Around The Web

This is the first installment of something I’m trying out.  I’d like to share some nerdy links with you guys, and I’ve been collecting them this week.  Here goes.

DSC00019

This is in no way a nerdy link, I just really like this picture of my dog.

 

History
Perfect for this time of year, The Evolving Face of Santa from Smithsonian Magazine.  Not only does this have a cool slideshow of past Santa images, but it gives you a basic intro to Santa in the US.

Why do we wear white wedding dresses?  Because Queen Victoria did.  Try explaining this one to your very old-fashioned grandmother, I dare you.

Did Civil War soldiers suffer from PTSD?  I’d wager that most historians, or anyone who’s ever studied the Civil War in an academic setting would say yes, this is not surprising.  But I’m quite glad it’s being talked about, because it may help to remove some of the stigma from modern cases of PTSD.


 

Archaeology
The Pantheon has withstood an awful lot of earthquakes, invasions, and weather over the last two thousand years.  How?  Apparently, it’s all about volcanic ash.

The oldest organized town in Scandinavia might be even older than anyone thought, from Archaeology Magazine.

Also, archaeologists have identified the oldest dated bronze item in Britain: a dagger found in 1989.  It was found with Racton Man, who stood more than six feet tall, and was older than 45 when he died.


 

Just For Fun
Things We Believe In Our Twenties That Aren’t Actually True – from Business Insider

How To Roast Tomatoes (do you know how long this task has been put off in my Any.Do?  DO YOU?  No, you probably don’t.  At least 45 days).

The Orphan Black Season 3 trailer is here!  Let’s freak out together!

Scorch Marks: A Poem

Adulting

Halloween: A History

Happy Halloween!

 

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and a big part of that was knowing the history of Halloween.  Thanks to an incredible movie called The Halloween Tree (it’s also a book!) I learned a lot about the history of Halloween and associated traditions.  In honor of my favorite holiday, let’s dive into the history of Halloween.

Halloween: A History

Before Halloween was a holiday for children to dress up like monsters and gather candy, or a holiday for adults to wear skimpy and/or ironic costumes to party, Halloween was All Hallow’s Eve.  All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve, comes the night before All Saints’ Day, a day to remember your dead.

 

But even before it was a Catholic holiday, Halloween was Samhain, a Celtic holiday celebrating the harvest and remembering the dead.  Because of the transitional nature of the season, going from summer into winter, celebrants believed that faeries, and the souls of the dead, could cross into the human world with ease.  These faeries weren’t the Disney kind though.  These faeries were malicious and mischievous, and in order to protect yourself and your family, you had to make offerings to them to keep them from, say, burning down your cottage.

 

People would light bonfires to keep away the evil spirits, and wear masks to disguise themselves within their ranks.  Although let’s be real, the “ranks” were probably just other celebrants.  (But isn’t it fun to imagine it was a bunch of faeries and demons and ghosts wandering around Ireland?)  Trick or treating began as a threat, that if you didn’t offer these faeries and other evil spirits a treat, they would play a trick.

Happy Halloween

When Christianity swept into the region Christian priests and missionaries appropriated Halloween, among other holidays, to facilitate easier conversion of the locals.  Ironically enough, later Christians rejected the holiday as pagan, from Puritans in the sixteenth century to modern fundamentalists who use “Hell Houses” to try to prevent sinning.

 

Because of the puritans and other sects who rejected Halloween, it faded to the background until waves of immigration from Ireland and Scotland brought the holiday back.  By the early twentieth century Halloween had once again become a mainstream holiday.  Complete with creepy children’s costumes ca. 1950s.

 

Of course, the United States isn’t the only place that celebrates October 31.  Many places celebrate the Catholic holiday, and many others celebrate local traditions.  The most famous is, of course, Día de Muertos – the Day of the Dead.  Because I have never celebrated Día de Muertos and I don’t want to accidentally insult celebrants, let me direct you to some great resources to learn more.

