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Art & Art History: Getting Started

A research guide to finding books, articles, and other resources in Art and Art History

Start with overviews

The best way to start a research project is by reading overviews of your topic. An overview is a text that summarizes the basic facts about your topic. Overviews are also called "tertiary sources."

Examples of overviews:

  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Textbooks
  • Study guides

An overview is just a starting point. Don't cite overviews. The reason why we don't cite overviews is that they don't provide any original information -- they only give you a condensed summary of what other people have said about the topic. Instead of citing an overview, read the overview and write down clues that you could search for in the library, to find sources that you can cite.

Clues you might find in overviews:

  • The names of important people, places, and things.
  • Other sources that you could cite (listed as citations).

Overview websites

Reference Books

Reference books for Artreference book is a book that contains short overviews or summaries of many topics. Encyclopedias are the most common type of reference book. You can find reference books in the Reference section, which is on the first floor of Simpson Library.

For most topics in art or art history, the best source for background information is the Dictionary of Art:

The Dictionary of Art looks like this:

The Dictionary of Art, a 34-volume encyclopedia, on the shelves in the Reference section of Simpson Library



Here are some other reference books that are useful for getting started with Art or Art History topics:

General Reference Books for Art

Biographical Information about Artists

Architecture Reference Books

Subject Guide

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Peter Catlin

What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia logo

Is it okay to use Wikipedia for a college research project?

Yes, but only as a starting point.

Wikipedia is an excellent starting point. You should use Wikipedia! Read Wikipedia articles, and write down clues that you find. Follow the citations at the bottom of Wikipedia articles. Use these clues to find sources you can cite.

Don't cite Wikipedia.

Don't assume that everything you read in Wikipedia is true. Treat Wikipedia as a collection of valuable rumors. Follow up on each rumor, using trustworthy sources, to see whether the rumor is true.