Tag Archives: databases

So you have a research project – where to start?

When you’re beginning a research project from scratch and you don’t have enough background information, the best place to start are the well-known reference and introductory works on the subject.

These types of work have many titles: encyclopedias, companions, textbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies, lexicons, introductions, primers, handbooks, key to… etc.

Encyclopedias are usually the best place to start, as they have the most detailed level of research among reference works. Articles within them are supposed to be “a repository of all known facts,” i.e. a current overview of everything known on a given topic. They distill vast bodies of secondary research into a small space to make it easier for you to see the big picture.

Encyclopedias tend to range from very broad (i.e. Encyclopedia of Islam) to more specialized and specific (i.e. Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World). If you don’t know a lot already, you want to begin with the general topics and work your way into more specific materials. Imagine you are trying to find a little café in New York City. First, you might need to look at a map of the whole city, then at a map of Manhattan, then of a map of Uptown, and then a map of the subway. Same thing with encyclopedias and references.

While encyclopedias ought to be neutral, scholarship often advances from a relative viewpoint. You might notice that some encyclopedias lean towards various positions. That’s why it’s always a good idea to refer to multiple reference sources.

Sometimes the field of scholarship advances quickly and a new work appears at the time the reference encyclopedia was published. Keep in mind that recently published sources might not account for a year or two of secondary literature published after its writing. Even old encyclopedias have value as you can trace the intellectual history of a concept.

Take note, however, that reference works are usually not cited in academic papers. They’re mostly used for getting you up to speed on a topic.

Today, the most important references are online. My particular favorite is Oxford Islamic Studies, but all of them are generally good resources. Here are some of the go-to references in Islamic Studies:

Take a look at our Middle East Studies Research Guide for even more!

Trial Database: US Intelligence on the Middle East

NYU Libraries is trialing a new database, please take a look and let us know what you think in the comments!

U.S. Intelligence on the Middle East, 1945-2009 (Brill)

Since 1945, the U.S. intelligence community has had to cover a half-dozen major wars and several dozen smaller but equally bloody armed conflicts in the Middle East, as well as innumerable civil wars, border clashes, armed insurgencies, and terrorist attacks. This comprehensive document set sheds light on the U.S. intelligence community’s spying and analytic efforts in the Arab world, including the Middle East, the Near East, and North Africa. It covers the time period from the end of World War II to the present day, up until the 2002-2003 Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) assessments, the Global War on Terror, the Iraq War, and Iran’s nuclear program.