Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Classics and Ancient History: finding and using library resources for assignments: 1. What information do I need?

Online tutorial introducing you to the skills and techniques needed for effective library research

 

Once you have a research question, consider what sort of information/materials you need.

You are likely to use a combination of different types of resources in order to fully explore your topic. 

 

It is worth thinking about this before you jump in and start searching; if you can pinpoint the sort of information you require, you can target your searching in the appropriate place.

Information Sources: categories

Information Sources are typically categorised into three broad categories based on their proximity to original source material:

  • primary:  original materials on which other research is based.
  • secondary: interpretation, commentary or analysis of other sources. 
  • tertiary: organisation, categorisation, index or collection of sources.

1. Primary Sources

These are first hand accounts or records of activity as they happened or were created, without any subsequent interpretation or commentary.

Examples include:  

  • Original artwork and literary works
  • Theses and research findings
  • Speeches, correspondence and diaries
  • Interviews and first hand news accounts

A wealth of primary sources are available to you at the University, many in digital format.  Use the archives section of the A-Z Database List to access the various resources. The Primary Sources LibGuide provides guidance on finding primary sources.

2. Secondary Sources

These provide interpretation, commentary or analysis of other sources. They are typically written after the event or activity being discussed,and are not based on direct observation of involvement.

Examples include: 

  • Textbooks, books and journal articles that do not present new research
  • Dissertations
  • Commentaries and criticisms
  • Newspaper articles that are opinions/reviews/analysis rather than first hand reporting on events

Use the Library research tools to help you to find relevant secondary sources. 

3. Tertiary Sources

Organisation, categorisation, index or collection of primary and secondary sources. These sources typically list or collate other sources, rather than adding additional commentary or observations.

Examples include: 

  • Dictionaries & encyclopedias
  • Bibliographies, fact books and digests
  • Directories and guidebooks
  • Indexing and abstracting sources

Many of these resources are now available in digital format - find out more on the Online Reference Resources LibGuide.

Research Resources and Materials

Research material can be drawn from from a wide range of different research resources. As well as using traditional sources such as books and journal articles, you may want to use images or conference proceedings, for example.

Some materials such as scholarly books and journals go through a rigorous 'peer review' process where they are analysed by experts in the field for reliability and quality. However, it can be more difficult to establish the provenance of other sources of information - for example anyone can create and disseminate information via the web. 

In an information rich society, it's crucial to remember that not all information resources are equal! As a researcher, you must evaluate the information you find and decide whether the content is scholarly, accurate and authoritative research material.

Books, such as textbooks, are good for providing an overview of a topic. They undergo an editorial process and are usually written by experts in the subject or professional authors. They contain reference lists or bibliographies so that you can broaden your research by following up leads to related publications.

Many books at the University are available in digital format as e-books. 

Journals can provide you with up to date discussion of research topics as they are published more quickly and regularly than books e.g. weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the publication.

Journal articles are written by researchers and experts in their field. Scholarly or academic journals go through a "peer review" process, where a panel of experts assesses the article before it is approved for publication, giving you reassurance that the information is reliable. Like books, the more scholarly articles also contain reference lists or bibliographies so that you can broaden your research by following up leads to related publications.

The majority of the journals available via the library are in digital format.  This means they are available to you any time, any place and ensures you can access the latest journal issues as soon as they are published.

The main tool for locating articles for classics, classical archaeology and ancient history is L'Année Philologique. You can find out more about searching this resource in the databases section of this tutorial. 

Photo by Egisto Sani CC BY-NC 2.0

 

You can find images relating to classical art and architecture which may be useful for your research.

Use the Database A-Z List to discover the Image databases that are available to you.

 

Key databases include:

The papers that researchers deliver at conference and symposia around the world are often published after the event, in print and/or digital format. They may be published as a book, in a special issue of a journal or on an organisations' website.  Some may not be published at all.

Published conference papers are often the first time that research findings are publicly presented and debated so they can be sources of cutting edge research.

Many are subject to peer review, just like scholarly journals, which acts as a quality assurance check.

Subject databases may index major conference proceedings as an aid to their discovery. The following tools will also enable you to find conference papers and proceedings in your area.

 

Web of Science: Conference Proceedings Index 

Web of Science indexes the most significant conferences and seminars since 1990 in  the Science and Social Sciences & Humanities.  Select the proceedings indexes from More Settings on the Web of Science search screen.

Zetoc provides a search and alert service via the British Library's electronic table of contents database. To search for conferences, select the Conference Search option and complete the search form.  

 

Google Scholar

Use the Google Scholar search tool to find conference papers and information that hsa been indexed on the web. Search for your research area, add conference and a year if you wish to pinpoint a particular period.

Reference resources such as almanacs, dictionaries, encyclopedias and thesauri enable you to:

  • examine facts and statistics about the world
  • decipher abbreviations and definitions
  • gain an overview of a topic                                     

They can be really useful resources as you begin your background research into a topic.

In many cases, these resources are now available in digital format, allowing you to easily and quickly access the information you need.

To see what is available, you can use the Databases A-Z list. Choose Classics and Ancient History from the subject drop down list, and Dictionary/Encyclopedia or Reference Works from the Database Types drop down.

Some useful resources for introductions to Classical topics include:

Social Media blogs, twitter feeds etc. can be useful research resources. For example, they can highlight key topics and debates that are live at particular points in time.  Also many experts and organisations use these communication methods to highlight larger research projects and work.

As is the case with website information, it is vital that you evaluate these resources as the quality and reliability of information will be highly variable.

Furthermore, the information may be available fleetingly as blogs and twitter feeds come and go, so make sure you capture any material you want to use in your research in case it is deleted during the course of your research activities.

For example, you may find some useful links and information by following Twitter feeds of experts and organisations such as the Vindolanda Trust.

A thesis or dissertation is a document submitted in support of candidature for a higher degree or professional qualification, presenting the author’s research and findings. Theses are extremely valuable sources of information, as they consist of substantial primary research in specialised topics and provide very detailed data and analysis.

They will also have extensive bibliographies, detailing the published literature on the given research topic.

Use the Finding Theses Quick Guide to learn more about tracking down theses in your field of study both at the University of Exeter and elsewhere. 

You can access dissertation and theses databases via the Database A-Z. The recommended databases for global dissertation searching is:

Search engines such as Google have made it very easy to search and find information via the internet and it is highly likely that you will use the web to find information for your research.

However, the sheer volume of material available means that sometimes it can be difficult to find the information you want. Most search engines offer advanced search options that allow you to refine your search i.e. Google Advanced Search.  If you want to find academic materials, search using Google Scholar.

When using material from the internet, you need to exercise caution as anyone can publish information on the web, so the quality and reliability of the information is highly variable.  Always evaluate the sources to ensure the material is trustworthy, accurate and authoritative.

Google Web Search

Contact Us