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UMass Amherst Libraries


Guide for Library Research in Anthropology

Reference Resources

If you are researching an unfamiliar topic, reference resources can help you orient yourself. They can be very useful when you are narrowing down your research topic.

Reference resources, such as encyclopedias and bibliographies are:

  • Sources of reviewed and concise background information
  • Designed to help you easily locate the information that you need
  • Pointers toward existing research

Encyclopedias contain short articles. In addition to general encyclopedias such as the Encyclopædia Britannica, which span human knowledge, there are specialized ones for disciplines such as anthropology.

Example: Encyclopedia of anthropology edited by H. James Birx

Dictionaries also contain articles that are usually listed in alphabetical order. They are similar to encyclopedias, but entries are usually more concise, making them a useful tool for quickly familiarizing yourself with a topic.

Example: International dictionary of films and filmmakers edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast.

Bibliographies are lists of sources on a topic that can be useful because they gather relevant books, articles, and other sources in one place.

Example: "An Annotated Bibliography of Books, DVDs, and Internet Resources on LGBTQ/Two-Spirit Native Americans and First Nations People"

How do I find reference resources?

How do I find reference resources?

You can search for anthropology reference resources in Discovery Search using subject headings

What if I don't know what what subject headings are or need a refresher?

You'll want to conduct a subject search with two pieces. The second piece will be the type of reference resource (ex. 'Encyclopedias' or 'Dictionaries'). The first piece will change depending on what the topic that you're interested in. For example:

Anthropology -- Encyclopedias
Archaeology -- Encyclopedias
Indians of North America -- Encyclopedias
Anthropology -- Dictionaries

Sociolinguistics -- Dictionaries
Anthropology -- Bibliography
Physical anthropology -- Bibliography


What if I don't get any results back from my subject search?

It can be tricky to know what the standardized subject heading for a concept is unless you refer to the Library of Congress' documents. An alternative is to do a keyword search. When you get results back, you'll be able to look at the subject headings on those records and use those for future subject searches.