An Annotated Bibliography of Reference Sources on American Colonial History

By Ginger R. Smith

Prucha, Francis Paul. Handbook for Research in American History: A Guide to Bibliographies and Other Reference Works. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c1994.

This is the first reference source that started incorporating the internet and electronic databases in is bibliographies and material. It offers its readers suggestions on access to full texts in addition to library-use only copies of materials. Its primary focus is the annotation of reference materials. It has a cross-referencing system that is easy to use and an index that includes authors, subjects, and titles. Historians and students would benefit from this resource.

I chose to include this source in my list because it seemed like an appropriate starting point resource for any history project and it was fairly recent.

Parish, Peter J. Reader’s Guide to American History. London ;: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

This work offers an encyclopedia-like volume of annotated bibliographies on anything to do with American History.  It is appropriate for the casual reader and term paper researcher alike.  Anyone looking to find current and popular titles about American History cannot go wrong with this book.  This book also contains cross-references to related topics that are easy to follow.

I chose to focus on bibliographic resources over encyclopedic resources for this list in order to have the most flexibility in choosing what sources I wanted to consult for my research.

Perrault, Anna H., and Ron Blazek. United States History : A Multicultural, Interdisciplinary Guide to Information Sources. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2003.


This is a guide written for students to follow during their research of American History. It includes over 1000 entries of bibliographic materials of titles relevant to American History that were published between 1980 and 2002. The content itself is organized by topic. An author, title, and subject index concludes the volume.

I chose this resource because it is a more recent publication and includes links to CD-ROMs, electronic databases and web sites. It also covers catalogs, indexes, research guides, and newspapers.

America: History and Life by EbscoHost

This EbscoHost database is an index of literature that was written about the United States (and Canada).  It covers the history of the United States from the time the settlers arrived in the New World to current events. This database includes access to all historical related books, dissertations, and journals titles such as American History, Art History, the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, to name a few. +

This resource is important for students who are directed to review journal articles in the History discipline.

Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800

This online resource is based on Charles Evans’ American Bibliography and published by Readex. It is an excellent research source for finding information on every aspect of American life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The collection was originally on microform but has been transferred to this digital collection and is fully searchable.

This online database contains additional books located and digitized as well as bibliographic records created by the American Antiquarian Society. The collection itself contains more than 37,000 books, pamphlets and broadsides. This collection would appeal to the high school, undergraduate or graduate student looking for visual or textual materials to aid in their research.

Archive of Americana


This electronic resource by Readex contains books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, government documents, and ephemera that can be used to illustrate life in early America. This collection is broken down into two subdivisions – newspapers and imprints, with the latter including Evans’ Early American Imprints Series I and II in addition to the American Broadsides and Ephermera collection.

The newspaper collection provides a comprehensive list of titles dating back to colonial times and would be beneficial to any researcher looking for information about what was going on during that time. This resource was included because of the first-hand accounts of events that were described in the newspaper articles.

Kutler, Stanley I. Dictionary of American History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, c2003. (eBook provided by Gale Virtual Reference Library)

The 2003 edition contains over 4000 articles, 1200 photographs and 252 maps in this ten-volume print collection at Davis Library. Articles are written by scholars from American universities. Although this collection encompasses American History throughout all time, colonial history is included in the list of topics. Essays are topic-based and do not include biographies. A comprehensive guide on how to do historical research is included. This work is geared towards the college student and is the most recent Dictionary.

Gross, Ernie. This Day in American History. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., c2001.

This book takes a different approach to portraying history to the readers. Essays are written about significant events that occurred on each day of the year starting from the arrival of the settlers to the New World up until 2006. Topics discussed are broad and range from religion, society, politics, environment, and the births and deaths of prominent people. Unlike other encyclopedia books whose essays are written by several authors from various disciplines, this work is written by a single author. It is possible this work is biased due to the singularity of its source.

Freidel, Frank Burt., Richard K. Showman, and Oscar Handlin. Harvard Guide to American History. Cambridge, Mass.,: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974.

This work is a staple to every University library and History department.  Written by the very authoritative source of the History Department of Harvard University, this work is comprehensive and thoroughly researched and would appeal to college students and historians alike. Many sections cover research methods and materials and information on writing and publishing are also included.

Finding aids and bibliographies point to printed materials, microfilms, manuscripts, and archival materials. There is a section on caring for special collection documents and how to collect research data and organize it. Ample and easy to use cross references are also included.

Faragher, John Mack. The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America. New York: Facts on File, c1990.

This is a general overview of the history of colonial America. It is organized into 1,500 alphabetical entries and includes people, events, and ideas covering the time period beginning when the settlers first came to the New World and concluding with the Revolutionary War. This work includes maps and illustrations. The intended audience is the casual reader and the K-12 student.

