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ARH101 Art History: Prehistoric through Gothic Art (Hall)

Research guide designed for ARH101 students with links to library databases, tips for scholarly research, and detailed instruction in producing an annotated bibliography.


What is a Reference Resource?

 A good place to begin research on any topic is with a general reference resource. General reference articles:

  • Provide general overviews of a topic
  • Give essential background information 
  • Explain key concepts

Reference resources can be accessed electronically or in print form. Most people don't read a reference book from cover to cover. Instead they find the article within the reference book that addresses their specific topic. They refer to those articles to find information. Reference resources (electronic OR in print) include things like:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Specialized dictionaries
  • Almanacs
  • Handbooks


Countries, People, & Culture

Practice finding a reference resource by following the instructions below.

Cultural History of Your Art Object

For this assignment you need general background information on the cultural history of the area in the world from which your non-Western art object comes. You can find this in an academic-level, reference resource.

First, identify the culture/geographic region of your art object. This is listed on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History under Object Details for each piece. For example: The Feline Head Bottle comes from Peru and is estimated to have been created in the 9th-5th century, B.C. If I were choosing this piece for my assignment, I would want to find background information on Peru (South American) cultural history.

The GCC Library owns electronic database access to a reference book series that works well for this general background:

Countries, People & Culture - this multi-volume series contains a volume for each continent and information on each country located on that continent. In addition to general country information, you will find sections on Cultural History. Follow this link to the Countries & Culture database. Select the volume that corresponds to your art object's place of origin. Need help identifying the proper volume? Ask your librarian.

  • Central & South America
  • Central, South, and Southeast Asia
  • Middle East & North Africa
  • Eastern & Southern Africa
  • Western and Central Africa
  • North America & The Caribbean (see recommended alternative source below for indigenous cultures of North America)
  • East Asia & The Pacific

For information on Peru, I would click the link for the volume on Central & South America. I would then scroll down to Peru and click on that link. On the left-hand side of the screen, I will see the table of contents. This breaks out the various subtopics about Peru available in this eBook. I suggest when you conduct this research you look carefully at the Introduction for your art object's country of origin and the Cultural History - Art section.

For indigenous cultures of North America, try this resource instead.

Handy Answer: Native American Almanac: More Than 50,000 Years of the Cultures and Histories of Indigenous Peoples

Note: Remember that reference resources are intended to be general overviews. They provide basic information. For more in depth information, you will turn to your scholarly articles and other academic resources, which narrow a broad topic to a much more specific one.

Find Articles

You can also conduct a general search for reference articles. Now, we will look for reference material beyond the culture of the art object.

The search box below allows you to search multiple library databases (electronic, organized collections of information) for reference articles. You want to click on the radio button labeled Reference beneath the search box in order to find only reference materials.

Search by typing directly into the box below. Use keywords related to your art object. Don't use too many and don't use full, complete sentences. Databases look for the individual words you type in, regardless of the order in which those words exist in an article. Put quotation marks around words you want to find in a particular order.

Example search terms:

  • Antiquities AND Peru
  • "huaca el dragon"
  • "Moche Ruler Portraits"
  • Peru AND spout*

Search for Online Articles



Examples of Reference Sources

Shown here are some examples of reference resources. You will notice that some resources are a couple of pages long while others are only a brief paragraph. A lengthier example comes from the Countries, People, & Culture database while the briefest example comes from Credo Reference. Either a lengthy or a short reference article could be useful for you, depending on your needs.


"Art Traditions in Alaska" from The Handy Answer: Native American Almanac: More Than 50,000 Years of the Cultures and Histories of Indigenous Peoples 

 "China, Buddhist Art in."  from Encyclopedia of Buddhism

"Mexico, Art In." from The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

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