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A Guide to World History

Reference Works - A Place to Begin

Encyclopedia of Western colonialism since 1450. Thomas Benjamin, ed. (Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007) provides students and researchers with a much-needed, comprehensive resource on the subject of colonialism and expansion. From a global perspective, the set traces many facets of colonial growth and imperialism, including Europe's overseas expansion into the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific, beginning in the 15th century; the collapse of empires; race relations in decolonized regions; and current examples of continuing dependence by much of the developing world on Western nations. Its entries are searchable from the catalog record.  eBook

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World - provides information about major world developments from 1750 to the present, with close attention to social, economic, cultural, and political topics. Contains articles on world events; countries; organizations; regions; ethnic groups; and themes such as social history, demography, family life, politics, economics, religion, thought, education, science and technology, and culture. containing over 2,000 A-Z entries, the Encyclopedia benefits from the vast outpouring of work on world history in the modern period and on related area-studies. Informative articles by an array of leading scholars offer an unprecedented breadth of information relating to the modern world. Each article includes an up-to-date bibliography to help interested readers take their research further. eBook

Oxford Bibliographies - offers exclusive, authoritative research guides across a variety of subject areas. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource directs researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects. eBook

The British Empire: An Encyclopedia of the Crown's Holdings, 1493 through 1995 -  At its height, the British Empire encompassed three-quarters of the world. Hundreds of countries came under the domination of the British Empire at various stages in history. From Aden to Zululand, all the crown's holdings from the beginning of the meaningfulness of the word "holdings," around 1493, through 1995, are included. Each possession is an entry: the date it became a part of the British Empire; the date it gained its independence (when appropriate); a description of its geographic location, and its capital; a history of British rule of the colony is followed by a listing of the British administrators, such as residents, governors, commissioners and ministers. There are extensive see references; a thorough index to alternate geographical or political names completes the work. print

Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism - offers brief descriptive essays on a variety of topics--colonies, prominent individuals, legislation, treaties, conferences, wars, revolutions, and technologies. The individuals included have a historical significance that transcends their own countries. Essays on individual colonies usually end with the winning of independence or formal incorporation into the body politic of the mother country. References at the end of each entry provide sources of additional information for those interested in further research. Cross-references within the text help the reader to find related items. Of lesser value than other titles in this list but includes a descriptive entry and at least one additional bibliographic reference print


Encyclopedia of Africa (Oxford University Press, 2010) - edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., presents the most up-to-date and thorough reference in world history, politics, and culture on this region of ever-growing importance. The articles cover prominent individuals, events, trends, places, political movements, art forms, business and trade, religions, ethnic groups, organizations, and countries throughout Africa. In-depth articles examine contemporary nations of sub-Saharan Africa, ethnic groups from various regions of Africa, and European colonial powers. eBook

Latin America

Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary view of Latin American history and culture from prehistoric times to the present. Covers cultural issues and includes numerous biographical profiles of important figures in politics, letters and the arts. More than 5,700 entries have been reviewed for currency of content and bibliography. Newly commissioned master essays synthesize current knowledge on such major regional themes as Democracy in the Americas, Hemispheric Affairs, and the Hispanic Impact on the U.S. Includes full index and table of biographical subjects by profession. eBook

Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Latin American History - provides students and scholars with substantive, peer-reviewed, historiographically-informed and regularly-updated articles in all areas of Latin American history. Articles serve as a foundational source of information on a given topic as well as a jumping-off point for deeper research, and through continuous updating will remain reflective of emerging trends in scholarship.  eBook


Berkshire Encyclopedia of China: Modern and Historic Views...(2009) - provides insight into Chinese history and culture today in nearly a thousand articles that include everything from "Adoption" and "Banking" to "Wound Literature" and the "Zhou Dynasty." eBook

Rowman & Littlefield's historical dictionaries series - search by title (e.g., "Historical Dictionary of Mozambique") or by subject (e.g., "[country name] -- History -- Dictionaries").

