Historical Research


Historical research is a type of secondary data analysis to determine past social attitudes and community structure and how these have changed over time.

Historical research can be accomplished with several types of sources, including:

Historical Literature
Historical resources may include library materials, special collections, and museum collections. They are often the most effective means of gaining information.

Archival Literature
Materials in archives are useful for studying cultural processes through time and finding specific material from original documents.

Oral Histories and Traditions
Oral histories help gain insight into an event or situation by gathering personal accounts from informants who recall events, places, or incidents. Traditions are information and beliefs handed down through generations by word of mouth or by example. An understanding of oral traditions is often key in communicating with different cultures.


Historical research gives social scientists a much better picture of who uses the area and how it has been used. Understanding the history of the area will often give a much clearer picture of how communities and groups have evolved regarding attitudes, perceptions, and uses. Historical research gives a social scientist a better context for making realistic decisions.


  • Provides a comprehensive picture of historical trends

  • Uses existing information

  • Provides evidence of ongoing trends and problems


  • Time-consuming

  • Resources may be hard to locate

  • Resources may be conflicting.

  • May not identify cause of a problem.

  • Information may be incomplete, obsolete, inconclusive, or inaccurate.

  • Data restricted to what already exists.

Examples and Case Studies

  • Using Destination Image to Predict Visitors' Intention to Revisit Three Hudson River Valley, New York, Communities

Expertise Needed

This technique can often be conducted with in-house expertise. Some assistance may be required in locating data sources.

Related Partners

NOAA is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. It plays several distinct roles within the Department of Commerce.

Resources: Websites