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Getting Started with Research in History of Science, Technology & Medicine

Use this page if you are new to the field of history of science and need to find resources for a research paper or project.  This page includes tips on doing research and presents a variety of resources that can help you:

  • Pick a topic
  • Find biographical information about scientists
  • Identify writings by scientists  
  • Find reference materials, introductory works, and scholarly studies in your topic area

Starting Your Project

  • Review the assignment
  • Make sure you understand what is required, including types of resources needed.
  • Reach out to faculty or graduate assistants if something is not clear or for help
  • Contact History of Science Collections staff or email Dr. JoAnn Palmeri for help


  • Follow the Footnote Trail -  current historical studies will lead you to more sources, whether from the text itself, or from references in the bibliographies and footnotes; you will know you are on the right track when you start to recognize the authors and sources cited in the works you are reading.
  • Don't Reinvent the Wheel - it is likely that there is an existing literature and set of standard works in your topic area; also be sure to seek out research guides, bibliographies, and other research tools developed by librarians and historians.
  • Context is Key - understanding context is essential to historical work. For research in history of science, attention to language is particularly important. While a term we use may the same as used in earlier periods, its meaning may be very different. (Some particularly "dangerous words" include: astronomy, physics, science). Context is important for understanding primary sources as well as for assessing and evaluating secondary sources.
  • Avoid Anachronism - be sensitive to language as well as analysis that applies contemporary concepts and views in the interpretation of the past

Types of Research Resources

The following table provides examples of the different types of resources available to you for doing historical research:

  • ONLINE SITES, DIGITAL COLLECTIONS & PROJECTS (includes links to sites featuring the variety of resources listed above)

Many of the examples of resources listed in the table below can be found in the History of Science Research Guides. Browse these guides to find additional resources.



Read and review known materials (class notes and readings) as a starting point to identify topics and sources    Articles and books used in class can lead you to important authors and additional works

Look at bibliographies and endnotes

  • Search online catalogs (Discover Local & Worldcat) and databases through OU Libraries website to explore topics and search directly for books and articles as well as media sources.

NOTE:See Primary Sources section below for tips on using databases to find primary sources

Search for Books (Secondary Sources) using Discover Local 

Search for Books (Secondary Sources) using WorldCat & Online Sites

Search for Articles (Secondary Sources) using OU Databases

Preliminary searches can give you an idea about the works published in your topic area.    

  • Search the online catalog (Discover Local) for books and resources available digitally or in print
  • Search databases to find article-level content of scholarly journals and general publications. The best strategy is to search several databases.

About Subject Links & Classification of Topics

  • Use subject links included in item's catalog or database record to find similar works.
  • Use alternative key words; keep in mind subject categories may not exist for your exact topic; scientific terms may have changed in meaning over time

More database options:

  • Use published bibliographies to supplement database searching on authors or topics; this is another way to identify previous literature as well a find sources not always included in online databases

Air and Space History: An Annotated Bibliography

Science across Cultures: An Annotated Bibliography of Books on Non-Western Science, Technology and Medicine

Studies of Scientific Disciplines: An Annotated Bibliography

Women and Technology: A Bibliography


Secondary Sources by Topic

Secondary Sources by Type

The lists within the guides link to the catalog records of items from the History of Science Collections, Bizzell stacks, as well as items available through online access.  

The lists are meant to provide a starting point for research; they are selective and illustrative of the variety of sources and studies available.


Complete Dictionary of Scientifc Biography

History of Science in the United States: An Encyclopedia

Dictionary of the History of Ideas
Be sure to look at the indexes of reference works; the topic or concept you are researching may not have its own entry, but may be discussed within a broader topical entry.   For example, "projectile motion" may be included in an entry on "natural philosophy."
A History of Science in Society: From Philosophy to Utility

Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey
Theories of the World from Antiquity to the Copernican Revolution

Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700

The Mantra of Efficiency from Waterwheel to Social Control

Browse the Virtual Book Shelf for available Ebooks on a wide range of topics (For info on finding Ebooks see Finding Ebooks using WorldCat & Online Sites

  • Use resources like guides to the field to learn how historians have approached particular questions and to learn about scholarly trends and the current state of historical research in a field.
Cambridge History of Science series

Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine

Companion to the History of Modern Science
Overviews & Research Companions page 


Use History of Science Primary Sources Guide to help identify and search for scientists' works and other primary sources. See pages on:


For additional tips on searching for works by scientists see:

Search Discover Local for Books (Primary Sources)

Search databases available through OU Libraries website to find primary sources  

American History in Video

American Archive of Public Broadcasting 


New York Times Historical 

African American Newspapers 

Look for online exhibits, projects, and resources relevant to your topic. These may be associated with institutions, collaborative groups, or individuals. 

Search gateway sites like DPLA to learn about available digital resources and collections

Digital Collections Projects & Exhibits

Online Resources

Societies & Institutions

Social media