This Halloween, I’ll be watching spooky movies, listening to Dracula on audiobook, playing in the leaves with my dog, and probably not handing out candy as there are like 2 children in my neighborhood.  For more Halloween check out my All Hallows Reads recommendations, and the Legend of the Jack O’Lanterns.

Jack O Lanterns: The Legend

Jack O Lanterns, one of the most visible parts of American Halloween, have an interesting folklore.

The Jack O'Lantern Legend

According to Irish legend, a man named Jack had a drink with the Devil, tricked him into becoming a coin so that Jack could pay for the drink, but slipped the coin-Devil into his pocket beside a silver cross, which prevented the coin-Devil from turning back into his own form.  When Jack let him go, he made a deal with the Devil to prevent the Devil from collecting his soul.  Jack then made several of these deals, year by year, until he died.

Legend has it that, being the type of man who makes repeated deals with the Devil, Jack was not welcome in Heaven, but neither was he able to enter Hell because of his deals with the Devil.  So he was forced to walk the Earth for all eternity, and he had only a burning coal to light his way.  Being a resourceful man, Jack put the coal into a hollowed-out turnip to create a lantern.  He became known in folklore as Jack of the Lantern – or Jack O’Lantern.  People began carving lanterns into turnips or potatoes and putting them in windows to keep away the trickster Jack of the Lantern.

When Irish colonists came to North America they found pumpkins, which were native to North America, and began carving them.  Since pumpkins are fall fruits, and creepy stories became associated with Halloween, Jack O Lanterns became a halloween tradition.  Just don’t go looking for them on old country roads, or you might end up selling your own soul and taking Jack’s place!

For more Halloween spirit check out yesterday’s All Hallows Read recommendations, and tomorrow’s Halloween History lesson.  (For more about Jack O’Lanterns, see here).

 

Bog Bodies | Topics In History

Everyone’s heard of the Egyptian mummies.  And most of us have heard of the Peruvian ice mummies, unearthed 500 years after their deaths in the mountains of Peru.  But what about the bog bodies?

Throughout Europe, these bog bodies have been turning up, in incredible condition, for centuries.  The first recorded bog body was found in 1640 in Germany.  Early ones were reburied in consecrated cemeteries, because locals believed they were recently deceased.  It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that anyone realized they were ancient.

 Bog Bodies | Topics In History

Ancient peoples believed that bogs were entrances to another world.  A world where gods and spirits mingled, entangled, and ran free.  A place to deposit their most feared, most beloved, and possibly their most powerful dead.

 

The bodies that have been pulled out of these peat bogs are usually around 2,000 years old, dating to the iron age.  Over the past few centuries, peat cutters and others have found over 1,000 of these bodies.  The most famous is probably Tollund Man.

Tollund ManBog Bodies was unearthed in 1950 in Denmark, naked and curled up like a child.  He wore nothing but a leather belt and a sheepskin cap, but a rope hung from his neck. The researchers who worked on him did not have the capability to preserve an entire body; however, they did preserve his head and neck.  Before the body decayed, researchers were able to determine what he had last eaten (stew), and approximately how long after that he died (12-24 hours).  Several of his internal organs were in perfect condition.  Due to his incredible preservation in the peat, they could tell that he was about 40 years old, 5’3” (1.61m) tall, with short hair and stubble on his face, and that he had died from hanging.  But what happened to his clothes?  Why was he wearing a belt and cap but nothing else? 

It’s likely that he was clothed when he was placed in the bog two thousand years ago, but that those clothes were made from plant based fibers such as flax or linen.  Since peat is, itself, plant based matter in various stages of decay, the clothes would’ve simply rotted away, leaving no trace.  Other theories are that he was not afforded clothes if he was executed, or that his death was a ritual sacrifice, and clothing was not a part of that ritual.

Bog Bodies

Yde Girl By Ruud Zwart (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-nl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/nl/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bog bodies are often deemed ritual sacrifices, killed by their own people, though a few, namely Kayhausen Boy, seem to be murder victims.  Yde Girl,found in the Netherlands, is frequently considered a victim of ritual sacrifice.  She was about 16 when she was killed, and stood at just 4’6” (137 cm) tall.  Cashel Man, at 4,000 years old, has provided the oldest example of a bog body with skin still intact.  Archaeologists have also concluded that he was a victim of ritual sacrifice.   In the 1980s, similar corpses were found in a calcareous bog in Florida, becoming the first American bog bodies.

