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In this guide:
- What is a bibliography?
- Why use a bibliography?
- What kinds of bibliography are there?
- Research Case Study: Kindertransport and the Holocaust
What is a bibliography?
The word 'bibliography' can refer to the complete list of books, articles or pieces of multimedia content that are referenced in an academic work. However, the word 'bibliography' is also used to refer to great collections that compile all scholarly work from a particular subject area, and can be accessed through a bespoke search engine.
According to Tracey Loughran's Practical Guide to Studying History (2017), 'The most important tools for finding secondary literature are the Bibliography of British and Irish History, Historical Abstracts, [and] the International Medieval Bibliography... These bibliographical search engines will help you identify academic literature which might be of use to your research.'
Say you’re required to research an essay on the impact of World War I on the home front; the changing nature of motherhood; the development of royal government under Henry III; or the representation of Jews in medieval England.
Where to start? You’ll probably already have been given a reading list by your tutor or supervisor. This is a basic bibliography – a listing of relevant books and journal articles covering a particular subject usually listed by author name. You may be able to access this listing through your local VLE or Moodle account, and links to local library holdings and online text may be included.
But, to be able to answer your research question more fully and completely, additional reading may be required. This will be essential in postgraduate research, but undergraduates will often find it very useful when preparing for a dissertation or long essay. This is when you can turn to a bibliographical search engine to find books, chapters and journal articles that are focused on the particular topic at hand.
Why use a bibliography?
In academic research, it's a good habit to explore a wide range of sources so that when you come to write your dissertation or long essay you are aware of the kinds of scholarly research that have been done in your subject area. You can discover the strengths and weakness of different approaches, and uncover spaces for original research to be conducted in the future. Course convenors often assess students on their use of primary and secondary resources; bibliographies allow students to access a wide range of material quickly and conveniently. If you are preparing for any post-graduate course, knowledge of the full range of research conducted in your subject field is paramount.
Google, Google Scholar, Google Books and huge databases such as EBSCO or JSTOR have their limits. It can be difficult to narrow the search fields in these search engines to access only the academic sources most relevant to your research project.
Try searching for the following on subjects on Google: 'the impact of World War I on the home front'; 'the changing nature of motherhood'; 'the development of royal government under Henry III'; or 'the representation of Jews in medieval England'. What search terms should you use? How can you narrow the search down to access only academic material? Google remembers your previous searches, your language settings, your location, and what you clicked on last, all of which will skew your search results. And let’s face it - who checks past the first three pages of Google results?
Now try searching for results on EBSCO or JSTOR. These databases are full of incredibly useful academic material, but again what search terms are best to use? 'The Great War', 'First World War', or 'World War One'? How can you filter these terms? Can you focus on one particular aspect of World War I, such as the impact of war on the people in northern England? Or how many resources were published in each decade afterward?
The Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) offers a custom search engine that guides you towards the best search terms to use to find the most relevant results; there is a video tutorial on how to use this feature. You can also search by place or by historical period, using years of your choice, as well as by the more usual bibliographical criteria, such as author, title and date of publication.
BBIH includes OpenURL and Digital Object Identifier links to online text, as well as links to Google Books, to British History Online and to COPAC (the combined online catalogues of British and Irish research libraries), so, once you have found articles or books that you want to consult, you can easily move to online text if you have access, or establish where to find the items in a library. You can also export your results to various reference manager tools, such as Zotero and EndNote in order to build a personal bibliography.
What kinds of bibliographies are there?
BBIH is one of many bibliographies, and other collections and search platforms may be able to help you with your research too. As you specialise more on a particular subject through the course of your education, you'll need to keep up with the latest published research. It can be useful to know about the range of subject-specific bibliographies available to help you to do this.
Annual bibliographies on a Specific Subject
Many journals produce an annual bibliography on a specific subject. One of the most exhaustive is the Economic History Review, which helpfully subdivides the listing by subjects such as 'Agriculture and Agrarian Society', 'Industry and Internal Trade', 'Overseas Trade and Overseas Relations', etc. The bibliography produced by The Library & Information History Journal produces a helpful blbliography designed specifically for history librarians, which also provides a breakdown of works by subject area.
Another exhaustive bibliography is produced by The Canadian Historical Review covering recent publications relating to Canadian history, again helpfully subdivided by 'Aboriginal history', 'New France', 'British North America before 1867', etc.
