Reference materials like dictionaries and encyclopedias provide important background information for understanding new topics. They are written with beginners in mind. Even if you're experienced in a research, but you're exploring a research topic that is new to you, encyclopedias and dictionaries are an excellent place to begin. If you can't clearly define the terms and theories you are researching, you won't be able to understand the scholarly research.
Use these materials before you start searching for and reading articles and books, and then revisit them when concepts are unclear.
Credo Reference and the Gale Virtual Reference Library both include hundreds of reference works covering a wide range of topics. Try searching these reference collections for your topic, time period, people of interest, and more. Both collections include reference works covering world history, African American history, Latina/o/x and Hispanic history, Native American history, women's history, LGBTQIA history, and more.
Encyclopedias contain authoritative summary information about topics in short essays. They often include references for further reading, which can be great for follow-up research. Encyclopedias may be broad in their focus, such as the Encyclopedia of American History, or more focused, such as the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia or the Encyclopedia of American Social Movements (to give just a few examples touching on American history). A variety of historical encyclopedias that are available electronically are listed below.
Dictionaries contain brief explanatory entries for terms and topics within a particular subject or field. Entries in a dictionary are usually shorter than those in encyclopedias, but the terms are sometimes used interchangeably and flexibly. Dictionaries can be helpful for glossing key ideas in a particular research area as well as for understanding new or unfamiliar terms that appear in articles and books. Many of the historical dictionaries available through the UNL Libraries are listed below.