 

We’ve established that bog bodies occur, and that many are preserved so well you can see wrinkles and fine hair, but how does that happen at all?  Well, let’s get to it.

 Peat, the substance in most of these bogs, has been used for centuries to thatch roofs, treat soil, and create bedding for animals in Europe, so peat cutters are usually the discoverers of these bodies.  The chemical construction of the peat, which is created during the slowed decomposition of vegetation and moss, creates a boggy, acidic wetland.

In one type of bog, the acidiferous bog, acid leaches into the skin and preserves it like leather.  But when this acid reaches the bones, it corrodes them.  Bog bodies thus end up twisted in strange manners, or sometimes appearing deflated, because of their decayed bones.  Essentially, the skin in an acidiferous bog is treated like a cucumber in pickling brine.  The acidic tannins in these bogs turned the skin into human leather.  It also dyes the bodies’ hair to a bronze-red color.

Bog Bodies

Osterby Man by Wikipedia Uploader Bullenwächter

In calcareous bogs the acid is more closely aligned to the chemical makeup of the bones, and eats through the skin.  This leaves bog bodies as perfectly preserved skeletons with little to no soft tissue left.  Osterby Man (pictured above) has only a small patch of skin, along with hair exhibiting a Suebian knot style.

The peat also blocks oxygen from reaching the bodies, which aids in the preservation process by preventing bacterial growth.

 

There have been hundreds of bog bodies found throughout Northwestern Europe, and they have provided valuable clues to what life was like in Iron Age and Bronze Age Europe.  We will likely continue to find them for hundreds of years, preserved so well you can still see the patterns on their toes.

 

 Further Reading

Continue reading

Great Zimbabwe: An African Archaeological Site

Let’s get this out of the way first, Africa is a continent, not a country.  There is an incredible amount of biodiversity among the animals on the continent, and there is at least as much diversity among the human cultures on the continent of Africa.  There are flourishing beautiful cities, and there are impoverished rural farms.  African history is an area in which American schooling lags behind.  We study and teach our own history, we teach European history, and then we teach “world history” which so often ends up meaning Ancient European history.

Today’s post is a bit of background on Great Zimbabwe.  I first learned about Great Zimbabwe as a sophomore in an archaeology class.  But I think it should be just as famous as Stonehenge.  Let me tell you why.

Great Zimbabwe

Original image by Jan Derk in 1997, released into the public domain.

 

Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Zimbabwe, and it dates to the eleventh century.  The nation of Zimbabwe also considers it a National Monument, and a source of national pride.  In fact, the nation’s name is derived from that of the monument.

 

There are actually two possible etymologies for “Zimbabwe”, both from the Shona word for houses, dzimba.  One possibility is “Dzimba-dza-mabwe” which translates as “large houses of stone” in the Karanga dialect of Shona.  The other possibility is “Dzimba-hwe” which translates to “venerated houses” in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, and was usually reserved for the homes or gravesites of kings and rules.  Shona is a subgroup of Bantu, and it refers to both a cultural group and the language they speak.

 

The first European record of Great Zimbabwe was recorded by Vicente Pegado, a Portuguese captain, in 1531.  But he recorded it as Simbaoe.  This spelling carried on among Europeans for a century or more, and it was recorded on a 1570 map.

Great Zimbabwe on a 1570 Map as Simbaoe

Abraham Oretlius’ Africae Tabula Nova Map (1570)

 

Radiocarbon dating puts the construction of the structures at Great Zimbabwe in the eleventh century CE.  There is, however, archaeological evidence of a settlement on the same location as far back as the fifth century CE.  Who exactly built Great Zimbabwe has been a source of contention for centuries.  Most scholars agree that the Gokomere people, an ancestral group of the Shona people, built and inhabited Great Zimbabwe, but there is a cohesive dissent in favor of the Lemba people.  The Lemba people, a fascinating group themselves, assert that their ancestors built the structures at Great Zimbabwe.  Some scholars support this origin, including Ken Mufuka.  As we’ll discuss later, there have been a lot of theories surrounding the origin of Great Zimbabwe.

