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Finding Local Information: American Cultures

Finding Local Information: American Cultures is a bibliographic research guide to finding U.S. community-specific information in the context of the built environment and with an emphasis on the San Francisco Bay Area and California. This guide is intended especially for use by students of UC Berkeley City Planning 118 AC and Landscape Architecture 141 AC and focuses on resources in the UC Berkeley libraries, local community, and on the web. For further assistance, please consult the Environmental Design Library reference staff, 210 Wurster Hall.

Deconstruct Your Topic
Research Tools
Finding Books
Finding Journal Articles
Selected Readings
General Plans
Statistics & Data
Special Collections
Local Guides & Sources
Historical Societies & Museums
Local & UCB Libraries

UC Berkeley faculty, registered students, and staff who are off campus may use items marked UCB Only or UC Only by using The Library's off-campus access services.

Content reviewed: June 2010. Compiled by Deborah Sommer.

Deconstruct your topic

Deconstruct your topic to uncover its complexities and hidden conceptual connections, to focus your research, and to increase your search vocabulary. The more ways you have of describing and thinking about your topic, the more information you're likely to find. Another term for deconstructing a research question is 'concept mapping;' see the Rhode Island School of Design Library's excellent slide show, Concept Mapping, for a visual tutorial.


Research Tools

See also these topical research guides: American Cultural Landscapes and Social & Cultural Factors in Environmental Design.

Interpreting the Physical Environment

tip See Finding Information on Buildings & Places for stimulating questions to ask about places and tools to find answers. See Building and Landscape Types: a Guide to Information Sources for typology resources.


Researching Local History



Community web sites are good sources of directories of contact people. Local telephone books can be helpful, too.


Finding Books & Related Materials

tip Start with Melvyl for the most comprehensive coverage of UC Berkeley library holdings. For additional tips, see the Guide to Library Catalogs.

Here are selected subject terms for searching the library catalogs. Remember that you can combine subjects or subjects and keywords.

Alienation (Social psychology)
Assimilation (Sociology)
City and town life--[place name]
Community life--[place name]
[Ethnic or racial group], e.g.:
European American#
Hispanic American#
Indians of North America
Italian American#
Japanese American#
Racially mixed people

[Ethnic/racial group]--Cultural assimilation
[Ethnic/racial group]--Economic conditions
[Ethnic/racial group]--Segregation
[Ethnic group]--Ethnic identity
Ethnic neighborhoods--United States
Hispanic American neighborhoods
Human geography
[Religious or sexual orientation group]--Identity
Immigrants--United States
Landscape--Social aspects
Landscape architecture--Psychological aspects
Landscape architecture--Social aspects
Minorities--[place name]
Minorities--[place name]
--Economic conditions

Minorities--Housing--[place name]
Minorities--United States--History
Multiculturalism--[place name]
Parks--[place name]
Plazas--[place name]
Popular culture
Public spaces
[Racial group]--Racial identity
Social ecology
[Place name]--Social life & customs
Social values--United States
Suburban life--[place name]
Suburbs--[place name]
Urbanization--United States
Working class whites--United States
Zoning, Exclusionary

Here are examples of ways to search for specific areas or neighborhoods within a city:

Aquatic Park (Berkeley, Calif.)
Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.)
Embarcadero (San Francisco, Calif.)
Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco, Calif.)
Hunters' Point Naval Shipyard
Mission Bay (San Francisco, Calif.)
San Antonio District (Oakland, Calif.)
South Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.)
Telegraph Avenue (Oakland, Calif.)
Treasure Island (Calif.)


Finding Journal Articles

The selected indexes listed here may be helpful; in addition, the following lists of journal indexes and abstracts may be useful: Architecture, City Planning, Environmental Planning, and Landscape Architecture. To boost your article retrieval skills take a drop-in class at Moffitt Library. For UC Only or UCB Only indexes and databases, go to The Library's home page→ Find Information→ Articles.


Selected Readings

Here are selected readings about American communities. Use the subject headings in this guide to discover more.



To find encyclopedias on a topic, in Melvyl search by subject, adding the term encyclopedia to your subject word(s).


General Plans

General plans are an excellent source of local planning information. General plans have many synonyms, among them comprehensive plan, development plan, land-use plan, master plan, and urban plan. Simply stated, a general plan is "the official statement of a municipal legislative body which sets forth its major policies concerning desirable future physical development..." (Kent, The Urban general plan, 1964).



Sometimes the only record of a hot community issue is in the local media. In addition to the indexes listed here, some newspapers are available full text on the web; information regarding archives of older issues is sometimes available at these sites. For a list of online full-text American and international newspapers, go to the The Library's home pageFind Information Articles News Article Databases.


Statistics & Data

Here's a small selection of statistical resources. For a more comprehensive list, including some full text, see Statistics & Data for City Planning: United States (American focus with a California emphasis).