World History


Then Again




The Preliminary Bibliography



I. The Next Step.

Now that your have completed your research agenda and have a fairly good idea of what problem you are going to address, the next step is to find out what resources as available to help answer the question you have posed. This means developing a preliminary bibliography. This will not be your final bibliography. It is intended simply to get you started on the project and to ensure that the there are materials available for you to complete it..

II. Finding the Sources.

While you are certainly encouraged to look at unpublished sources, you will need at least a few books and articles to write this paper. There are a number of strategies you might employ to find the sources you need:

    A. The online catalog

One traditional place to begin is with the library's catalog and look for books under the appropriate heading. There are some limits to this method: it only acquaints you with books in that particular library, it doesn't tell you which books might be the most important or useful for your purposes and you need to be sure you have looked under all of the relevant subject headings (The Library of Congress Catalog of Subject Headings is useful for making sure you uncovered all of the possibilities).

    B. Reading lists

A more useful method might be to look at the recommended reading list in a textbook on the subject. While this might not directly address your topic, you will at least find out what one scholar in the field thinks are the important books. Once you have found one of these recommended books, you can look at that book's bibliography for further suggestions. Going from book to book in this manner should provide a fairly good overview of the scholarly literature. Those books which are most frequently cited are likely those generally regarded as the most important in the field. It is, however, important to keep in mind that "important in the field" doesn't necessarily translate into "important for my paper."

    C. Published bibliographies

Still another method for getting started is to find a published bibliography on the subject. For major figures and major periods there are very often published bibliographies listing the books and articles published in that field. Be careful using such a list, however, since these are usually not selective: they list everything published on the subject regardless of the quality. An annotated bibliography is even more useful. One of the best places to begin is with the American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature [Ref. /D 20/A.55]. This is a selective bibliography covering all places and periods of history.

    D. Indexes and book reviews

Do not neglect periodicals indexes and book reviews. The Humanities Index, The Social Science Index, The Philosopher's Index and Historical Abstracts are indexes of journal articles in the various fields. They are particularly useful if you want your research up to date. Before you read a book it may save some time if you read an abstract or a review of it first. These indexes often list book reviews as well.

III. The trouble with bibliographies.

There are two basic problems you are likely to encounter in finding the right sources for your research agenda. On the one hand, there may be no source that directly addresses the question you want to answer. On the other hand, there might be more sources than you have time to list, let alone read and digest.

Not all of the books you find in preparing a bibliography will be useful for your topic. While you should cast your net wide when you are first starting your research, be prepared to become more selective as you proceed. You cannot possibly read everything you should read in the short amount of time available for this project. Look for clues that will indicate if this book will be useful. Before you start reading, check the table of contents and the index. Make sure the book really does cover your subject.

If you are unable to compile a list of sources for your paper you have three choices: you may abandon this topic and look for another; you may adjust your topic so that it fits the sources you have found; or you may want to re-think your approach, that is, if you can't get the information you need from one kind of source, you might try looking at different kinds of sources.

In preparing a bibliography do not discount serendipity and hard work. Often the most important insights into a subject come from a book you happen on just by chance. Just as often, you aren't able to address your topic until you've put in a number of hours of seemingly fruitless labor. Be open to whatever you come across, but realize, too, that if you wait for the paper to fall in your lap, you'll still be waiting when the paper is due.  Remember the rule of ten: for every 10 books in your bibliography, one will be useful.  For every ten useful books you read, one will actually be listed in the final bibliography.  For every ten notes you take, one will be useful.  For every ten useful notes you take, one will actually be used in the final paper.

IV. Your assignment.

You are to bring to class a bibliography of at least 10 items. At least one of these sources must be a primary source and at least one must be a journal article. While you may use encyclopedias and indexes in preparing this bibliography, they will not count as sources. Each bibliographic entry should be typed and contain all the necessary bibliographic information: author's name, title, translator's name, editor's name, publisher's name, place and date of publication, page numbers. At this point, format is not important. You will receive one point for each book, article or unpublished source properly listed up to a maximum of 10 points.

Revised 2003.

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