Tag Archives: research

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!

Resources on the Arab Spring

The library has many different books on the Arab Spring, from a multitude of national perspectives.  Here are just a few, and you can find more by searching the catalog for “arab spring.”

Multiculturalism and Democracy in North Africa: Aftermath of the Arab Spring by Moha Ennaji

Transitional Justice and the Arab Spring by Kirsten Fisher, KMC70.T73 2014

Dispatches from the Arab Spring: Understanding the New Middle East by Paul Amar, JQ1850.A91 D58 2013

The Battle for the Arab Spring Revolution, Counter-revolution, and the Making of a New Era by Lin Noueihed


Resources on UAE History


The library has a significant number of books on the history of the United Arab Emirates.  They are located in the DS247.T… range on the library shelves.

Here are a few interesting titles:

United Arab Emirates: A new perspective by Ibrahim Abed and Peter Hellyer
DS247.T85 P477 2001

The origins of the United Arab Emirates: A political and social history of the Trucial States by Rosemarie Said Zahlan
DS247.T88 Z34 1978b

The United Arab Emirates: A modern history by Muḥammad Mursī ʻAbd Allāh
DS247.T88 A22

You can find more by searching the catalog for: “united arab emirates” history (as either keywords or subject headings).