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Path • find • er (ˈpath-ˌfīn-dər,) n.
one who finds a path or way, as through a wilderness.

What is a pathfinder? As the definition above from the American College Dictionary implies, it's something the finds a way through a wilderness. The subject of American History is indeed a wilderness. Thousands and thousands of books, articles, web sites, etc., all devoted to the story of the United States of America. How does one weed their way through this wilderness? That is the purpose of this pathfinder.

This pathfinder will serve as a guide through the myriad of sources in American History; it will help Orcas Island Public Library members find information using the books and databases available on the Library web site, as well as on the Internet itself. Its intended audience is any member of OIPL who wants to know more about the history of our nation, wants to read more about a topic heard or read in the media, and for students researching for homework assignments. But, it only serves as a jumping-off point. Limited space prohibits the inclusion of every source available. The sources selected are only a representation of those available on the World Wide Web. Sites that are linked to television programming, such as The History Channel and Biography are mentioned here in passing. The books listed here are ones present in the OIPL collection. But, other books found through one of the resources can be borrowed through Interlibrary Loan.

The search toolbox on the right provides quick reference help. The Subject Headings and Dewey Call Numbers aid in navigating through the Library's catalog and locating books in the Library's stacks, respectively. The ProQuest database is available to Library members through the Library's web site and is useful in finding information on a wide selection of topics. The Directory of History Journals from the American Historical Association locates topical journals in all historical periods around the world. Finally, the catalogs links take the user to either the Orcas Island Public Library catalog or to WorldCat, a world-wide catalog of libraries from which to order Interlibrary Loan items.

This pathfinder will blaze a trail, but it is up to the explorer to do the rest.

All external links open in a new browser window.

Reference Books

Reference works consist of Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Atlases, and other works. If you know little about a subject, they are a good place to look first. Reference works can give an overview of the subject examined, as well as give sources for further reading.

 Clicking on the red call numbers following each entry will take you to its page in the Orcas Island Public Library catalog. There you can find the status and location of each item, and its bibliographic information.

Documents of American History, 2 volumes

Henry Steele Commager, Editor

This two-volume set presents seminal documents in the history of the United States. Examples include: the Mayflower compact; the Declaration of Independence; the Gettysburg Address; the Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy. Volume one covers from Jamestown (1607) to 1898; volume two covers from 1898 to 1988.

[REF 973.08 COM]

Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography

John S. Bowman, Editor

"This is ... a summary of individuals currently deemed important to the development of American society. Over 40 scholars contributed informative entries. Name and occupation indexes help readers find entries for all individuals named in the book as well as those in the same professions" (Library Journal v. 120 (April 1 1995) p. 84).
[REF 920.073 CAMBRID]

Encyclopedia of American Facts & Dates

Gorton Carruth

"The book provides a quick way to review social and political events year by year ... the index is complete; it continues to be an outstanding feature of the work ... Carruth is a standard reference source" (Booklist v. 76 (July 1 1980) p. 1627).
[REF 973.02 CAR]

Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives

The National Archives

From the ourdocuments.gov web site: "100 milestone documents of American history. These documents reflect our diversity and our unity, our past and our future, and mostly our commitment as a nation to continue to strive to "form a more perfect union."
[ 973 OUR]

Historical Atlas of the United States

National Geographic Society

This volume's "287 oversized pages (12 by 18 inches) are full of maps, timelines, historical charts, and new and historic photographs that provide a visual panorama of every aspect of American life from hot dog stands to house types. All told there are 380 maps (most in color), . . . 450 photographs, 80 graphs, and 140,000 words of text" (Booklist v. 85 (May 1 1989) p. 1513).

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General Surveys of American History

General survey books usually cover the entire lifespan of the nation up to the present. They also provide a writers' interpretation of American History; as opposed to reference works, which present historical data. Baker and Zinn, especially, provide "alternative" renderings of America's story.

 Clicking on the red call numbers following each entry will take you to its page in the Orcas Island Public Library catalog. There you can find the status and location of each item, and its bibliographic information.

American History online textbook from ushistory.org

The American History online textbook is a project of ushistory.org covering "American History: From Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium" produced by renowned scholars. Each topical chapter is divided further into sub-chapters, each containing references to more web sites for further study.

