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History 3632: The US in the Middle East


Typically, historical research can be separated into two categories: Primary and Secondary. It is important to understand the differences between the two types of resources.

A Primary Source is Defined As: Materials produced by people in the period and culture under consideration. These sources provide the evidence on which art historians rely in order to interpret the document and its significance in the time and place of its creation.  Some primary sources are written documents, such as letters; speeches; biographies; official decrees, religious texts, legal records, economic and trade records. In addition, historians often examine primary sources such as archaeological remains.

A Secondary Source is Defined As: A resource that discusses a previously created artwork or monument or prior period/event from an academic or research or layperson perspective.  The key here is that the resource is from some time after the event.  An example of this would be a book about Augustus or an article in a journal publication discussing the significance of  Stalin. A book will NOT typically be a primary source unless it is a compilation of letters or diary entries or documents.  

Primary vs. Secondary Source: Often times determining whether something is primary or secondary may depend on the question that is being asked. For instance, if a researcher is researching the issues around Soviet ideology and reads a book on that topic published in the 1960's, that book may be determined to be secondary but if the question is then about later European understanding of the Soviet Era, then that same book can then become primary. 

1. Read the document carefully. You may be examining an artwork or a textual document composed by an historical author.

2. Think about the following questions. Some of these questions apply better to some documents than others. Some questions you may not be able to answer because of incomplete information, but you may be able to speculate based on your historical knowledge. Choose the questions (it could be several) that you think can best be used to analyze and reveal the meanings of your primary source. In your notes compose brief responses to these questions.

  • WHAT document? (, official decree, letter, historical account, official speech, etc)
    • What  historical phenomena might it help me address?
  • WHO commissioned this document?
    • From this document, what can we tell about the perspective of the commissioner or the author(s)?
    • Does the document suggest that the commissioner(s) and author(s)’ point of view was widely shared, or was it controversial and confined to a few people?
  • WHEN was this document created?
    • How does the document reflect the time when it was written or created?
    • What does it say about the events underway at the time?
    • What does it suggest about how that particular time was perceived by the commissioner(s) or author(s)?
  • WHY was this document created? What was its purpose?
  • WHO was the intended AUDIENCE?
    • How did the audience shape what the commissioner (s) or author(s) aimed to convey?
    • How would the intended audience be likely to view or read the artwork/monument/document?
    • How would people who were not among the intended audience be likely to view or read it?
  • Think carefully about the choice of STYLE AND WORDS in the artwork/monument/document.
    • How do the style and/or words in the document reflect the commissioner(s) or author(s), the time, and the intended audience?
    • Does the commissioner(s) or author(s) choice of style or words reveal covert assumptions along with an overt message?
  • Comparison to other sources: How are the tone, perspective, and purpose of this document similar or different than others I have looked at or read on this topic?
  • After reading it, what do I still wish I knew?

3. Now step back and make a more overall assessment that includes the basics of the document (including its style and tone), its strengths and weaknesses, the historical questions it might speak to, and some conclusions about the significance of the document?

Be a detective; consider thisdocument a “clue.” Read between the lines. This is not meant to be a summary or simple description of the document. Try to say something meaningful about the document’s significance – how it adds to our understanding of a particular episode of  history.

Avoid presentism. You should not focus on making comparisons/contrasts to the present day. Your job is not to decide whether an document is good or bad, or whether the commissioner or author was right or wrong; rather, you should be seeking to understand the document’s form, function, and impact.

How to Start Your Search

These tips are specific for our general search, however, you can apply these same keyword search strategies to anywhere you do research. In the Summon search box above, type in keywords to get you started.

Keyword Searches

  • Keywords are the important themes and words you're interested in researching. You can use the index of a book to find terms that would be good keywords for searches.
  • Try getting inspiration from tags on your initial search results. These are words or phrases that the author/publisher/editor have determined to be major themes or concepts in the piece. Search algorithms match your initial keyword searches with these tags.
  • Don't use filler words like effect, impact, role, or connection as these will muck up the search.
  • Think of WhoWhatWhenWhereWhy, and How when picking your keywords
  • You may have to look for synonyms or variations to your original keyword search.
  • For example, if you're doing research question is about the politics of the Middle East in the 1980's, your keywords to start with are politics and Middle East -  rather than typing in your whole research question.

More Specific Search and ​Boolean Operators

  • In order to have Middle East appear as one phrase you will need to add quotations around it (So your search will be [“Middle East"]
  • While this will give me results for those specific phrases, it won't give me them for both of them together. In order to have both phrases appear together I need to use the boolean operator and. My new search would e ["politics" and "Middle East"]. Now I will have results for both Politics and Middle East.
  • If I wanted just politics to appear in my search and not Roman Art I would search for ["Politics" not "Middle East"]. 
  • If I wanted either results for "Politics" or "Middle East" I would use the following search ["politics" or "Middle East"]

Select Content Type

  • Choose what format you'd prefer
    • Examples: Book/eBook, Journal Article, Magazine Article, Streaming Video, Web Resources, ...
  • If you don't have a preference you can always leave all of the results in and continue to narrow down by the suggestions below

​​Filter Your Search Results

  • In Summon, use Refine Your Search on the left hand side
  • Select Disciplines and Subjects that interest you
    • Example of Disciplines:  history, political science, near eastern studies, social sciences, ..
  • Select the publication date you find most useful by moving the yellow slide scale

Refine Your Search

  • Continue to narrow down your results by changing the Discipline and Subjects selected.
  • Change your keyword search as you go. You will find as you do your research that your initial research question may change and become more specific to narrow down your focus. For the example above, "How do religious ideas show up in Roman art?", you may change this to "How are religious themes represented in the Augustan period in Rome?" You may then change your keyword search to ["Religion" and "Roman Art" and Augustus].
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