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A guide to library research for Historical research at the University of Calgary.

Reference Sources & Tools

Reference Sources are tertiary sources, resources, and finding tools to help you find general information and facts about people, organizations, events, or terminology. They are authoritative and can include encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographical dictionaries, yearbooks, atlases/gazetteers, handbooks/manuals, almanacs, factbooks, directories, thesaurus, bibliographies, indexes. This page outlines a variety of reference source types to get you started.

General Reference Databases

This is a list of general reference source databases with full-text content. 


Indexes are important resources to help your research because they work as finding aids to scholarly articles, books, newspaper and magazine articles, primary source materials, and archival fonds. While many of these are print-only materials, many are available through subscription databases or free websites. 


Encyclopedias are excellent starting points for your research. They are used to get a basic understanding of your research topic. Look for short reading lists following entries, the author of the entry (as they have likely written other works on the topic) and pay close attention to the proper nouns related to your topic as using accurate and, possibly, variant spellings is important when searching for books and articles.

You will find a wide variety of print and electronic encyclopedias in our collections. To find encyclopedias specific to your topic, use the Advanced Search from the library search box with the subjects “encyclopedias” AND ”history” AND keywords specific to your research (e.g., encyclopedias AND history AND military).

The best databases to find history-related encyclopedias in the University of Calgary’s collections include:


Dictionaries can take many formats and are intended to provide quick reference information. The most known formats provide definitions for words and phrases or language translations. The largest and best known is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Other types of dictionaries are historical dictionaries (often specific to a country, region, or ethnic group), biographical dictionaries, geographical dictionaries, and other subject-specific dictionaries. The databases noted above under General Reference Sources will include many dictionaries. 

You will find a wide variety of print and electronic dictionaries in our collections. To find historical dictionaries specific to your topic, use the library search box with the subjects "dictionaries" AND "history" in addition to keywords specific to your research (e.g., dictionaries AND history AND military). 

Handbooks & Bibliographies

A bibliography is a list of books, articles, and other sources relevant to your research topic. In addition to the bibliographies found at the end of books, theses, journal articles, encyclopedia entries, there will often be separately published bibliographies on your topic.

To find published bibliographies, start with using the library search box with the subjects "bibliography" AND "history" AND a keyword related to your subject (e.g. military).

Historiography is the study of the writing of history.  Historiographies can do the same job as a bibliography, so if a bibliography does not exist for your topic try searching for a historiography instead.

Handbooks, manuals, or guides are useful for looking up information in specific areas. They often present information in a practical, step-by-step structure and include facts, formulas or procedures. To find handbooks, manuals, or guides in relation to your topic, search the library search box using "handbook OR manual OR guide" and your topic search terms.

Chronologies and timelines are also useful guides for placing historical events in context, particularly for countries, regions, or major events. These can be found in handbooks, guides, and manuals or sometimes on their own (e.g., The Routledge Companion to Britain in the Twentieth Century).