U. S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You

Carolyn Baker

"U.S. History Uncensored offers a non-traditional account of our history that answers these questions and superbly connects the dots between current events and their ultimate roots. As carefully- documented as it is opinionated, this book provides a perspective that assists the reader in navigating America's precarious present and its faltering future" (amazon.com).
[973 BAKER]

A People's History of the United States

Howard Zinn

"Zinn has written a brilliant and moving [book which] . . . is an excellent antidote to establishment history. Seldom have quotations been so effectively used; the stories of blacks, women, Indians, and poor laborers of all nationalities are told in their own words" (Library Journal (1876) v. 105 (Jan. 1 1980) p. 101).
[973.92 ZINN]

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Classic Works in American History

These works are timeless. They represent seminal thinking in the historiography of the United States by some of the nation's most important historians and historical figures. They are significant in that they reflect opinions about the issues in the thinking of their own times.

 Clicking on the red call numbers following each entry will take you to its page in the Orcas Island Public Library catalog. There you can find the status and location of each item, and its bibliographic information.

The Federalist Papers

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison & John Jay

"The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles advocating the ratification of the United States Constitution. Seventy-seven of the essays were published serially in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788. The Federalist remains a primary source for interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, as the essays outline a lucid and compelling version of the philosophy and motivation of the proposed system of government. The authors of The Federalist wanted both to influence the vote in favor of ratification and to shape future interpretations of the Constitution." [Wikipedia]
[342.7302 HAMILTO]

History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson

History of the United States of America during the Administrations of James Madison

Henry Adams

"One of the greatest histories ever written in English, Henry Adams's History of the United States is remarkable for its fullness of detail, its penetrating insight, and above all its strong, lively, and ironic style. Written in a strong, lively style pointed with Adams's wit, the History chronicles the consolidation of American character, and poses questions about the future course of democracy." (Library of America: Jefferson and Madison)
Jefferson [973 ADAMS] Madison [973.5 ADAMS]

The Journals of the Expedition Under the Command of Capts. Lewis and Clark to the Sources of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, Performed During the Years 1804-5-6 by Order of the Government of the United States, 2 Volumes

Nicholas Biddle, editor

Biddle was the first editor to compile the extensive notes written by Lewis & Clark during their epic exploration of the Western United States. Most other editions of "the Journals" are based upon Biddle's interpretation.
Volume 1 [917.8 LEWIS] Volume 2 [917.8 LEWIS]

The Oregon Trail

Francis Parkman

"The book is a breezy, first-person account of a 2 month summer tour of the U.S. states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas when Parkman was 23. The heart of the book covers the three weeks Parkman spent hunting buffalo with a band of Oglala Sioux." [Wikipedia].
[978 P]

History of the Westward Movement

Frederick Merk

"A massively detailed account, [this] is a summation that does us all proud. But it is also very dated history in its conceptualization and themes. Though rich in understanding of the larger processes of filling in the continent, it is still history of [more than] 50 years ago. This is not to minimize the value of Merk's synthesis, but to remind us that the history of the American West is so vast that it must be written in either 50 pages as an interpretative essay or 5000 as a multivolume work. Nevertheless, Merk's book is highly recommended for both students and history buffs" (Library Journal (1876) v. 103 (July 1978) p. 1405).
[973 M]

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According to Wikipedia, "a database is an integrated collection of logically related records or files that is stored in a computer system which consolidates records previously stored in separate files into a common pool of data records that provides data for many applications. A database is a collection of information that is organized so that it can easily be accessed, managed, and updated. In one view, databases can be classified according to types of content: bibliographic, full-text, numeric, and images."

Google Scholar

From About Google Scholar: "What is Google Scholar? Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations. Google Scholar helps you identify the most relevant research across the world of scholarly research."


ProQuest is a portal whereby users can cross-search six databases. Two databases are handy for users of this pathfinder: Platinum Full-Text Periodicals (1475 periodicals) and ProQuest Newspapers (897 newspapers), which variously cover articles published during the past two decades. To access this web site requires you enter your entire 14-digit library card barcode and your library password.

Directory of History Journals

From the American Historical Association: "This database provides helpful links to peer-reviewed English-language journals that publish in all fields of history. Just choose a subject category from the list ... and the journal's description and submission information are a mouse-click away."

Directory of History Dissertations

From the American Historical Association: "The Directory contains 25,400 dissertations that were completed or are currently in progress at 198 academic departments in Canada and the U.S."

