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CLAS 199: Opening Classics (Ebbott): Opening Research

Spring 2024

Start Your Process


The Information Lifecycle helps us understand how information about an event, topic or idea might emerge and evolve over time. 

Note that this timeline is just a general sense of the information lifecycle -- the exact timing can vary greatly from one discipline to another! 

This graphic is designed to help you understand what sources might look like when studying the ancient world. 


As researchers in Classics, we might use... 

The Library Catalog [or CrossSearch]

  • May contain many types of sources (scholarly, non-scholarly, multimedia,etc., both secondary and primary) 
  • Covers a variety of subject areas; 
  • Best place to find books for background on your topic. 

Subject (Article) Databases

  • May contain many types of sources (scholarly, non-scholarly, multimedia, etc., all typically secondary)
  • Focus on a specific subject area or areas;
  • Include tools designed for specialized research. 
Primary Source Databases‚Äč
  • May contain a variety of source types (images, ancient texts, etc.) or be limited to one
  • Typically focused on the basis of one or more of the following: date; place; type of source; and/or topic. 

In order to choose an appropriate research tool, you should consider your research needs.

What do you need at this point in time? Are you still becoming familiar with your topic, or are you trying to fill specific gaps? 

What lens are you using -- that of an archeologist? A historian? A scholar of ancient literature?
Where do practitioners in that area share their knowledge and research? 

Need help selecting a research tool? Consult your professor, or a librarian! 


Any research process begins by figuring out how to search. But, where to begin? 


Spend a few minutes thinking about what words could be used to describe the topic. Be as  specific as you can. 

For each of the words you listed, think of other words or phrases you could use that mean the same thing.

Use AND and OR to make your search more or less specific! This will give you more sources to choose from.

  • When you use AND, a database will look for resources that use all of the words you entered.
  • Use OR between words that mean the same or similar things, or that you are equally interested in.

If you aren't finding much, try...

  • Rephrasing. See if you can find even 1 or 2 relevant articles, note what subjects are listed for them, and use these to try again.
  • Broadening your search. Nothing about a specific artifact? What about similar artifacts in this time/place, generally? 
  • Switching tools. Sometimes you just need a different database! 


No piece of research stands alone; each is part of a broader scholarly conversation in that topic/ field. These resources have clues that you can TRACE, if you know how to look! 

Terms– Check the abstract, subject terms and article for concepts and terms that you can use for your future searches.

Reported in Is the journal where the article was printed relevant? Try searching for other articles from this journal.

Author What else has the author(s) published on this topic? Search the databases for their other publications

Consulted by Check Google Scholar to see which articles or books have cited your sources, and to find
more-recent research which builds on your original information.

Evidence -Check the references list (or bibliography) to see what previous research this resource is drawing on. From here, you may wish to consider: 

- Previous articles or books published on your topic
- Other authors who have published on your topic
- Journals where your topic is frequently discussed

Tools for TRACE-ing: 


Part 1: What are scholarly sources? 

Scholarly sources are written by experts on a particular subject (for example, a professor or other researcher). They also go through an extra process of review and approval by a group of other experts before they can be published. Usually, scholarly articles are written for an audience of other scholars. The chart below compares the characteristics of scholarly vs. popular (non-scholarly) sources:  Handout version of popular vs. scholarly source chart; click to enlarge

author Usually staff writers and/or journalists Experts on the topic -- usually researchers, scholars and/or professors
audience General public (for "popular" consumption) Other experts (and students) in the field
editing & review Editor(s); generally concerned with grammar, style, etc., with some fact-checking Other experts ("peer reviewed"); generally concerned with quality, thoroughness of research, strength of argument, etc. 
style & design

Reasonably brief, typically uses colloquial if not informal language. Often illustrated with graphics, sidebars and other aesthetic elements. Sometimes accompanied by ads.

More extensive in length; tends to be more formal and uses specialized vocabulary. Illustrations and charts are used only when furthering content. 
goal or purpose To entertain; and/or, to share general information To share findings, advance and argument and/or engage with other scholars
sources Few or none; if sources are used, there may not be formal citations.  Typically uses many sources, cited in detailed bibliographies, footnotes and/or endnotes
examples Time Magazine; Sports Illustrated; New Yorker; Boston Globe Annual Review of Political Science; American Historical Review; Sociology of Education

It's important to keep in mind that scholarly sources are not always the best or only source available to you -- it depends on what information you are trying to find:

  • Due to the time required for a scholarly article to be researched, written, go through the peer review process and then be published, it can be difficult to find scholarly articles published about recent events, discoveries, etc.. You should expect 1-2 years between the time an event occurs or a discovery is made and the time academic research on that event begins to be published, with some exceptions! 
  • There are also plenty of reliable sources (like the Oxford Classical Dictionary) which are not technically "scholarly" by the classic definition, yet are highly respected sources which are academic in nature. 

Part 2: Checking Facts

No matter what you're researching or what kinds of information you're working with, you should always situate your source within the context of the timeline, the audience, the content, etc. Think of it like doing a background check! 

Check Your Facts! 
Fact, Fiction, or Something In-Between?  You be the judge! 
Ask yourself these questions to evaluate sources of information. 
Is this information current? Does the time frame matter?
Who is the author, publisher or sponsor of this information? 
Is this information supported by evidence? 
Who is the intended audience of this information?
What is the purpose of this information - to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade? 


Who Gets to Publish? 

Evaluating information means understanding of who decides, and how, which information becomes available to you.  "Scholarly" publishing is, by its nature, a competitive process. In order to publish in a scholarly journal or through a university press, an author often has to demonstrate a track record of successful research, as well as certain credentials (usually a PhD in the field). There are also issues, historically, with who has been able to publish. This is not only because of individual publications, but also a result of which voices (and opinions) have historically been welcomed in academia. There's a lot to unpack here! 

Librarian Shea Swauger summed some of these issues up in College & Research Libraries News

"The history of scholarly publishing is less a meritocracy of ideas and more a reflection of who held privilege in society. Access to at least one, and often multiple, intersections of privilege were almost a requisite for being considered to join in the scholarly conversation. Who and what got published was largely determined by established power structures that favored maleness, whiteness, cis-gendered heterosexuality, wealth, the upper class, and Western ethnocentrism. Note that these are still the dominant structures that control our social and scholarly discourse." (Swauger 2017, p. 603)

Because of these issues, in certain fields / around certain topics, there has been growing acceptance of voices outside of the "traditional" academic sources. 

...and Who Gets to Read It? 

Reliable information sources are expensive (which is why it's so hard to find them in Google!). People who are not affiliated with a college or university, who study/work at a university with poor funding, and/or who live in an area where internet may be restricted or unreliable, have less access to "scholarly" information than others. This influences who can benefit from scholarly information, and subsequently who is able to conduct research of their own on the basis of high-quality existing research. 

When scholars publish their work, they do sometimes have the option to make that work fully available for everyone to read. Much of the time, however, that option costs them thousands of dollars out of pocket (and note, by the way, that scholars do not get paid for publishing, peer-reviewing publications, or -- usually -- editing the publications together!). 

This graphic from Duke University Libraries shares examples of how information privilege can show up even at the student level: 


Classics Librarian

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Jennifer Whelan
Coordinator of Research & Information Literacy

Dinand 203