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Environmental History: A Guide

Research guide for research and course work in environmental history.

Archival Collections

The Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) in Jones Hall are a rich source or historical materials. Some collections may be directly related to environmental issues, such as the examples listed below, while other may not be about the environment, but might give examples of how "nature" and "the wilderness" are protrayed in everyday social and business interactions.

Contact Sean Benjamin, Public Services Librarian at LaRC for help identifying archival collections that might be relevant to your research questions.

Government Documents

Government documents can be great primary sources that shed light on public policy and political issues. In addition to the databases below, government documents are listed in the Library Catalog.  Try searching for a political figure or agency as author (e.g. Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973; Louisiana. Department of Environmental Quality).

Historical Newspapers & Magazines

To locate individual newspaper titles in print, microform, and electronic formats, enter the title and select "Journals" from the drop down menu for efficient searching.

Screenshot of Howard-Tilton search box


History of Science

In addition to examining environmental concepts and attitudes in the popular press, you might explore how the natural world has been described and analyzed in scholarly communities of the past. Consider researching environmental topics and representations in the journals of engineers, natural scientists, anthropologists, or geographers.

Interpreting Primary Sources

Every good research paper in history includes primary and secondary sources.  A thorough review of the existing research, the secondary sources, establishes what we know about a subject, existing interpretations, and what questions still need to be answered. 

Primary sources are the evidence used to answer those questions.  When using primary sources, consider the following to evaluate and interpret its content:

How reliable is the author's account?  Was the author an eye-witness to the events described? Was the document written immediately, or did some time intervene between the event and documentation?  Was the author in a position to fully understand her subject (e.g. European travel writers describing foreign customs)?

What was the author's purpose? Was the document intended to persuade or convince the reader?  Was the intent to deliver an impartial recounting of events? Was the document intended only for internal record keeping, as in a business or administrative office?

Who was the author's intended audience?  Was the document written for posterity, to present a specific view of the past (e.g. autobiography)? Was the document written for public consumption at the time it was written (e.g. newspapers)?  Was the document private, and never intended for the public (e.g. personal correspondence, diaries)?  How might the intended audiences influence the author's account?

What is the context of the document? Does the language used have the same meaning now that it did in the past? How or why was the document created? How does the document relate to other contemporary records?

Can your corroborate the source with other evidence?  Do other primary sources support your interpretation of the document in question? Can you justify why the document in question doesn't conform to similar contemporary sources?

More Primary Sources

For more suggestions on how to locate and use primary sources for U.S. history, visit the History of the United States & Canada: Primary Sources guide.

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