History, Biography, and More at Your Fingertips

If you have been following my monthly entry on this blog, you know that I feel the word databases should probably be history by now.  It is not a case of the databases losing their meaning or usefulness, just that they are so much more than what they used to be “back in the day.”  Part of the point behind this continuing series (if you missed the previous editions, you can find the links at the bottom of this page) is to draw attention to the many topics and helpful everyday information that can be found in our databases.  This month we will take a look at databases that cover history and biography, but go beyond just journal articles to supply users with reliable information in the form of articles, video, and audio resources.



February is African American History month, so let’s start there.  Infobase offers us the African-American History Database, which is a pretty rich resource in that it goes beyond basic articles by incorporating primary resources, maps, videos, photos, and timelines - all arranged by topic.  This is the place to turn if you want a timeline on how slavery came to America, documents on Abolition, a video of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech, or a slideshow on the Obama Presidency.  The topic center has material arranged by both era and topic, so you can see items as they related to The Civil War or the Underground Railroad. The database also includes biographies, which are searchable by browsing the categories (such as Leading Scientists) under Featured People or by name or keyword in the general search box at the top of the database.  Lastly, teachers can find handy curriculum tools to help guide lesson plans, just look for the link under the search box. The way the material is arranged makes the database accessible enough that both children and adults can use it for either research or as a spot to learn more about a certain topic – just click around the menus or use the Google-style search box at the top of the page.

Infobase also provides us with a variety of other history topics covered in the same manner as the African-American History Database.  We also have American History, American Indian History, American Women’s History, Ancient and Medieval History, and Modern World History.  All of them have the same features and present material in topical form or by era.  The same types of materials are available, so you can find timelines on the Trail of Tears, documents about Women’s Suffrage, or videos of the conflicts in Iraq.

The Biography Reference Bank (H.W. Wilson) is a resource made available through Ebsco and is a good place to start if you want to know if there has ever been a book written about a certain person or if a person has been included in an anthology of biographies.  Just enter a name in the search box and you will get a list of reviews and resources of books that feature that person. Some books are even available as full-text PDFs or ePub files through the database.

Ebsco also offers the Biography Reference Center, which you can access directly as a visual, menu-driven database or search via their other, larger databases, such as MasterFile.  The visual, menu-driven version has a nice clean presentation that makes it easy to navigate. There is a basic search box at the top if you want to just do a search for a specific person or you can browse the featured biographies or browse by genre.  Once you are on a page for a specific person, you may see a photo of them and basic data such as birth date and a quick list of achievements. Below will be related information that will link to specific articles about the person so you can get a more detailed biography.

European Views of the Americas: 1493 to 1790 is a unique database since it specifically covers how the countries and people of Europe viewed the New World, North, and South America, during the time of exploration and colonization.  While it does not include a lot of full-text articles, the database does provide abstracts of many primary source materials with information on where they are held if the researcher wants to look into them further.

Greenwood Daily Life is another database that is as fun as it is informative.  If you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Ancient Egypt, turn here to find out.  The database brings the popular Daily Life series of books online and covers topics such as family life, work life, recreation, entertainment, and food.  Each entry lets the reader know how they would have experienced these topics during those times, for example not only what you would have eaten, but how it would have been cultivated and prepared.  Of interest to teachers and homeschoolers, each topic area also includes activities such as discussion questions, work sheets, and even crafts to try making some of the items discussed in the articles.  At the bottom of the main page is an academic success corner with general study and writing tips, as well as an ask-a-cybrarian link and guide to using the database.

Heritage Quest (and Ancestry in our branches) bring more than just genealogy research to your fingertips, the databases are a trove of information that is often overlooked by researchers.  Consider that each database has the full U.S. Census up to 1940 indexed and think about who would have been living in the United States at the time. You could look up anyone from Richard Nixon to Kirk Douglas and find them in the Census records.  The databases also include local and family history books, as well as military records, directories, and obituaries. Searching is pretty easy on both since some resources are highlighted on the main page and you just need to click to get started. There is also a search option on both that lets you put in as much or as little information about the person as you would like, giving you the ability to get really specific if you are looking for a person with a common name.

We have one database that is provided specifically for us and is paid for by the Hightstown Library Association – the Hightstown Digital Newspaper Archive.  The database includes digital versions of over 8 newspapers that operated out of Hightstown since the 1800s.  Users can click on a newspaper title and then use the year and issue menus to see a full PDF of that issue or use the search function to search all or some newspapers for a specific keyword or name.

Another Ebsco database is the History Reference Center, which offers both keyword searching and browsing of the collection.  The search box can be used to pinpoint specific information by entering in keywords or names to find articles.  Most of the articles will have full text and may also include pictures or video if it is available. The articles can also be printed or saved and all have complete reference citations.  The menu search lets you pick U.S. or World history and then presents a set of topics to drill down through, starting from a broad era to more specific topics. For example, under World History, you could start at Early Civilizations, then pick Greece, and then the Aegean Civilization.

Join us next month as we take a look at databases that cover reading/literature, language learning, and news/current events.  If you missed the previous editions, we have already covered health, business, and homework help/kids databases.

Laura N., IT Department, Lawrence Headquarters Branch

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