Getting started reading from bibliographies

One of my Year One students recently asked for some help getting started with reading for her first assessed essay in Ancient History. She was finding the reading list that we provide a bit overwhelming and wanted me to suggest what she should start with. I, however, didn't want to just point her towards any particular work in there, for a couple of reasons: I wouldn't want her to be influenced too much by my own research interests; I haven't read all of them myself and that shouldn't lead her to miss anything; and, it most of all depends on what sort of argument she would like to make (I knew the topic she'd elected but nothing more). Navigating through the research literature is part of the skills that we all want to develop in our students, and I didn't want to unduly narrow down her choices.

So, I offered some general advice on how to get started with the provided bibliography that I thought might be worth posting here. 
  • Start with the Oxford Classical Dictionary, which will itself usually suggest a very selective starting bibliography which will have overlapping works with the longer ones we provide you. Similarly Oxford's and Cambridge's 'Campanion to...' series will give you a good start, as will the Cambridge Ancient History (that goes for most subjects).
  • Think about what you might want to argue in your essay first, and then look for works that deal with points that you want to also deal with.
  • Many of the books will be located near each other in the library; spend some time consulting their tables of contents and indexes to see if they contain what you need for your argument and are written in a accessible way
  • It will probably help if you consult a least some works from each of the relevant sections of the bibliography, so that your reading is rounded
  • Mixing articles with books can be a good way of accessing varied viewpoints without having to slog through thousands of pages (and don't forget you don't have to have read a whole work to be able to find useful ideas that you can use and reference in your own work). 
  • In general veer towards newer works, if they look relevant, because they will often situate the older ones in context, whereas the older ones cannot look forwards to newer work.
The student in question sent quite a nice email back thanking me for focussing her reading; it's always nice to know that the time spent thinking about and composing this sort of guidance is appreciated.

Is is is there anything I left out, or anything you disagree with? How do you get your students started with lengthy bibliographies?


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