 

This site is actually three groupings of structures.  Great Zimbabwe covers 7.3 square kilometers, approximately 1,800 acres.  For reference Central Park is 843 square acres.  Within the overall title “Great Zimbabwe” there is the Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure, and the Valley Complex.  Within the Hill Complex is the Eastern Enclosure, and this is where the Zimbabwe Bird sculptures were found.  The Great Enclosure encompasses two sets of walls and a series of structures inside of the inner walls.  The Valley Complex is actually two complexes: Upper Valley, and Lower Valley, which were occupied at different times, and seem to have housed more people.  As to the purposes of each complex, there are two competing theories.  The first theory is a chronological explanation, wherein the Hill Complex was occupied in the eleventh to twelfth centuries, and then the inhabitants moved to the Great Enclosure, then the Upper Valley complex, and finally to the Lower Valley complex in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  There have been even more modern structures found in the Valley Complex, dating to the nineteenth century.  Some scholars also say that the structures and complexes were the work of different successive rulers.

Great Zimbabwe Hill Complex

View of the Hill Complex from the Valley.
Image by Jan Derk in 1997, released into the public domain.

The other theory of occupation is a structuralist idea.  According to structuralists, the Hill Complex was likely a temple, the Valley Complex the home of citizens, and the Great Enclosure the home of rulers.  In support of this, many scholars have said that the walls of the Great Enclosure were symbolic of power.  Possibly in opposition to this theory, there is evidence of multiple dwellings within the Great Enclosure¹.

Two early accounts from Arab merchants indicate that there was, at least at that time, writing above the entrance to Great Zimbabwe, which they could not read.

 

Within the Hill Complex archaeologists found sculptures in the shape of a bird seeming to sit on a throne.  These sculptures have been referred to as the Zimbabwe Birds, and are now a symbol of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean people.

Zimbabwe Bird

Zimbabwe Bird by J. Patrick Fisher, under a CC Attribution 3.0 License

 

Archaeological evidence during the time of occupation suggests that, at its height, Great Zimbabwe housed upwards of 10,000 people, perhaps even up to 20,000.  Most of those likely lived in the valley, though, as scholars believe that only 200-300 lived in the actual stone buildings.

The residents of Great Zimbabwe were part of a huge network of trade, from the Swahili Coast to India and on to China.  Archaeologists have found potsherds that originate in China, as well as thousands of glass beads, copper coins from the Swahili Coast and the Arabian peninsula, and dishes from Persia².  While there are other structures in Southern Africa that have similar architecture, especially the mortarless construction, there doesn’t seem to be any architectural exchange between Great Zimbabwe and the other cultures with whom they traded.  The hills surrounding Great Zimbabwe produced enormous amounts of gold, which was the main item of trade for the residents.

Great Zimbabwe is surrounded by land, but it is not highly arable land.  Instead, scholars think that most of the farming in the valley consisted of raising cattle, and growing cereal crops².  The residents likely imported most of their other food from other locales, trading for the cattle, cereal grains, or even the gold that was plentiful in the area.

Great Zimbabwe's Conical Tower

Inside the Great Enclosure.
Image by Marius Loots, licensed under Creative Commons.

 

In the fifteenth century, probably between 1450 and 1500 CE, the population of Great Zimbabwe began to decline.  By the sixteenth century it was abandoned.  Most scholars agree that the decline was due to a lack of resources.  The hills had been mined to exhaustion, the land was running out of nutrients for farming, and the trade world had moved north.  Great Zimbabweans had founded two new settlements: Mutapa in the north, and Torwa in the south.  The founder of Mutapa, Nyatsimba Mutota, had been sent north to find a new source of salt, which supports the theory that the resources were drying up.  There is also a theory that the region was experiencing political instability and warfare, but that is far less supported than the resource explanation.