A festschrift is a volume or collection produced in honour of a particular, notable scholar and will contain a listing of that academic’s writings. These can be particularly useful as they can help in assembling a historiographical overview for a particular topic. See for example, the Bibliography of the Published Works of Sir John Sainty specialising in parliamentary history and the Bibliography of the Major Writings of Roy Foster to 2014 on Irish history.
Specialist Print Bibliographies
Specialist print bibliographies are bibliographies printed as books. Although they can become out of date very quickly, they still provide a treasure trove on very diverse subjects. Two recent examples: The Bibliography of the Communist Party of Great Britain has been called 'an essential reference volume for any research on the Communist Party in Britain and sheds new light on the political and cultural life of the left in Britain in the twentieth century'.
The Vampire in Folklore: History, Literature, Film and Television is a comprehensive bibliography covering writings about vampires and related creatures from the 19th century to the present. More than 6,000 entries document the vampire’s penetration of Western culture, from scholarly discourse, to popular culture, politics and cook books.
Specialist Online Bibliographies
More and more bibliographies are located online and cover a wide range of subjects. A few examples are: The British & Irish Archaeological Bibliography, World Shakespeare Bibliography, and the History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland.
For advice on any specialist bibliography please talk to the subject librarian at your university or college; they will be able to tell you what is available.
Research Case Study: Kindertransport and the Holocaust
With thanks to Tom Keidan (Leicester University August 2017)
This is a discussion of my experience with the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) as a tool for university research; through utilising the various search tools and methods to narrow down search material, I was able to find vital material relating to my chosen dissertation subject concerning the Kindertransport movement of refugee children to Britain in the immediate period before the beginning of the Holocaust.
Firstly, when inputting a free text search of the term ‘Holocaust’, it is clear to see why effective utilisation of BBIH search terms is required; the 371 entries provided for this term are useful for establishing wider historiographical patterns as well as analysing the methodology and approaches used in such studies but can quickly become overwhelming and difficult to work with for a more specific investigation such as mine. Thus, I will illustrate how I was able to narrow down my search criteria to provide more useful and manageable entry data.
Initially, a simple free text of anything containing the term ‘Kindertransport’ provided me with 15 entries which directly featured this term; this amount was not particularly high considering the wealth of material written about this subject from a British perspective. Additionally, many of the search entries provided including Der olle Hitler soll sterben!' Erinnerungen an den jüdischen Kindertransport nach England [Memories of the Jewish Kindertransport to England] proved to be autobiographical accounts of individual’s experiences on the Kindertransport which did not prove to be useful for my wider investigation concerning Britain’s role in facilitating the immigration of refugee children.
However, through utilising the ‘period covered’ search tool I was able to input broader search terms which directly related to the period my investigation covers; for example, through setting the ‘period covered’ to 1933-1945 and inputting broader terms such as ‘refugees’, I was provided with a wealth of entries which directly related to the Kindertransport programme to Britain. In particular, Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz’s Never Look Back: the Jewish refugee children in Great Britain, 1938-1945 proved to be an essential addition to my secondary reading list which I may have missed if I continued to utilise a narrow search criteria.
Interestingly, through utilising the previously mentioned search terms I was provided with examples of concurrent refugee programmes which also proved useful as comparative examples within my investigation. When searching for titles containing the term ‘refugee’ between 1933-194 I was provided with studies concerning the Basque refugee programme during the Spanish Civil War which primarily facilitated the movement of young children to Britain, much like the Kindertransport; I had previously been unaware of this movement, but through confining the time period of my search I was able to identify this concurrent refugee programme. Monographs such as Peter Anderson’s The Struggle over the Evacuation to the United Kingdom and Repatriation of Basque Refugee Children in the Spanish Civil War: Symbols and Souls were highly useful additions to my reading list which enabled me to draw comparisons and differences between two simultaneous child refugee programmes; in particular, through analysing the titles of monographs concerning the Basque refugee programme such as Don Watson’s Politics and Humanitarian Aid : Basque Refugees in the North East and Cumbria in the Spanish Civil War, I was able to identify such efforts as more politically charged, with broader support at both a governmental and public level.
Ultimately, through adjusting my search criteria and utilising various search-terms mentioned in previous articles, I was able to extract more information from BBIH which proved highly useful to my investigations.
To keep up to date with my research I also set up three email alerts for "Kindertransport" (search anywhere), subject tree search for "Holocaust" (to keep abreast of historiographical developments) and subject tree search "Exiles and refugees" with the period covered "1933-1945" to make sure I covered the broader aspects of my research.