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STHS 202: History of Modern Science & Technology

Why use subject encyclopedias?

Subject encyclopedias are invaluable starting points in the research process:

  • The topic overviews subject encyclopedias provide can help you figure out whether or not you need to narrow or expand the scope of your research project.
  • The entries are written by scholars with expertise in the subject area, so you can be assured of the quality of the information.
  • The bibliographies or "suggestions for further reading" found at the end of entries will lead you to important scholarly work on the topic.  The bibliographies sometimes also identify key primary sources, too.

An investment of thirty minutes of your time with subject encyclopedias thus can save you hours of digging or flailing about in the sea of information!

Online Subject Encyclopedia Collections

The following links will take you to large digital collections of subject encyclopedias.  The Gale eBooks is an especially good place to start for STS courses, as it includes the Mcgraw-Hill Dictionary of Science & Technology, Science and Its Times, and the Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

In most cases, you will be able to find what you need within the Gale collection, and should start there.  Oxford and Sage can be backups.

Concept Mapping

Concept maps are a tool to help you:

  • explore your topic;
  • discover possible lines of inquiry;
  • consider search terms;
  • brainstorm resources to investigate.

Ask yourself: what do I already know about my topic? what am I curious about? what kind of data do I need, and where am I likely to find that data?

From a disciplinary perspective, think about what kind of questions scholars and experts in that discipline are interested in, and how they would ask those questions or measure their findings. What types of measurements will they be taking? 

Finally, consider what you know about the resources available to you, and the types of sources that would be most helpful for you, and where might be most fruitful for you to begin your search. Are you looking for primary sources, such as newspaper articles? Do you need contemporary news articles or historical ones? If you're following up on the scholarly conversation around your topic, do you need to look for work by historians? Scientists? Sociologists? 

The process is simple: start with a subject in the center, then:

  • In the space around the central concept, write words or phrases for any relevant subtopics.
  • For each of your focus subtopics, add related terms/concepts to your map.
  • Continue to fill out your branches with ideas or questions about types of resources you may wish to start with.