Catalog Searching

By Author, personal and corporate

e.g., Kwame Nkrumah (formally Nkrumah, Kwame, 1909-1972) or the Bandung Conference (formally the Asian-African Conference (1st : 1955 : Bandung, Indonesia)) 

by Subject, group or phenomenon

e.g., Decolonization, or Vietminh (formally Vịêt Nam đ̂ọc l̂ạp đ̂òng minh ĥọi), or the Congo (formally Congo (Democratic Republic))  

Sometimes, when a work is very famous, it gets its own subject heading, e.g., such as Wretched of the Earth (formally "Fanon, Frantz, 1925-1961. Damnés de la terre. English")

Moving from Keyword to Subject Heading

A keyword search ("Word(s)") in the Washington University Libraries' catalog is similar to a search in any Web-based search engine in that the words you enter could be anywhere in the Web page. For a Web page writ large, this means in the metadata or the text. For a catalog record, your keyword(s) could be in the title, subject, chapter titles, contents, summary, etc.). If you do not know the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) for the topic you are researching, then a keyword search is a good way to start. However, if you want to find EVERYTHING the library owns on a subject, you will want to discover the proper subject headings and peruse the available titles therein. When you see a title and say to yourself: "Hey, that sounds exactly like what I'm looking for!," click on that item record, then click on the LCSH (labelled as "Subject(s)")for all titles in the library under that subject heading. Keep in mind that the process of creating and assigning subject headings is a human endeavor and prone to error; some subject headings may seem redundant, but a title assigned to one may not be assigned to what appears to be the exact same subject matter. 


Academic Journal Article Databases

EBSCOhost Subject-Specific Databases

Historical Abstracts (1955- ) covers world history from 1450 to the present (excluding the US and Canada, which are covered in America: History and Life). Currently over 2,000 international journals are covered.

America: History & Life the definitive index of literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present with indexing for 1,700 journals from 1964 to present.

Multidisciplinary Databases

JSTOR - is a digital library founded in 1995 originally containing digitized back issues of academic journals, it now encompasses books and other primary sources as well as current issues of journals in the humanities and social sciences. It provides full-text searches of almost 2,000 journal titles,12 million journal articles, in more than 75 disciplines. 

Google Scholar - the world's largest single index of academic journal articles

Primary Sources

How I found "Final Communiqué of the Asian-African Conference, Bandung, April 24, 1955" and "Declaration on the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership, Bandung, April 23, 2005" (hint: through Primo).

How do I find the constitution of a newly independent country (as opposed to its current constitution)? 

How do I find a transcript of the speeches made on the occasion of a country joining the United Nations and any video that may exist?

United Nations Digital Library

Primary sources in bound print (books)

"Sources" is a subject subheading for bound collections of varying types of primary sources. Additional, type-specific primary source subheadings including but not limited to: "Personal narratives" (first-hand accounts of a historic event); "Correspondence" (primarily used under names of individual persons and families, classes of persons, and ethnic groups or around a historical event); "Manuscripts" (strictly speaking, a work of any kind written entirely by hand, this subheading also refers to the handwritten or typescript copy of an author's work prior to publication and printing); "Maps;" "Literary collections" (including one or more literary forms such as drama, poetry, fiction, essay, etc.), and "Biography" (including memoir and autobiography). 

Primary Source Databases


Governing Africa  includes 13 collections, 131 volumes, 2,680 documents and 1,105,477 pages in the form of reports to the British government by their governors in the African colonies. The statistical reports cover 13 colonies, with some data that pre-dates the abolition of the slave trade. These reports reveal how colonial laws were used to control citizens during wars, uprisings, and everyday life, and notices of land sales reveal how land changed hands between 1808 and 1966. The colonial reports for each colony explain how the statistics in the Blue Books were intended to be interpreted by colonial readers.

African Americans and Decolonization 

Liberation Movement in Africa and African America composed of FBI surveillance files on the activities of the African Liberation Support Committee and All African People’s Revolutionary Party; this collection provides two unique views on African American support for liberation struggles in Africa, the issue of Pan-Africanism, and the role of African independence movements as political leverage for domestic Black struggles.

Bandung Conference

Bandung Conference documents - The 1955 Bandung conference was one of the most important conferences held in the twentieth century. It’s also one of the least well known. Leaders of the major independent Asian and African countries gathered at this Indonesian city from April 18-22, 1955. There, they first set in motion the concept of South-South solidarity — newly-independent countries of Africa and Asia gathering to seek common ground. This e-dossier tells the story of the Bandung conference through the conference bulletin and additional documents. The African-Asian Conference Bulletin was published in the lead-up and aftermath to the conference and on a daily basis while the conference was going on. It was produced by a conference secretariat staff and published by the Indonesian ministry of information.

British Intelligence

Declassified Documents: Twentieth Century British Intelligence: Parts 1 and 2  allows researchers to explore the role of signals intelligence, human agents, diplomats, politicians and the armed forces in the gathering of intelligence from across this empire and beyond, and to explore the impact this had on crucial events and decisions throughout a turbulent century. Includes An Intelligence Empire (part 1) and Monitoring the World (part 2)


Chinese Civil War and U.S.-China Relations: Records of the U.S. State Department's Office of Chinese Affairs, 1945-1955 the U.S. State Department’s Office of Chinese Affairs, charged with operational control of American policy toward China, amassed information on virtually all aspects of life there immediately before, during, and after the revolution. Declassified by the State Department, the Records of the Office of Chinese Affairs, 1945-1955, provide valuable insight into numerous domestic issues in Communist and Nationalist China, U.S. containment policy as it was extended to Asia, and Sino-American relations during the post-war period.  

Declassified U.S. Gov't Documents

U. S. Declassified Documents Online selected previously classified government documents ranging from the years immediately following World War II, when declassified documents were first made widely available, through the 1970s. Search by name, date, word, or phrase, or focus on document type, issue date, source institution, classification level, date declassified, sanitization, completeness, number of pages, and document number. Nearly every major foreign and domestic event of these years is covered: the Cold War, Vietnam, foreign policy shifts, the civil rights movement, and others.


Empire Online over 70,000 images of original documents relating to Empire Studies, 1492-1962. The images are sourced from libraries and archives around the world, including a strong core of document images from the British Library.


India, Raj and Empire sourced from the Manuscript Collections of the National Library of Scotland, and documenting the history of South Asia from the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 to the granting of independence for India and Pakistan in 1947. 


Middle East Online: Iraq, 1914-1974 offers the widest range of original source material from the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, War Office and Cabinet Papers from the Anglo-Indian landing in Basra in 1914 through the British Mandate in Iraq of 1920-32 to the rise of Saddam Hussein in 1974. Topics covered include: The Siege of Kut-al-Amara, The War in Mesapotamia and the capture of Baghdad in 1917, Introduction of the British Mandate, and the installation of King Faisal in 1921, The British administration in Baghdad, Gertrude Bell, advisor to the British administration, in both reports and memos, The Arab Uprising of 1920, Independence, and Iraq’s membership of the League of Nations in 1932, Coups d’etat in the 1930s and 1940s, The Baghdad Pact of 1955 and the military coup of 1958 leading to the establishment of a republic, The Cold War and Soviet intervention in Iraq, Kurdish unrest and the war in Kurdistan, Oil concessions and oil exploration, The Rise of Ba’athism and Saddam Hussein, The USSR-Iraq Treaty of Friendship in 1972, Iran-Iraq relations.


King and the People in Morocco, 1950-1959: U.S. State Department Records on the Internal Affairs of Morocco after gaining independence in 1956, Morocco made great strides toward economic and political liberalization. The sultan Muhammad V, ruling his newly independent nation, proclaimed his intention of turning it into a constitutional monarchy. His first act was to transform himself into a monarch and assume the title of king. The Moroccan government undertook a number of economic, social, and political reforms, including the drafting of a constitution.