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University at Buffalo Libraries

United States History

Researching the History of American Higher Education

Opening Words on Sources

Obviously, what you are studying will determine the sources you will turn to.  Your sources may be as straightforward as the reports housed in a university’s archives, coverage of a topic in the popular and/or scholarly press, government reports, various statistical compilations, or a combination of all or some of these – and, of course, a host of things not mentioned.  Persistence and some informed imagination will facilitate and define your efforts.  

For general insights on using a diversity of primary sources see:

  • History Matters: Making Sense of Evidence

  • Using Secondary and Primary Sources (Don’t be deterred by the British orientation.)

Manuscripts and Archives

Traditional aids to finding manuscript collections and archives are:

  • Archive Finder

  • Worldcat 

At colleges and universities you’ll find an university archives which will contain topical collections as well as participate in a records management program for their institution.  Here you will also often find the papers of retired or older faculty members.  For UB’s archives visit: 

  • University Archives  

Pay special attention to: Collections Arranged by Topic, University Records Control Plan, and Timeline of UB History

Scholarly and Popular Periodical Literature as Primary Sources 

The University Libraries hold large periodical collections, some for material reaching back well beyond the 19th century.  While you may think of journal and magazine articles as secondary sources, when they were published at the time of a topic/event(s) they are primary sources.  Some collections and indexes worthy of special note follow. 

  • Education Index Retrospective (1929-1983)

  • Periodical Index Online (PIO) (1770-1995)

  • Periodical Archives Online (PAO) (1800-1995)

  • JStor (1st issue to 5-7 yrs ago)

  • Reader’s Guide Retrospective (1890-1982)

  • American Periodicals Series Online (APS) (1741-1900)

  • Harper’s Weekly (1857-1883)  

New and Old Ways of Finding and Using Books 

  • Google Books

  • HathiTrust Digital Library

  • Worldcat

  • Google Books Ngram Viewer

  • ebrary Education 

Placing an Event in Chronological Context: What was Happening when this was Happening? 

  • Timeline of United States History (Wikipedia)

  • American Educational History Timeline

  • Demographic History of the United States (Wikipedia) 

Does that Count?  How Many Were There? 

  • Historical Statistics of the United States

  • Digest of Educational Statistics (US Government)

Currently available electronically with some earlier editions in paper as L112.A35.

  • Google Books

  • Proquest Statistical Insight  

The Largest Collector of Education Information, in General, is Somebody’s Government, at Some Level 

  • Government Documents Information (Federal, State, Local)

  • Proquest United States Serial Set Digital Edition

  • Proquest Congressional Universe

  • Regional Knowledge Center (WNY and Ontario)  

Change in Higher Education Tracked on the Web 

The most transparent way to track education change on the Web is to study the Web sites of schools and organizations across time.  This is a fascinating thing to do – especially when you’ve worked at an institution for awhile and can visit its Web site of several years ago.  A novel way of doing this is looking at the edits on Wikipedia articles. 

  • Internet Archive: Wayback Machine

  • Wikipedia 

The BIG Picture 

Begin looking for background information here: 

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library 

This a great place to begin; but don’t stop here.  And don’t be afraid to look in the Wikipedia — just trust it a little less than you might some other things.  The endnotes always deserve a look and the articles can be very good.

  • Wikipedia 

The danger with the Wikipedia is that you may not be knowledgeable enough to know when it’s painfully incomplete or just simply wrong.  There’s no telling who wrote the article you’re reading . . . that says it all!  Wikipedia entries can often serve as excellent material for historiographical analysis see this one on the Iraq War — — all editing is preserved and chronologically identifiable:

Encyclopedias and handbooks and annual reviews offer the big picture: the historical background and subtopics considered worth of investigation, at least currently.  Of course, if you assemble a progression of older editions you can study how and what changes have occurred.  Some key background or overview sources not discussed above are listed below. 

  • Reference Universe (An index to topical dictionaries and encyclopedias, many highly focused.  Indexes contents of Gale Virtual Reference Library and more.  Nonetheless, be search the resources listed below.) 

More specific resources which may be useful on higher education in general are listed below: 

  • Blackwell Reference Online

  • Cambridge Histories Online

  • Encyclopedia Americana

  • Encyclopedia of American Education, 3 vols.  2001

Lockwood Library: Reference LB17 .U54 2001 v.1-v.3

  • Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education 

  • Encyclopedia of Education, 2nd ed. 8 vols.  2003 

People Remembered 

  • American National Biography

  • Directory of American Scholars

Current is available electronically, older editions back to 1942 under LA2311.C32. 

The Secondary Literature on the History of Higher Education 

The history of higher education is well covered in both broad history indexes and in indexes specifically devoted to education.  Use both categories; because valuable work appears in both history and education outlets. There are also some key journals to keep an eye on. 

  • America: History and Life

  • Education Research Complete

  • Google Scholar  

Some specific journals; identify our holdings by searching 

  • Journal of Higher Education
  • Review of Higher Education
  • Thought & Action
  • History of Education Quarterly

Keeping Up with Higher Education: Today and Yesterday 

  • History of Higher Education Annual.   Buffalo: Faculty of Educational Studies of the State University of New York at Buffalo through the Department of Higher Education, 1981-  .  v.1 (1981) – v.21 (2001)

Lockwood Library LB2300.H57

  • Chronicle of Higher Education

  • Inside Higher Education

  • H-Net: H-Education, History of Education


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