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Guide to Secondary Source Research

Finding secondary sources in the Library for historical topics

General Research Guides

General research guides contain lists of materials that relate to a variety of subjects, or sometimes to a more defined, but still broad, subject area like history. These guides help the user identify various resources on a particular subject. These guides typically include citation information for each resource listed, and annotations are sometimes included. Below are some examples.

Subject Dictionaries

Subject dictionaries are similar to subject encyclopedias in that they, too, are devoted to one subject area narrowed to a particular event or topic. They are often written or contributed to by subject experts. The articles tend to be much shorter than in subject encyclopedias. However, it is not uncommon to find entries that run several pages. Subject dictionaries are most useful for a brief overview of a particular person, topic, or event, but because some dictionary entries are quite lengthy, do not rule out a subject dictionary as a source of more in-depth information. Bibliographies for entries may be included, but tend to be shorter than those provided in subject encyclopedias. An overall bibliography is sometimes provided at the back of the volume. Entries are usually in alphabetical order, and an index is sometimes provided. Most subject dictionaries are just one volume.

Below is a small selection of the subject dictionaries available in the Library in the area of history:

Try searching for other dictionaries on broad subject areas by searching Research@UWW for "keyword dictionary".

examples:  "World War II Dictionary"  "American Government Dictionary" 

Subject Encyclopedias

Subject encyclopedias are good places to start for an introduction to a topic. Articles are written by subject experts and usually more in-depth than general knowledge encyclopedia. Length of articles can vary from a few paragraphs to several pages long. Bibliographies of sources are often provided at the end of an article. Most encyclopedias are organized by alphabetical order. Sometimes entries are arranged by topic. An index is often provided in the back of the volume or in a separate volume. These encyclopedias can range from one volume to over one hundred, and are sometimes published over a number of years. The first volume of The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History was published in 1976 and the last volume, number 60, was published in 2000.

Below is a selection of subject encyclopedias available at the Library. Try searching for other encyclopedias on broad subject areas by searching Research@UWW for "keyword encyclopedia".

examples:  "Women's History encyclopedia"  "Great Depression encyclopedia"   

Subject Bibliographies

Subject bibliographies are similar to general research guides, but specific to one subject area. They contain lists of important resources on that subject area. Within the bibliography, resources are usually divided into categories to aid the user. For example, Chapter 38 of the Harvard Guide to American History is titled "United States, 1789-1860." The chapter contains three sections: Political History, Economic History, and Social and Cultural History. A subject bibliography includes citation information for each resource and short annotations. Examples of two history bibliographies are listed below.

To find out whether the Library owns a book found in a subject bibliography, search Research@UWW. Books owned by other UW System libraries are also searched in Research@UWW, and can be requested for pickup at the Andersen Library via Universal Borrowing. Articles or books not owned by the Library may be obtained through interlibrary loan. Ask a reference librarian for assistance if needed.