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Who Knows Best
How to Find an Expert
One of the most important aspects of being a history detective is finding the right authority, or expert, to shed light on your investigation. An expert can be an author, a researcher, a librarian, a professor, a historian, or even, a family member.
- When our history detectives are in need of an expert, they:
- Read widely in their field of interest, both online and in books, academic publications, and news sources.
- Contact professional organizations and request their help in tracking down people with specific expertise about the topic at hand.
- Reach out to valuable resources such as museums, historical societies and archives, which are crammed with experts in their fields.
- Look in their own “backyard” for family or community members who are connected to the investigation object.
Watch Our Experts at Work Baker’s Gold History Detective Wes Cowan learns about the California Gold Rush and gold. mining from park curator, Thonni Marikawa and gold miner Robert Young
History Detective Tufuku Zuberi, who is researching the Transatlantic Cable, is directed to interview Jack Barritt, president of the French Cable Station Museum in Orleans, Mass, by historian Bonnie Snow.
Do It Yourself Investigation
Our history detectives get advice from our team of historical consultants who specialize in fields such as the Civil War, Revolutionary War, Archaeology, Building Architecture and the Cold War. These consultants suggest which experts we should be working with to enable the highest level of accuracy in our investigations. You can pull together your own team of historical consultants and find an expert to help you with your own investigation. Just follow these three steps to get started.
Step One: Ask a Librarian
Librarians are a treasure trove of information, and best of all, many are right in your own backyard.
School: Schedule a meeting with your school librarian. Tell him or her all about your investigation and ask for suggestions of books and articles that can provide you with background information about your subject.
Community: Meet with your town librarian. They will have access or can point you toward historical records in the town archives; primary documents such as land deeds, birth and death records, marriage certificates, and old newspapers and publications. In addition, town librarians often act as town historians. They are the eyes and ears of the community and are in contact with local heroes, political figures, and the elderly, many of whom might be able to share their memories and expertise with you.
Internet: You don’t have to travel far to speak to librarians in other cities and regions. If you’re looking for information about an esoteric subject, you might want to try a live chat with a librarian, or send your questions to an academic librarian using the following sites:
A cooperative of 1,400 libraries, QuestionPoint is an around the clock reference service where librarians answer questions in real time.
Government Information Online
Through Government Information Online (GIO) you can ask government information librarians who are experts at finding information from government agencies at all levels (local, state, regional, national, and international) on almost any subject from aardvarks to zygomycosis. Librarians are available to chat M-F from 8 am to 6 pm CST.
Library of Congress
Virtual librarians at the Library of Congress will answer your questions about their special collections such as the American Memory Historical Collection as well as topics ranging from local history and genealogy to science and technology.
A partnership between the Internet Public Library and the Librarians’ Internet Index, ipl2 volunteers answer your questions within three days. All you have to do is fill out an online form.
Step Two: Locate Real People
As you spend time reviewing the background materials about your subject, keep an eye out for names of people who would be willing to answer specific questions you have about your investigation. You could:
- Look for eyewitnesses to the historical event in question, then locate them using the phone book, the local town hall, local historical society or town librarian. If eyewitnesses are no longer alive, try to find transcripts, videos, or audio of interviews with them using Ancestry.com. The Veterans History Project from the Library of Congress is also a good resource.
- Underline helpful quotes and the names of sources in news articles and books. See if you can locate the sources and interview them. You can search online for their contact information, or try asking the author of the book or article for help or a fuller transcript of the original interview.
- If you notice that a museum has a special exhibit about a musical instrument or an artist, contact the curator of the exhibit and ask if you can speak to him or her.
- Was there a mention of a group such as Civil War Reenactors or the Theremin Society? Reach out to these groups for suggestions of people to interview. People who are passionate about a subject are always willing to talk about it.
- Most book authors have websites through which you can contact them. Send them an email and a list of questions about your subject.
Step Three: Use Social Networking
Ever heard about six degrees of separation? Use the following social networking resources to find authorities on your subject.
- Check Facebook for a Community page about your topic. For example, there are Facebook Community pages for Daguerrotype, Communications History, and even, American Civil War Historians. Search for a group that matches your interest or topic of research, then post a few questions. A few experts are sure to respond to your query.
- Join Twitter, then post a 140 character or less version of your query. Make sure you include a hash tag (#) within your tweet with the related keyword. For example: “Got an original letter written by Clara Barton? #redcross” or “In search of historian specializing in #GoldRush photography.”
- Visit Experts.com for a registry of who’s who experts at the top of their respective fields. Reach out to them with a few questions.
Now it’s your turn. Ready, Set, Go!... Use our handy checklist to help you along the way.