Research & Documentation Online 5th Edition

Researching in the Humanities

Research in the humanities generally involves interpreting a text or a work of art within a historical and cultural context, making connections, exploring meaning, and uncovering contradictions. Scholars in the humanities typically use library resources in at least three ways:

  • to obtain primary sources to be interpreted or analyzed
  • to find secondary sources to put primary sources in a critical context
  • to seek answers to specific questions that arise during research

Research in the humanities is often interdisciplinary, bridging literature and history, philosophy and art, or music and religion. Because the subject areas are harder to categorize, the terminology used in humanities research may be less solid and agreed upon than that in other fields. Researchers in the humanities are more likely to draw material from texts and artifacts than from original data gathering and experimentation. They must be prepared to be

  • flexible, both in search terminology and in search strategy
  • tolerant of multiple perspectives on the same object of study
  • prepared to use citations in relevant texts to locate other material and clarify connections among works
  • willing to return to the library as new questions arise

Fortunately, there are many fine research tools to help. Those listed here are not available in every library, but they give you some ideas for how to start. Always bear in mind, too, that librarians are particularly user-friendly resources. Ask a librarian for recommended research tools as you begin your research, and use the librarian’s expertise as your research progresses and your questions grow more specific.

Use the menu at the top left for help with Finding Sources or Documenting Sources in the humanities.