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HIST 6000: Historical Methods and Research: Tertiary Sources

[HIST|6000|Kyle Bulthuis]

Using Reference Tools (Print & Electronic)

Tertiary sources, often called reference sources, can help you find background information on a person, event, era, or concept.  Use these types of sources for getting quick topic overviews, specific facts, data, definitions, chronologies, maps, or bibliographies.

Historical Statistics & Data

There are many standard print reference works listed below, which provide broad overviews of historical statistics.  There are also annual compendia of statistics published by organizations such as the United Nations and other governments and NGOs that reference librarians can help you identify. You can locate some of these on your own by SUBJECT searching library catalogs using a country's name followed by the word "statistics" (e.g. SUBJECT Keyword=brazil statistics--get fancy by adding a second line to your search with another keyword concept like slavery).  

Historical statistics are also available electronically:

Electronic Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias, can help you get a quick, working knowledge of a specific topic.  You can search for subject encyclopedias on a specific topic in the library catalog by combining terms such as:

Environment? AND encyclopedia
Religion AND encyclopedia

The following is a small sample of subject encyclopedias available online from the Library.  We have even more print encyclopedias available in the Reference area of the Library (see below for examples). Don't forget: OFF-CAMPUS ACCESS REQUIRES AUTHENTICATION.

We also have hundreds of print encyclopedias available in the Reference area of the Library on the first floor near the Information Desk.


Most maps in these collections are from the very early part of the twentieth century or earlier.  However, there are a number of more recent items included.


You can probably locate a bibliography on almost any topic by using the WorldCat database and learning to creatively search your keywords in combination with a title or subject keyword "bibliography." In addition, we have a several electronic bibliographies published by Oxford University Press:

General Histories

General histories are designed to provide the reader with an overview of the historical debates surrounding a given topic and generally include excellent bibliographies for further reading. These types of works identify and synthesize the variety of historiographical treatments of a national history (e.g. history of ancient Rome), a broad thematic history (e.g. history of science or political thought), or some combination (e.g. an economic history of Latin America).

The Cambridge Histories are an excellent example of this type of work.  The Merrill-Cazier Library has a number of these in print format To find them in print, search the catalog using the KEYWORD search Cambridge, history, and a narrower subject (e.g. Cambridge history 

The publisher John Wiley also makes available several companion volumes across a variety of topics. To locate these, simply do a keyword search using title keyword companion, subject keyword history, and general keyword wiley. I have provided and example or two below: