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Historical Studies Library Guide: How to follow references

A general guide for students in Historical Studies

How to follow references, find books, articles, theses, conference papers...

If you are doing a taught course, rather than a purely research one, you are likely to be handed a reading list.

And if you are doing a research course you will have to generate your own reading list often by following up references you find in books, other people’s theses, and journal articles.

You can find yourself looking for

* books

* chapters in books

* articles in journals,

* theses

* conference papers, proceedings…

* unpublished papers


You must be able to distinguish between these types of references in order to find them, and know the tools for finding each.


Books and Chapters in Books

Finding books:

 A reference which lists a publisher and the place where the item was published usually refers to a book. 

For example: 

Cohen, Josh, How to read Freud (London : Granta Books, 2005.)

Once you know that you're trying to find a book, identify the author's or editor's name, or the title of the book and search the library catalogue.

If you don’t find it, come to the Reference Desk and we’ll check the national catalogue and then ask our Inter-Library loans department to get it for you if it is in South Africa.

We’ve also been known to buy books at the request of students, particularly postgraduate students, (though we tend to like a word of agreement from an appropriate academic first), but these can take a while to arrive.


Finding a CHAPTER in a book:

Some books are made up of a collection of chapters or papers, each one written by a different author and then edited by one or more editors.

The author and title details of the chapter are given first, followed by the word IN, followed by details of the book as a whole: the editor, the title of the book and the publication details.

 Finally the pages of the chapter are given. Usually the title of the book is distinguished by being underlined or put in italics. 

For example:

 Nightingale, D. 1997 . Understanding and practicing critical psychology. In Fox, D. (ed.) Critical psychology: an introduction, London, Sage, pp 68-84

 So you’d look for the book, (not the chapter in the book) on the library catalogue, either searching under the title of the edited book, or under author for the name of the editor.

But you will NOT find it on the catalogue if you look for the title of the CHAPTER or the AUTHOR OF THE CHAPTER.

Journals and Journal Articles

Finding articles in journals:

Same story as chapters in books – look for the Journal, not the Article on the catalogue.

You can often find them in (1) print format or in (2) electronic format.

Finding a print journal

You can find printed journals on the library catalogue by searching for the Journal title. Remember, if you are following a reference to a journal article, the library catalogue will not list that article – only the journal which contains it.

The title of the journal is often either underlined or in italics.  

For example:

 Bojuwoye, O. 2002. Stressful experiences of first year students of selected universities in South Africa. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Sep, Vol. 15 Issue 3, p277-290

The reference will also indicate the specific year, volume and pages of the article. The catalogue record will show you whether we have all the issues of that journal. Make sure that the library has the year or volume for which you are looking.

If we don’t have the journal in print, or don’t have that specific volume, we can try the national catalogue for an inter-library loan, but we’d check for an electronic version first.

Finding a journal in electronic form on our A-Z list of electronic journals.

Under “Electronic Resources” on the Library homepage you will find a link to a list of the Electronic Journals to which we subscribe – round about 40 000 of them, by the way.

You can search the list for a journal alphabetically or by title.

You can browse complete issues of a journal, or search within it for particular terms.

Often the latest electronic version is available weeks before we get the latest issue in print, so it is a good way of keeping current with a favourite journal.

Unfortunately, publishers sometimes embargo the latest electronic issue (delay it by a few months) to protect their print sales.


Finding a Thesis

Finding a thesis:

It is important to see what other theses have been done in your field if you are starting a Master's or Doctoral thesis. It would be disastrous to find that you have spent a year repeating somebody else’s work, and may lead to suspicion of plagiarism.

It is also useful to see what similar work has been done on your topic – you can use a thesis’s references and bibliography as a starting point and take the research further, or explore a different angle. Often the thesis itself will constitute a body of material that is available nowhere else – results from an individual’s primary research in a local town or suburb, for example.

If a Master's or Doctoral thesis was done at UCT, you will find it on the catalogue the same way you would a book – look for the author’s last name or words from the title or both.

If it was done at another South African university we can get a copy through Inter-library loan or, increasingly, simply download it for free from that university’s web site.

This is sometimes possible for overseas theses too, but most likely we would have to buy a copy. This can often be done, but is expensive and the thesis will take some time to arrive.


Finding South African theses - three options:

 * Union Catalogue of Theses and Dissertations (UCTD) - via Sabinet Online

Bibliographic records of theses and dissertations at Master's and Doctoral level submitted to universities in SA since 1918. Updated annually.

 * South African Studies (Incorporated with African Studies to form Africa-Wide: NiPAD)

A unique anthology of 9 different databases providing access to over 592,000 records. South African Studies supplies unprecedented access to the great majority of documents published in and about South Africa, including journal articles, theses, dissertations and current research.

 * Nexus Database System

Provided by the National Research Foundation, Nexus includes databases of: Current and Completed Research Projects in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The database of Current and Completed Research Projects requires a password - please contact the Library on 650 3703.


Finding other African theses: 

* Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD)

The Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD) is a program to improve management and access to African scholarly work. It is an abstracts database containing information from 11 African institutions, some as far back as 1982.


Finding American and some UK theses

WorldCat Dissertations and Theses
This database provides access to the dissertations and theses available in OCLC member libraries. Many theses are available electronically, at no charge, directly from the publishing institution. (Librarian’s note - a tab labeled “internet” comes up with the search, allowing you to restrict the search to those theses which are freely available online.)

 * Dissertation Abstracts

With more than 2 million entries, Dissertation Abstracts is the single, central, authoritative resource for information about doctoral dissertations and master's theses. Dissertations published from 1980 forward include 350- word abstracts written by the author.

Master's theses published from 1988 forward include 150-word abstracts. Titles available PDFs include free twenty-four page previews. UMI offers over 1.8 million titles for purchase in microform, paper or electronic formats.

Some of our other databases, particularly Humanities International, SocIndex for general social sciences, MLA for literature, EconLit for economics, and PsycInfo for psychology, provide abstracts of theses along with abstracts of books and journal articles. You will often encounter a reference to a relevant thesis when searching for journal articles or book chapters on these databases.



Finding Conference Papers & Proceedings

Finding conference papers or proceedings:

A reference to a paper from a conference or seminar will often contain the words Proceedings of..., Conference..., Symposium or Papers from... in the title, followed by the organisation involved or the title of the conference.

Some papers or collections of papers are published on their own and are very much like books, having a clear title and author or editor. 

For example:

 Evaluating social programs and problems : visions for the new millennium / edited by Stewart I. Donaldson, Michael Scriven ; the Stauffer Symposium on Applied Psychology at the Claremont Colleges.   Mahwah, N.J. : Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003.


Find them as you would any other book on the library catalogue, searching for title or editor or both.

But SOMETIMES the reference will be to a paper BURIED in the report of the conference, the way individual chapters are buried in books.

In that case look on the catalogue for the report of the conference, not the individual paper, just as you would look for a journal, not a journal article, or a book, not a chapter in a book.

And make sure you have the right year – many conferences are held annually, so if you are looking for a paper delivered at a 2003 conference, then you are specifically after the 2003 reports, for example, not the 1985 ones.

If you run into difficulty, try doing a keyword search on the catalogue for significant words from the title of the conference or the name of the organising group (e.g. Stauffer Symposium on Applied Psychology).

If it is not at UCT we will look on the national catalogue and try for an Inter-Library loan.

On a  cheery note, some organizations do put up their conference papers free on the web, so a Google search can help you here, with a bit of luck.


Finding Unpublished Papers

Finding unpublished papers:

Errrm – these are tricky. Also they can mean two things – (1) papers composed and read out at a conference, seminar, as a draft of an article, etc…. Or (2) papers left, often in a bundle, to an institution or archive by an individual, living or dead.

(1)   Modern papers – things read out at conferences and the like - will sometimes be on a catalogue or the national catalogue if they have been donated to a library.

Sometimes they will have been written up or developed into a proper journal article and published, perhaps with a new title – searching for the author and main keywords of the paper on our journal databases can help to dig them out.

But frankly, it is difficult.

Google can help with this since many people put unpublished papers up on their private or organization’s or academic department’s web site.

If there isn’t a donated print or free electronic version to be found, then we are down to asking the author if they would please e-mail us a copy directly. The library can do this for you, or simply provide you with the contact details if you’d like to make one-to-one contact.

We can usually find contact details in our reference books of academic institutions, World of Learning, for example, is a useful electronic source for this.  Otherwise we just Google them of course.


(2)   Collections of an individual or organisation’s papers.

There are national directories, such as Record Repositories in Great Britain: a geographical directory which will help to identify the repository which has the papers of particular people. A good American directory is available free on the web from the Library of Congress, by the way, – search for “National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections” on Google.

 Even better, though - we have just obtained access to ArchiveGrid, in our A-Z databases list.

Provides access to nearly a million descriptions of archival collections owned by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies and archives worldwide. Password required for access. Please contact your librarian for details.

 Our own Manuscripts and Archives Library has links to many such directories on its web page.

Although manuscript collections are often not listed on the library catalogue, it is possible to find if the archive has anything useful to your research by checking the finding aids on the archive website. These are detailed lists of each collection and you can do a word search across all the lists. Go to our own Manuscripts & Archives website at  and click on finding aids.

The staff in Manuscripts & Archives are also able to help you in finding material that you need.

Thereafter, viewing collections of an individual’s papers deposited in any library or archive would usually involve visiting that collection and looking through them.

But do get in touch with the library or archive before flying out to some repository in Transylvania, or wherever it is.

There may be a catalogue which lists and describes the individual papers in the collection, either a published one (like the Guide to manuscripts in the Alan Paton Centre and Archives, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg) or one written up by the library or archive which houses them (our own Manuscripts and Archives department does a great many such).

Sometimes the catalogue will be available on the web, or an archivist can do a search of their in-house catalogue on your behalf and give you an idea of what is actually there.

Sometimes digital versions of the original document will be available from that library or archive, or copies of a particular letter or field report can be made and sent to you (for a fee, as a rule).


A last point

A last point:

Librarians are quite good at finding things. In fact, we are noted for it - we do it for a living. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask for it.