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Vietnam War Resources at the BPL

A guide to finding and using resources relating to the Vietnam War at the Boston Public Library.

Secondary Sources

Reference works are useful for getting background information about a particular topic prior to performing more detailed research, and can serve as useful supplements to ensure a complete understanding of one's reading. Below are highlighted some of these items in the BPL collection, some of which are also accessible electronically. 


Credo ReferenceThis encyclopedia is also available online through Credo Reference, accessible remotely with your valid BPL card or eCard and PIN.


Other Reference Materials

The Vietnam War has been the subject of an immense amount of scholarship, and more is being produced all the time. This tab and the next offer some methods for locating relevant materials from among the thousands of physical items about the war in the BPL's collections. 

At the BPL books are organized on the shelves according to the Library of Congress Classification system.

Most books on the Vietnam War receive call numbers in the range DS557-DS559.9 in the Vietnamese history section. At the Central Library, browsable books in this call number range may be found on the second floor of the Boylston St. Building in the red shelves of the Nonfiction collection, and new books may be found on the first floor in the New & Novel area.

Within this range are a large number of call numbers for specific subtopics detailed in the document below.

Books on the antiwar movement in the United States receive the call number DS559.62.U6‚Äč.

Not all the books on the conflict fall in this range. For example, many relevant titles may also be found under E183.8.V5, covering US-Vietnamese relations. 

Note that browsing the shelves gives a very limited sense of what the BPL has on a given topic, since only a small portion of the BPL's books are kept in publicly accessible areas. The majority of the BPL's books, including more specialized and scholarly works, are held in closed stacks at the Central Library or offsite, and may only be found using the library catalogs, detailed in the next tab.

The BPL has two main catalogs: the online catalog and the microfiche research library catalog, which contains a complete list of materials in the research library collection before ~1980, including many items which cannot be found in the online catalog. 

Online Catalog

The online catalog can be searched using a variety of methods, but one of the most useful is the Subject field, which searches the Library of Congress Subject Headings that are assigned to each title so that works on a given topic can be found using standardized terms. On the right side of every title's online catalog record is a list of clickable subject headings like those shown at right, allowing easy retrieval of a list of all other items that have received the same heading. 

The standard term for the Vietnam War generally is Vietnam War, 1961-1975 (which itself reflects a value judgment about when exactly US involvement was sufficiently large or active to constitute a 'war'). Subject headings are nested, so additional terms are added to specify more precise subtopics, as seen at right. To help you find valid subject terms and search the catalog more effectively, below may be found a list showing all of the subheadings of the main Vietnam War heading used at the BPL for describing materials.

Note that even this list does not cover all possible headings relating to the conflict. Specific headings will also exist for persons, for incidents, such as My Lai Massacre, Vietnam, 1968 or Ia Drang Valley, Battle of, Vietnam, 1965, and general themes like Refugees -- Vietnam

Microfiche Catalog

The microfiche catalog reproduces on microfiche cards (top right) the cards from the old research library card catalog (bottom right). Unlike the online catalog, it cannot be searched using keywords or most of the other available search options. Items can only be found using the title, author, or subject headings, so familiarity with searching by subject is helpful for effectively using this catalog.

Note that earlier materials on the war do not use the standard heading above, since its name had not been standardized (and many of the items were published while the war was ongoing), so these items appear under the heading Vietnamese Conflict, 1961- 

At the Central Library the microfiche catalog may be accessed in the Washington Room on the second floor of the McKim building. Please feel free to ask a librarian if you have any questions about using the equipment or searching the catalog.

The BPL offers access to content from a variety of academic journals both in print and electronically through subscription databases. For more information about finding journals in print, see the Journals and Magazines at the BPL guide. 

Most of the databases likely to be relevant to researching the Vietnam War may be found in the list of History & Political Science Electronic Resources on the BPL website. Most are remotely accessible using your valid BPL card or eCard and PIN.

Like the BPL catalog, many periodical databases describe the content of articles using standard terms that are similar but not identical to Library of Congress Subject Headings. In Gale databases (such as Expanded Academic and General Onefile) these can be found using the Subject Guide Search, and in OmniFile these are found in the Thesaurus.

 The single largest collection of relevant journal content accessible electronically will be via JSTOR, which will generally only provide full-text access to content older than five years. Its collections extend sufficiently far back that it also contains a large number of scholarly articles produced while the conflict was ongoing, which may be useful in understanding contemporary academic interpretations of the war.


Remember that journal content not accessible through the BPL can often be requested through the Commonwealth Catalog or the Interlibrary Loan Office

The Vietnam War was a controversial conflict while it was underway and has remained a controversial topic ever since. Assessing the biases, agendas, and rhetorical strategies of both primary and secondary sources is important both in determining what sources one wishes to use and in deciding how to interpret the sources one uses. 

Many guides to writing and research, such as the Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers, will offer useful general guidelines for evaluating sources. 

Book Reviews

Well-written book reviews will often alert potential readers to any obvious biases or selective representations in the works under scrutiny.