. To search for primary materials in books, start at the UT Libraries Catalog and combine keywords from your topic with keywords that represent primary sources (ex: documents, sources, letters, papers, pamphlets, photographs). So, if you were researching the history of calculating longitude, you might try the following search:

keyword search


Searching in Databases

Databases can be a great place to find primary sources like press release documenting scientific advances or journal articles that cover 'new' concepts or theories. Depending on your topic, you may find one or more of the following databases helpful: 

America's Historical Newspapers - Coverage from 1690  to 1922.

Artemis Primary Sources - Coverage of 18th and 19th century primary source collections. 

British Periodicals - Coverage from the late 17th century to the early 20th century. 

Gale NewsVault - Coverage from 1785 to 1985.

JSTOR - Coverage dates vary.

Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) - Coverage of Science, Technology, and Medicine from 1780-1925.

Periodicals Archive Online - Coverage from 1770 to 1995. 


Each of the databases above are slightly different. Start by trying a basic keyword search for your topic. You may need to try alternate spellings or limit your results to a specific date range. Check the database's 'Help' page or ask a librarian for more help!


Searching the Web

Searching the web can also be a great way to find primary sources like photographs, original manuscripts, or publications. Here are some tips for getting the most out of a Google search:

  • Try limiting your search to .edu or .org domains. To do this add "site:.edu, .org" to the end of your search terms
  • Evaluate the sites you use to determine their authenticity and trustworthiness. Check out this brief Evaluating Web Sites checklist to decide whether the site is reliable.
  • Museum websites and digital libraries will often have online collections related to scientific and mathematical advances. Try adding the keywords "library" or "museum" to your search to limit to these types of institutions. 

Not sure where to start with your web search? Try one of the following sources:

ECHO (Exploring and Collecting History Online) - A directory of over 5,000 websites related to the history of science, technology and industry. 

HathiTrust Digital Library - A collection of digitized materials from over 80 major research libraries. 

National Science Digital Library (NSDL) - This digital library, funded by the National Science Foundation, allows you to search a wide variety of educaiton materials related to science, technology, mathematics and engineering from all over the web. 

Science Museum - This British museum has a large number of online exhibits and collections covering a range of science related topics. 


Finding Secondary Historical Sources

What are Secondary Sources? 

Secondary sources are materials created sometime after the event or time period they discuss. These accounts often seek to put people or events into historical perspective, and may analyze or evaluate the original material or event. Examples of secondary sources include books and articles.


Finding Books

When searching for books, it's best to start simple. Trying doing a keyword search for your topic using the UT Libraries Catalog. Depending on your topic you may find hundreds of results or none. Below you'll find some tips for refining your search.

If you have too many results:

  • Try adding the keyword "history" to your search. 
  • Limit your results by language or date.
  • Add more keywords related to your topic to narrow down your result set. 

If you have too few results:

  • Try different keywords or more broad terms. (ex: "algebra history" or "complex numbers" rather than "imaginary numbers")
  • Search for your topic in Google Books. If you find books that book promising, search for the title in the UT Libraries Catalog to see if we own the material. 


Finding Articles

Try the databases below when searching for secondary historical articles. 

Historical Abstracts - Covers historical topics from 1450 to the present day. 

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine - Covers the history of a number of subjects including science and mathematics. 

Finding Textbooks


Current textbooks are shelved in the textbook collection on the 6th floor of PCL in Section S.  You can simply browse this collection to select a textbook of interested to you.  Find the Q's section to see the match and science texts.

Textbooks published before 1970 are housed in our library storage facility. To find these, watch this tutorial, or follow these steps:

1. Start at the Library Catalog

2. Enter your search terms in the search box at the top.

3. Choose "K-12 Textbooks & Curriculum" from the Location bar. 

4. Set data limits if you're looking for books from specific time periods.

5. If the book you're searching for has a very generic name, it may also help to fill in the author or publisher field.

advanced keyword search

For preservation reasons, many of our oldest textbook are housed in the Library Storage Facility.  To request that they be brought to campus for your use, follow these steps...

1. Locate the book you need in the catalog.

2. Click the "Pick it up" button associated with that item

3. Enter your EID and complete the screens asking you to specify the item and choose a pickup location.

4. Within 1-2 business days you will receive an email letting you know the requested item is available for pickup at your chosen location.  Unless the item is in disrepair, you'll be able to borrow the book for the standard loan period.



Books published before 1923 are no longer protected by copyright and many have been digitized and are available online for free. Look through the following resources to locate historic textbooks and readers online:


Google Books

Finding Educational History

To help you understand your textbooks in an historic context, considering using sources that give you insight about educational philosophy and practice in different time periods.  Below is a list of good places to start, but you'll find additional books in the Library Catalog, journal articles in ERICand encyclopeadic articles in Gale Virual Reference Library.

Encyclopedia Articles:


Print Books

Citing Sources

Managing Citations

Citation managers can be a great way to create and format your bibliography. Check out this page for more information:

Cite Your Sources: Citation Manager Comparison Guide 


Online Style Guides

Chicago Manual of Style Citation Quick Guide

Purdue OWL: Chicago Manual of of Style, 16th Edition

Subject Specialist

 Janelle Hedstrom's picture

Janelle Hedstrom 
Education Librarian

Email: EdLibrarian@lib.utexas.edu

Meet: Request a consultation (available in person or via Adobe Connect)


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