 

The history of Great Zimbabwe was only beginning when the population dissipated.  With the arrival of European colonialists in the nineteenth century, the speculation about Great Zimbabwe’s origins and use began.

Great Zimbabwe Closeup

Image by Wikipedia uploader Macvivo, licensed under Creative Commons.

Cecil Rhodes funded a handful of archaeologists and scholars to find non-black origins for Great Zimbabwe.  The first was J. Theodore Bent.  He had no training in archaeology, although to be fair at the time training was always ad hoc, and he determined that the structures were ancient rather than medieval.  Bent also determined that the builders were not black Africans, but rather Phoenicians, Egyptians, ancient Semitic groups, or ancient Arabian groups.  Later, he clarified his findings, and claimed only that it was an ancient Semitic or Arabian group.

After Bent finished his time at Great Zimbabwe, Rhodes hired another man with no archaeological training to be the Curator of Great Zimbabwe.  This man was Nicklin Hall, who was charged not with research or study, but only with preservation.  During his tenure at Great Zimbabwe he overstepped his job description and instigated archaeological digs that destroyed several layers of earth and all the artefacts contained therein.

This is also where the Lemba claims get interesting.  The Lemba people have always claimed ancestry from a Jewish group, and much of their culture is similar to practices found in Judaism.  Just as an example, they observe Shabbat, identify themselves as a chosen people, refrain from eating pork, practice male circumcision, and have recently placed stars of David on their gravestones.  A recent DNA study has supported this claim, finding that Lemba men share 50% of their Y-chromosome specific genes with people of Semitic ancestry – Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs³.  What’s interesting about the Lemba claim is not that it exists, it’s possible, as I mentioned above.  What’s interesting is the reason that many non-Lemba supported it.  They supported the Lemba claim because the Lemba had an ancestry that was not all black African.  Those in charge at the time were white colonists, and part of keeping citizens in a colony under control is often about denigrating their abilities.  By clearly saying that Great Zimbabwe was not created by black Africans, the colonial oppressors squashed their citizens’ pride.

The tide began to turn in the mid-twentieth century, though.  David Randall McIver studied the ruins and proposed a medieval construction date.  Gertrude Caton-Thompson studied them and determined that yes, they were created by Africans, not by a people who came from elsewhere4.  Although she is to be taken with a grain of salt because she also said that Great Zimbabwe was the product of an “infantile mind.”  All scholarship on the site since the 1950s has supported African origins and construction.

But of course, there’s more to the story.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the government of Rhodesia (the state before Zimbabwe became independent) held the position that Great Zimbabwe was built by non-blacks, and they took a hard line to enforcing it.  Any archaeologists or scholars who dissented were censored.  Paul Sinclair, an archaeologist at the site during this time, stated in an interview “Censorship of guidebooks, museum displays, school textbooks, radio programmes, newspapers and films was a daily occurrence. Once a member of the Museum Board of Trustees threatened me with losing my job if I said publicly that blacks had built Zimbabwe.”5

This covering up and denial of the African origins and construction of Great Zimbabwe went on for decades.  Professor Innocent Pikirayi, a lecturer at the University of South Africa, called it “antiquarian revisionism” in a BBC project6. The truth finally came to light as Rhodesia was speeding along the road to revolution.  After the 1979 revolution the country became known as Zimbabwe, taking its name from the archaeological site.  The national symbol is the Zimbabwe Bird, the sculpture found at Great Zimbabwe.

Now, Great Zimbabwe is a symbol of accomplishment in Zimbabwe and outside of it.  It shows the world that it is not only Europeans who are capable of creating big things and complex societies.


Go forth with your new knowledge and defeat ignorance.  I’d like to make a series about underrecognized historical and archaeological sites, so consider this part one.  When’s part two coming?  No idea.  For more historical content, check out my history category, and my history playlist on YouTube.

