Researching the Vietnam War

On September 17, 2017, Rocky Mountain PBS (RMPBS) will be premiering The Vietnam War, a 10-part series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Here at Denver Public Library, we're partnering with RMPBS to help you learn more about this controversial period in American history. This week we would like to highlight some of the great research sources in our Reference Services department, including encyclopedias, online databases, and magazines from the Vietnam War era. 

Some of our best resources can be accessed from home--all you need is a library card and internet connection. One of our favorite places to start learning about a topic is an online collection of reference books called Gale Virtual Reference Library, or GVRL. GVRL has hundreds of the same authoritative books that line the shelves behind the reference desk at the Central Library. 

Let's say you've always heard about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but want to read more about it. In GVRL you can find a good two-page article in the The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military Historya multi-volume encyclopedia about the war. That's great for students, because it's a standard reference work on the Vietnam War with the same content as the print version. Unlike Wikipedia or other online sources, it's written by an identifiable author who is actually an expert on the topic, so it can be cited in a research paper. Even if you're not a student, it's worth signing in to GVRL to find authoritative information. Wikipedia can be useful, but the articles can be written and edited by anybody, whether they know anything about the topic or not. Wikipedia articles also tend to be very long. This article is much shorter, which is nice if you're just looking for a quick overview.

If you want to read a little deeper, there's a much more in-depth article on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in a more comprehensive encyclopedia of the war, called the Vietnam War Reference Library. To learn more about the cultural changes going on during the Vietnam War era, there's a great reference series called American Decades, which has volumes covering the Sixties and Seventies. Each volume is divided into sections such as The Arts, Fashion, Government and Politics, and Lifestyles and Social Trends. It's a great way to get a better grasp of the wider social and historical context of the era.

While Gale Virtual Reference Library is focused on online reference books, we have other databases that give you access to articles from magazines, newspapers, and even professional journals. Two of the best for historical topics are US History in Context and World History in Context. These are twin databases that can be searched together or separately. They have many of the same reference books as GVRL, but they also give access to magazines, newspapers, images, primary sources from the era, and even video and audio news reports. For commonly-researched subjects like the Vietnam War, they feature Topic Pages offering a curated selection of the best sources on the topic. On the topic page for the Vietnam War, you can find a link to video of a speech by President Lyndon Johnson during the war, audio of a discussion on NPR Morning Edition about the Tet Offensive, images and political cartoons, biographies of major figures, newspaper and magazine articles, and more. It's a great first stop for learning about any historical topic.

Many online databases feature content written since the late 1980s or early 1990s. But what if you're looking for news and magazine articles written during the time of the war? We've got that covered, too! A great place to look is the New York Times Historical Backfile, which features articles going back the the beginning of the New York Times in 1851. It makes for fascinating reading, because you can see how events were viewed as they were unfolding. For example, here is an article describing the Tet Offensive, written on the day it began in 1968.

To find articles from other publications written at the time, a great place to look is Reader's Guide Retrospective. This is an online version of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, a print series that indexes magazine articles going back to 1890. It has a few links to full-text articles you can read online, but it's mostly an old-school index--it tells you where to find articles in print magazines. And that's also something we have in Reference Services! We have bound volumes for hundreds of magazine titles, going back well into the 1800s. National news magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Life covered the Vietnam War extensively, and thumbing through them is a great way to get a deeper insight into those troubled times.

This is just a sampling of the many great resources we have at DPL. If you want to dig deeper, our reference librarians would love to help. Ask Us online or call Reference Services at 720.865.1363. Tune in to our books blog next week for recommended books, movies, and documentaries about the Vietnam War era. 

See also: 

Rocky Mountain PBS: The Vietnam War. RMPBS' website for the Vietnam War documentary features Voices of Vietnam from Colorado, featuring a wide range of stories from across Colorado, which can be seen on-air and online. Additionally, Coloradans can share their own stories and images through the website.

"Peace is Dignity": How Denver Activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Viewed the Vietnam War. A blog post by Katie Rudolph, a librarian in DPL's Western History and Genealogy department.

First on the Battlefield, then in Memory: Books and Movies about the Vietnam War: By Lauren Seegmiller in DPL's Books and Borrowing department. 

Written by Ross on August 22, 2017


Frank on August 25, 2017


Those are some excellent Life and Newsweek covers!  

Lynette Rynders on September 26, 2017


I am really enjoying Ken Burns documentary film on Vietnam. There was a lot of information that I already knew, but there is also a lot of information that I did not know. The information I did know I learned from my cousin who was a Vietnam veteran. I am writing this in memory of him. His name was Lance Corporal Leland E. Brook, United States Marine Corps. His tour of duty was from 1970-71 in Da Nang. Leland did survive the conflict, but suffered from severe PTSD. He had severe flashbacks, and ended up becoming a severe alcoholic. I tried to help him, because no one else would try to understand, but in the end he died living in the street living on rubbing alcohol. I really miss him, and I wish I could have helped him more than I had.