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Internet Resources

The web sites listed, while not exhaustive, provide a portal to learning the history of the United States of America. They are a means to an end in that they provide doorways to further narrow your research, from general themes down to a specific topic. These web sites are hosted by universities or historical foundations, rather than sites that are linked to television programming, such as The History Channel and Biography.

Modern History Sourcebook

From Fordham University: "The Internet Modern History Sourcebook is one of series of history primary sourcebooks. It is intended to serve the needs of teachers and students in college survey courses in modern European history and American history, as well as in modern Western Civilization and World Cultures. Although this part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project began as a way to access texts that were already available on the Internet, it now contains hundreds of texts made available locally." The sourcebook contains links to legions of primary sources, as well as secondary narratives, in American History.


From the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, this web site contains a host of stories and features discussing American History. Like its online textbook above, the web site additionally links to numerous other, more topical web sites.

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

From the web site: "Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History promotes the study and love of American history. The Institute serves teachers, students, scholars, and the general public."

Digital History

Hosted by the University of Houston, the site also contains an online textbook. There are also links to primary source documents and an interactive timeline. An excellent feature is the collection of resource guides apportioned by time periods and topics.

Historical Maps of the United States - University of Texas

The Map Collection in the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas - Austin contains over five dozen historical maps of the United States covering the earliest periods of exploration and settlement to the turn of the 20th century.


YouTube/EDU is a fun resource. YouTube/EDU is a partnership between YouTube and over a hundred colleges and universities both here and abroad. YouTube/EDU contains thousands of videos on almost any topic. The videos are lectures, discussion groups, and panels hosted by professors, professionals, and sometimes students. Using the search box, anyone can find multitudes of videos on American History.

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Online Journals & Magazines

Online journals and magazines provide yet another resource for the study of American History. Scholarly journals, such as American Historical Review and The Journal of American History, are peer-reviewed periodicals containing articles and book reviews intended for an academic audience. Popular magazines, like Smithsonian and American Heritage, are aimed at a more mainstream audience; they are not peer-reviewed, but are no less valuable to history students than scholarly journals. Each has a searchable archive of past issues.

American Historical Review

From the web site: "The American Historical Association publishes the American Historical Review, the major historical journal in the United States. It includes scholarly articles and critical reviews of current publications in all fields of history. Founded in 1884 and chartered by Congress in 1889, its mission is to engage the interests of the entire discipline of history. Accordingly, the journal is always seeking individual manuscripts that have an appeal beyond a particular specialty and an array of articles that address the spatial, temporal, and thematic dimensions of the field. It commissions reviews of books and films determined to be of greatest relevance to professional historian."
NOTE: This journal requires a subscription to read full-text articles. Yet, coupled with an online database or Interlibrary Loan, researchers can access the articles therein.

Journal of American History

From the Organization of American Historians: "The Journal of American History is the leading scholarly publication and the journal of record in the field of American history. The Journal is at the cutting edge of the Organization of American Historians' mission of promoting "excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history," and encouraging "wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history." The JAH makes selected content freely available, including Web site reviews, the "Textbooks and Teaching" section, and the "Recent Scholarship" print listing."

Smithsonian Magazine

The magazine of the Smithsonian Institution, "Smithsonian.com expands on Smithsonian magazine's in-depth coverage of history, science, nature, the arts, travel, world culture and technology ... a dynamic and interactive approach to exploring modern and historic perspectives on the arts, sciences, nature, world culture and travel, including videos, blogs and a reader forum."

American Heritage

American Heritage is a monthly magazine dedicated to covering the history of the United States for a mainstream readership [wikipedia]. Published since 1954. Presently, the magazine appears quarterly, but the online version and accompanying web site are updated daily.


From the American Antiquarian Society and the University of Oklahoma, "Common-place is a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks--and listens--to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900."

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Local History

For those interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest and the San Juan Islands, these resources provide a good jumping off point.

The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes

"... an intriguing and complete examination of the Pacific Northwest defined as the modern-day states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington" (The American Historical Review v. 95 (December 1990) p. 1641).
[979.5 SCHWANT]

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest

The University of Washington's web site for Pacific Northwest History. It provides access to multitudes of regional history resources held by the University. Archived articles from Pacific Northwest Quarterly and links to other sites related to the history of the region are also available from this internet resource.