I admit it: when my librarian emailed excitedly about a new bibliography tool that we had access to, I wasn’t that excited. Like most classicists (I think), I’m pretty happy with using APh and JStor, as well as trawling through footnotes. But my students have always struggled with bibliography and they have a research paper coming up. It seemed like as good a time as any to check this new tool out, put together a user guide, and post it to our course website.
It turns out that sometimes librarians get excited for good reasons. Oxford Bibliographies (which are subscription-only) are useful for undergrads and more advanced researchers. While I wouldn’t use the site to stay current in my field of research, I’m planning on coming back to review some topics for teaching. And if you’re at the seminar or early-dissertation stage, well … you’re luckier than I was.
To use Oxford Bibliographies Online, you need to log in. From my library website, you log in to the main page of OBO. From there, you need to head to the Classics section by clicking ‘Classics‘ under Browse by Subject:
Within the main Classics section, you have a few options for locating your material. All of the entries are arranged alphabetically, but you’ll probably notice that there are a lot of them!
If you know the exact heading that you’re looking for (an author like Aeschylus or Catullus, for example), you can use the ‘Jump to’ box. Enter the name or topic that you want, and you’ll be taken right there. But be careful: if your spelling is wrong (or simply not the spelling that OBO uses), you’ll get unexpected results. Here are the hits for “Catulus” rather than “Catullus”:
And if you type in a result that the computer can’t recognize (the Hellenized spellings Aiskhylos or Aiskhines, for example), you’re sent back to the main page. So you may want to use the letters to navigate through the site, especially if you’re interested in a large subtopic like “Roman literature.”
The “Roman” section itself can be a little confusing, since it is listed sort-of alphabetically. When you click on the R, you get a series of topics alphabetized by the second term as well as the first. This is easier to explain by a visual:
The first topic, Art and Archaeology (Research..), comes before Archaeology (Roman) because its first term, Research Resources for Classical, begins Re-. Compare Archaeology’s first term, Roman, which begins Ro-. Re– comes before Ro-, so even though Archaeology should come before Art, it doesn’t. If you’re still confused, don’t worry: what this means for you is that if you don’t see what you’re looking for at first, keep scrolling and remember to look at the words after the comma as well as before it. The letters on top are keyed to the words after the comma. We can consider them ‘categories’. Within each category, the terms are alphabetized as you’d expect. You may find it easier to think of these pages as an index rather than a table of contents or list of entries; they’re organized in the same way.
Once you’re in an entry, you can also navigate alphabetically using the right-hand sidebar.
The topics are arranged alphabetically exactly like they are in the welcome page, and the Jump to Other Articles box is the same as the Jump to… box on the main page. So there are a lot of options for locating material.
Once you’ve found the topic you’re interested in, the real fun can begin. Let’s say that your topic is Alexander. When you click on Alexander the Great from the main page or a sidebar, you get a treasure trove of information. This can be divided into two parts: brief introductions, and section bibliographies.
In the screenshot above, you can see the Introduction to this entire entry to Alexander (it’s long!). Right underneath, you can see a section called General Overviews and Monographs. This section includes another short introduction, also about a paragraph, as well as the full bibliography of the most important general works on Alexander.
If you click on the green links in the introduction, you’ll be taken directly to the the bibliographic entry for that author. Similarly, the last green link (Alexander’s Youth and Philip II) is a sub-entry of this OBO entry. If you click on that, you’ll get taken further down the webpage. Let’s pause there for a second, because this is an important structuring concept. Alexander is such an important figure that his bibliography entry includes many sub-entries. If you already know that you’re interested in only part of Alexander’s career – for example, how he managed to care for his empire – you can use a small menu on the left-hand sidebar to locate only the material you’re interested in.
It’s basically a table of contents for the bibliography, and is arranged hierarchically from broad overviews to more specific studies. So this particular entry starts with biographies, moves to collections of articles and sourcebooks, and from there goes on to specific topics, such as specific works on primary sources; works dealing with Alexander’s goals; his military successes and tactics; and his relations with foreign peoples (among many others). Some topics can be expanded. There’s an example of this above, under General Overviews and Monographs: if you click the (+) sign, the link for Alexander the Great Online appears and (if you click a second time) disappears.
Oxford also suggests similar topics (some of them are more extensive than just ‘Hellenistic history’). When there are several Related Articles, they might be worth your time to look at; you could find interesting comparative material (always within the Classics bibliography – no cross-cultural comparisons). Unlike Related Articles, which are always relevant to the page you’re on, the Forthcoming Articles are static and won’t necessarily have anything to do with your research topic.
Now that we’ve covered the left-hand sidebar, we can take a look at an actual bibliographic entry.
As you can see, you get the full bibliographic entry for this book, as well as a brief explanation of its contents and value. You then have a few tools to help you locate and use it. Save Citation is only available to users with an account – it’s free, but that might be more effort than you want to expend on OBO (your call). You can also Export [the] Citation to many different reference managers, including Zotero, RefWorks, and EndNote, or E-Mail [the] Citation to yourself or a friend. These two tools don’t require a login, and they include the summary of the exported work (so you won’t forget why you exported it – not that I have any experience with that, of course!).
But I think most useful is Find this Resource, which I have expanded in the top view but which originally appears in closed form:
When you click on the (+) sign, you can see the pages and red arrow that are visible in the first screenshot. This offers a link to your home library catalogue (mine is called Summon, which is why it’s in green above), and the OBO will enter all of the relevant information into the catalogue for you.
TIP: this is great news for MA/PhD students who are searching for foreign-language bibliography (yes, it’s included in OBO!). It solves the problem of whether you need to use an umlaut or an -e- in German names and titles, for example, and gets rid of any potential problems caused by poor copying (or even typos in your original article).
From the catalogue, you’re in your own library environment and we can’t offer much help, so if you need assistance there you’ll have to ask your friendly librarian.
To summarize: Oxford Bibliographies supply peer-reviewed and expert-recommended sources on a variety of topics in antiquity, and cover secondary and primary sources from beginner to expert level. If you have a subscription, I recommend checking them out!