Endnotes:
1. UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364
2. South African History Online http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/great-zimbabwe-case-study
3. The origins of the Lemba “Black Jews” of southern Africa: evidence from p12F2 and other Y-chromosome markers. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/
4. Ascribes Zimbabwe to African Bantus http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9505E6DB133AEE32A25753C2A9669D946895D6CF
5. None But Ourselves by Julie Frederikse http://www.bookdepository.com/None-But-Ourselves-Julie-Frederikse/9780852553299/?a_aid=JFloyd&a_bid=ba35a05b
6. BBC “The Story of Africa” http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/10chapter1.shtml

 

References:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/10chapter1.shtml

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/zimb/hd_zimb.htm

http://archive.archaeology.org/9807/abstracts/africa.html

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/29/travel/900-year-stone-great-zimbabwe/

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/mysteries-of-great-zimbabwe.html

http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/great-zimbabwe-case-study

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9505E6DB133AEE32A25753C2A9669D946895D6CF

http://www.bookdepository.com/None-But-Ourselves-Julie-Frederikse/9780852553299/?a_aid=JFloyd&a_bid=ba35a05b

Evaluating Primary and Secondary Sources

Let’s start with the easiest definition of primary vs secondary sources.  Primary sources are sources from where or when an event happened, or from a person who was involved in or witnessed an event.  Secondary sources are sources from those who were not involved, were not there, and often did not live in that time.

 Primary & Secondary Sources

Examples:

The journal of a civil war soldier at Gettysburg would be a primary source about Gettysburg.
A newspaper article about the battle of Gettysburg would be a secondary source about Gettysburg.

 

But it can get more complicated.  What about interviews?  What about newspaper articles?  They can both be both.  An interview can be both primary and secondary in the same interview, but about different topics.  A newspaper article could be either one.  What about news bloggers?  If they were in the event, then their blog post might be a primary source.  How about a documentary?

When you’re focusing on ancient and medieval sources, the lines become even muddier.  Often there are no direct primary sources, but the closest source is the primary source.  Ancient Romans didn’t have a lot of primary sources about the Roman republic, so when historians write about the Roman republic, they use a lot of archaeological sources, and other ancient sources such as Livy who lived after the events.  Julius Caesar’s books are frequently used sources, but he was an observer of the cultures he wrote about.  Even in the colonial era, a lot of the primary sources for indigenous peoples are that of the invading Europeans.

 

There are a few things that are always secondary sources though.  Journal articles, textbooks, reference books, and most monograph books.  As for primary sources, well, there’s nothing that is always a primary source.  A journal can recount rumor or an anecdote from a friend, an interview could contain third hand information.

 Secondary Sources

When evaluating a primary vs secondary source, you have to be critical and careful.  Each source requires an independent and thorough review, especially when studying historical time periods.  The further back a time period, the muddier the primary/secondary line becomes.

 

Here are some easy evaluation tools.  Regarding each source, ask yourself:

1) was this person involved in the event I’m researching?

2) was s/he a witness to that event?

3) does this account contain rumor or hearsay?

4) is this a legal document from the time period?

5) (if artifact) has this artifact been reliably dated to the time period?

 

For further information regarding primary and secondary sources see:

http://teachinghistory.org/best-practices/using-primary-sources/19080

http://www.princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html

http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/writing/history/sources/secondary.html

 

For the downloadable, pdf version of this guide click here: Primary & Secondary Source Guide.

Undergraduate Research Guide

Undergraduate Research Guide

 

I’ve been doing academic research for many a year.  Not longer than any of you have likely been alive, but I did start doing research projects in sixth or seventh grade, so it’s been about 11 years.  In that time, I’ve learned how to gauge a good, credible website versus a bad, not credible website.  Which by the way doesn’t mean the information is automatically right or wrong.  A lot of history (and anthropology) is about your interpretation, so information is always subjective.  Additionally, history professors can make mistakes just as easily as history enthusiasts with no training can.  So always keep a critical eye no matter what you’re reading.  

 

WEBSITES | .gov .edu .org

Evaluating websites before you cite them is important.  I trust the websites that I’ve cited above, but there are plenty of other sites.  Most sites that end in “.edu” or “.gov” are credible, because they’re produced by educational institutions or government organizations.  When I was first learning to research I was also told “.org” but the rules have changed.  Be careful with “.org” sites.  Some of them are by religious organizations, which means the facts will be reflective of their religious views.  Which is not to say that religious websites are bad, but they are subjective.

This is not to say that no “.com” websites are reliable.  But anyone can get a “.com” website, so they require further vetting.

A web search can result in lots of options, but you should always look for an author.  Then take that author’s name and google them.  You never know, MarxInHistory.com (not a real website, but one someone should totally make) could easily be run by Dr. John B. Doe, PhD in History.  But you won’t know unless you check.  I’m less critical of databases of texts, because they’re so easy to vet with other sources.

 

 

DATABASES

If you’re in university, you have access to your college’s library.  Most of them have subscriptions to various databases.  If you’re in high school, your library may still have some database access, or an agreement with a local college.  These are usually accessible through the library website.  Some are bigger than others, so it couldn’t hurt to ask a friend at a different, bigger school if their library has access to a database yours doesn’t.  A lot of city libraries also have access to a lot of databases.  I was spoiled during high school because I lived in New York and had an NYPL card.  The NYPL had a HUGE database.  It was easy to find just about anything I needed.  During college I used the DCPL database as well.  Most major cities have a lot of databases, and plenty of towns have some kind of database search.

 

LIBRARY RESEARCH

If you are struggling, I can’t recommend enough to go ask a research librarian for help.  They’re trained to do research, they can suggest new keywords, new databases, maybe they even know a book or two before researching.  Just go in and ask for help.  Especially at a university.

 

OPEN SOURCE ACADEMIA

I talked about this slant-wise in the Academia.edu section of my History Source Guide.  Lots of scholars, when legally possible, make their articles available for free.  Sometimes their doctoral dissertations too.  For my thesis I cited a doctoral dissertation I found on the internet.  Which sounds sketchy, but I researched the doctoral candidate.  (She’s a professor in Scotland now).  Google Scholar is a great source for this.  Sometimes you can find things like newsletters within departments that have been put online.  Sometimes, as a project, professors will have students create websites or blogs, and their citations can be very handy.  Sometimes professors blog, and cite sources within their blog posts.

 

Emailing A Professional

I have to preface this by saying I have never done it.  But, if you read an article, you can often email the person who wrote it.  Find an article through a database you really love?  Want to have a conversation with the professor?  It can’t hurt to email them. Their emails are often on the paper itself.  My classmate, lets call him B, actually emailed a PhD who had written a lot of books and articles in his topic, and that PhD responded!  The professor sent him an article, and gave him some ideas of where else to look.  So great things can happen from emailing a professional.

 

 

Scholarpedia | http://www.scholarpedia.org/

An alternative to Wikipedia, this is a peer-reviewed online encyclopedia written by professors.  They write comprehensive, easily accessible articles with citations.  They do focus on science and math, but if that’s your topic, you’re probably set with the articles here and their citations.

 

Google Scholar | scholar.google.com

When searching for academic articles without a university database, Google Scholar is your best friend.  While your results will sometimes be met with paywalls, you can also find some freely available sources here.

 

Directory of Open Access Journals | http://doaj.org/

Many scholars want their research to be available to all.  If only five people read your article, you’re not going to get much discussion out of it.  So some journals have made their contents freely available through the Directory of Open Access Journals.  You will have to search, but nothing is behind a paywall.

 

REFERENCE PAGES

Once you’ve found one source, you’ve got a foothold.  Check the reference page of that book or article.  They have to have referenced someone else.  Then check that article’s reference page.  Search the authors’ names.  Chances are if they’ve written one article about English piety under viking rule in Jorvik, they’ve written two.  Or they’ve written something related.  Use keywords from that book/article in your search.  Really, finding your first source is the biggest sigh of relief moment.

 

Thank you for making it all the way to the end of this long, everlasting guide.  Check back to my website (JeanniFloyd.wordpress.com) for an anthropology guide, a history guide, and more.

To download this guide as a PDF click here: Undergraduate Research Guide