Database Review of America: History and Life

America: History and Life (AHL), which is available through George Mason University and many other colleges and universities in the U.S., was one of my favorite databases when I was a graduate student in the late 1990s. I read book reviews and journal articles and their abstracts, as I compiled historiographies and studied for qualifying exams. Covering prehistory to the present, it remains the “most important bibliographic reference tool for students and scholars of U.S. and Canadian history,” as one reviewer calls it.[1]

Searching: Searching the database is simple and straightforward. AHL is offered through the ubiquitous EBSCOhost so most students and faculty encounter AHL through an interface that they are familiar with.

AHL offers search using Boolean operators. In Basic Search mode, one simply types keywords and the database will deliver results.

Basic Search Mode – America: History and Life via GMU EbscoHost portal.

The advanced search functions allow the user to specify search targets by Author, Title, Subject Terms, Abstract, Author Supplied Keywords, Geographic Terms, People, Reviews, Company name, Publisher, and ISSN. One option is a full-text search, a feature that results in a greater likelihood that the user will find a relevant reference.

Advanced Search Mode – America: History and Life via GMU EbscoHost portal.

“Clio Notes” for AHL is a supplement that allows users to browse using a chronology of U.S. history. For undergraduate students who may seek sources related to a particular time period, this enables efficient searches. Historian Tim Hitchcock argues that despite their enormous benefit, with databases “the requirement (or even the opportunity) to understand the context out of which any individual element of information comes frequently disappears.”[2] Searches tied to time periods and themes provide that context. Unfortunately, many libraries do not offer Clio Notes with AHL.

Primary Source Searching: One limitation of the database is that it does not index primary sources. Although an older article might serve as a primary source in some cases, the primary source seeker will have to head elsewhere.

The Database’s History: ABC-CLIO, a provider of history resources since the 1950s, was a pioneer in creating history databases. The California company created AHL for the internet in the 1990s along with a CD-ROM version and it received numerous awards. EBSCO Information Services, a company that provides information resources and tools to libraries, acquired AHL in 2007. ABC-CLIO, which provided content for Clio Notes, continues to create research guides, but AHL itself does not have original content. The database indexes the journals published by presses other than ABC-CLIO


  • Access: AHL is accessible for university students and faculty at institutions with EBSCO subscriptions. Although this includes a broad spectrum of researchers and some public libraries (like the NYPL) have subscriptions, people outside academia do not have open access to AHL. (My local library offers access to ABC Mouse, but not to AHL.)
  • Citing: AHL does not offer a separate citation tool, but EBSCO’s useful citation tool appears in the tool bar on the right of the screen. Researchers can generate citations in a variety of styles and they also have the option of exporting citations to a bibliographic management system such as RefWorks.

For more reviews, see:

[1] Library of Congress, Research Guides,, accessed September 2022.

[2] Tim Hitchcock, “Digital Searching and the Re-formulation of Historical Knowledge,” In The Virtual Representation of the Past,  Mark Greenglass and Lorna Hughes, eds. (London: Ashgate, 2008), 85.

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