I don’t really like to use encyclopedias, but I would keep at least one in my list of most useful sources just in case I need to reference a topic that I am unfamiliar with.

Purvis, Thomas L., and Richard Balkin. Colonial America to 1763. New York: Facts on File, c1999.

This book contains nineteen chapters covering various subject areas. In addition to offering a general overview of colonial life, Colonial America presents reproduction period art, photographs, over 300 tables and charts and obscure facts ranging from population statistics to colonial soldiers’ heights.

This book would appeal to the popular reader, classroom teachers, AP students in high school, and undergraduate students. The bibliography at the end points the reader towards further reading.

American National Biography Online by Oxford University Press

This was originally a twenty-four volume print edition and is now available as a searchable and browsable database online. It contains over 18,700 notable people from all walks of life in American History. This source contains over 2,700 illustrations and more than 80,000 hyperlinked cross-references including additional resources in printed material and online. The online version provides teacher’s guides.

Although organized by person as the subject, this work seems to be the most comprehensive encyclopedic source out there and is very easy to use.

The Oxford Companion to United States history by Oxford University Press


This online version of the Companion contains over 1,400 entries written by 900 historians and scholars. It contains essays on the social, political, military, cultural, and intellectual aspect of American History; but also includes the more popular topics of science, technology, the arts, and religion. The source would benefit researchers, students, and popular readers alike.

Tucker, Spencer, James R. Arnold, and Roberta Wiener. The Encyclopedia of North American Colonial Conflicts to 1775 : A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, c2008.

This is a three-volume reference set maintained in print that covers an overview of colonial life and the many conflicts that occurred in what would become the United States prior to the year 1775. Such conflicts included were between the new settlers and with England and the Natives of the area. Other conflicts between settlers revolved around issues such as slavery. This source was included because it contains original documents and includes information on colonial political, social, and military history. The target audience is varied, ranging from the high school student based on the popular reading level to the undergraduate student because of the inclusion of original documents.

Gilje, Paul A. Encyclopedia of Revolutionary America. New York: Facts On File, c2010.

This work offers a basic overview of the people and topics critical to this time period from the French and Indian War in 1754 to the end of the War of 1812. It contains essays ranging from half a page to three pages long that are biographical in nature and include previously neglected groups like the Native Americans, African Americans, women, and lower classes. Military conflicts and topics important to the time period like education, immigration, and religion are also addressed and cross-referenced within essays.

This work is the most recent and contains a “Bibliographical Guide to Further Reading,” primary documents, illustrations, and maps. This work serves as an all encompassing good starting point for learning about American History during this time and offers resources for further reading. It would serve the classroom teacher well and be appropriate for high school or young adult students.

Sabin Americana, 1500-1926 by Gale          


I found this online database after reviewing the print version of this pre-1900 work by Joseph Sabin. (The original publication date was 1886 by Sabin). This online version is so much easier to use and more intuitive than the print version in that the user types in an event or a person’s name and the actual bibliography list is compiled. The limitation, however, is that most of the books were published prior to 1886, so this would not be a good source if the user is looking for current authors; however, because they are so old, they are out of copyright and therefore the full text of many of the works are included.

I choose to include this source in the list because it illustrates a pre-1900 historical interpretation in addition to copies of original manuscripts.

Cooke, Jacob Ernest. Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies. New York: S. Scribner’s Sons, c1993.

This three-volume print encyclopedia discusses the colonial people, their thoughts, and the overall colonial experience. The goal of this work is to include the themes, people, and events that were underrepresented or neglected in previous works. This work includes 274 essays from over 200 experts in almost 200 fields. This work goes beyond the scope of the new colonial settlers and their relations with the Natives by surveying the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch North American people as well.

The essays are organized by topic, with a subtle chronological order in place as well. They include bibliographies of books, articles, chapters, and occasionally even dissertations which will prove invaluable to the graduate student, teacher, or scholar alike.

Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of the New American Nation : The Emergence of the United States, 1754-1829. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons :, c2006.


The Encyclopedia is the last of a series of four encyclopedias from Thomson Gale, the publisher, that represent American history from New World exploration to the twenty-first history. This three-volume print encyclopedia includes hundreds of essays, photographs, maps and bibliographies about the economic, social and political movements that the people on the frontier engaged in during their colonization of the Americas. This work is topical, but also provides a chronology of significant events.

Allison, Robert J. American Eras. Detroit: Gale Research, c1998.

This book focuses on ten specific topics of colonial life covered in ten chapters based on the lifestyle, events, key figures, and social happenings of the American people at the time. Each chapter contains an overview of the subject, a chronology of important events and discussion of important news and profiles of the people who were significant at that time. This book includes photographs and reproductions and concludes with a bibliography of primary sources and recent titles for further reading. This book would appeal to the casual reader and the high school student.


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