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CLAS 199: Opening Classics (Ebbott): Working with Material Culture

Spring 2024

Recommended for "Reference"

Ancient Sources



Secondary sources like classical encyclopedias and dictionaries, as well as commentaries and other books, sometimes provide helpful references to ancient texts that you may want to follow. These could appear in the bibliography, OR they could be presented as part of the text (or both). For example, here is the Oxford Classical Dictionary entry for Cadmus (highlighting added to show references): 

You will need to decipher these abbreviations before you can determine which ancient text the encyclopedia is referencing. Fortunately, most reference books of this kind provide information about how they use abbreviations somewhere at the front of the book (note that if you are using a multi-volume series, this information may be at the front of each volume or may be limited to the first volume). 

If the list is standard enough, you may be able to find it in other sources. For example, Oxford makes their abbreviation list available online:

Some texts use additional terminology in Latin or Greek that may not be defined in the abbreviation list. You can look these up in your preferred Latin or Greek dictionary, in the Perseus Digital Library, or sometimes even in a reputable English dictionary like the Oxford English Dictionary. 

For example, the bibliography for the Oxford Classical Dictionary's article on Cadmus uses the term passim with several citations. 

Passim is Latin for "scattered," and is used to indicate that the article has used references from throughout the cited publication,  in lieu of providing exact page numbers (this is not, of course, a technique that you want to use on your own assignments!)

Secondary Research


Books and ebooks can provide basic facts, context and vocabulary to help you conduct more detailed research. They often provide a "big-picture" overview of a particular topic, which can help you identify the more specific topics that you want to pursue and understand the context surrounding those topics.  You may also encounter books that are edited collections. These usually contain essays by a number of scholars on different topics surrounding a central theme, and are a great way to quickly gain multiple, reliable perspectives. 

Articles tend to be good sources for detailed information on a very specific topic, or thoughtful analysis of issues or a particular text or artifact. Because they are usually published more quickly than books, they may have more current information than books on the same topic (check the publication date!

Books tend to be more helpful towards the beginning of a research project or of a new phase of your research. Articles tend to be more helpful once you've engaged with a book or two, or at least have a solid grounding in the basics of the topic. 


CrossSearch is the Libraries' multi-search "discovery" tool. CrossSearch searches a cross-section of journal articles, newspapers, CDs, images, and many other types of resources available through the libraries. It is also our main library catalog -- the tool you use to find books, journals, films, and other items physically located in the library, as well electronic versions of those items. 

To leave out individual articles and focus on things like books and films, you can use the Catalog Only limit in CrossSearch. 

Watch our video tutorial 📺 to learn more about CrossSearch. If you're not a CrossSearch fan, you can also use the Library Catalog to find books. 

Try searching for books using a very basic keyword search. Books tend to be on broad topics, so the terms you search with should be broad, too! Once you've found a few books that look interesting to you, you can use clues from the books to help you find other books. For example.... 

  • Call Numbers. Books on similar subjects are in similar areas of the library. For example, if you search for books about Piranesi, you would see pretty quickly that many books have call numbers starting with NE2052 (or nearby). This means you can easily go to that section of the library and look through the books in person! 

  • Vocabulary. Check the records in the library catalog for vocabulary in the tables of contents, titles, descriptions or other information that you might use for future searches. 
  • Subjects. Every book in our catalog is marked with at least 1 "tag" that tells you what the book is mostly about, and links together other books on that same topic. You can click on the tags to find a list of all other books using that tag.


At Holy Cross, we organize our books using a system called Library of Congress Classification or LCC. LCC is based on the subject of the books. Each letter represents a specific subject. Each subject is broken down into more specific letter sections, each of which is further broken down into number ranges for specific topics. Most call numbers have additional  numbers and letters on the end of them, which are used to give each book a unique spot on the library shelves. 


  • Reference Books are in the Main Reading Room. These books must stay in the library.
  • Books whose numbers begin with letters A through G are on the Mezzanine level (1 floor down from the Main Reading Room).
  • Books whose numbers begin with N or TR are in the Visual Arts Wing on the main level. 
  • Books whose numbers begin with letters H through Z are mostly on the Ground (bottom) level.
  • Books whose numbers begin with are in the Music Library in Brooks Hall.
  • Books whose numbers begin with Q, R, S or are in the Science Library in Swords Hall.

The Stacks Guide handout attached below has more information about how the stacks are organized, and the best places for you to look. 

You can also watch our video tutorial  to learn more about how call numbers work. Or, check out the Library of Congress Classification Outline for a detailed breakdown of our call number system. 

Here are some of the general sections you might visit in your study of ancient material culture: 

C, for archaeology 
for history
 for artistic depictions, architecture, etc. 
for literature
for technology (this will be in the Science Library)


When researching archaeology, you may see many books of interest in a location beginning with WAM (WAM Reading Room, WAM Stack Room). These books are held by the Worcester Art Museum Library, one of our Holy Cross Libraries.  As Holy Cross students, you have multiple ways to access these books! 

  • Visit WAM yourself (free with your HC ID!) and check out a book in-person; 
  • Use the Request button for these books in the Library Catalog (click on the record for the book, then look under the call number: 
  • Email to request to have these books delivered to Dinand Library. 
  • Place an Interlibrary Loan request (in which case you may get WAM's copy, or one from another library). 

Books relating to ancient (and modern) technology and environmental studies will usually be in the Science Library in Smith Labs. 


Research Databases are tools designed to help you search the scholarly (and other) articles and resources available to you through the Holy Cross Libraries.  Article databases are like very long bibliographies of articles that might interest you -- some that are available physically at Holy Cross, some available online, and some that we have to borrow from other libraries. 

We have access to over 300 databases!

Here are the ones you might find most helpful for researching material culture in the ancient world: