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Welcome to the Classics subject guide - your guide to using the library resources, services and facilities for your subject.

Research a topic

While your course Resource Lists are were you would normally start when beginning to explore a topic, a major part of your learning at university is doing your own research. This means you need to be able to do a comprehensive search for books, journal articles, texts, and other sources relevant to a specific topic that provide a base of knowledge, help you explore a topic and allow you to form your own ideas and opinions on the topic.

This is often referred to as literature searching. To search for this literature you need to use Library resources, such as DiscoverEdLibrary research databases, etc. 

Literature searching - Classics

You can use the Library's research databases to search for journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, theses, conference reports, etc. Research databases usually cover specific subject areas and these databases are recommended for Classics and Ancient History. 


If you know exactly what you're looking for e.g. a journal article, book, etc., then you should search for it in DiscoverEd as it searches both the Library's online and physical collection

However, ​you can also use DiscoverEd to do some basic literature searching and can be a good place to start.

Google Scholar Search

Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Like DiscoverEd, Google Scholar can be a good place to start your search but it does not allow for advanced or complex searching as in the Research Databases.

Access eresources using Google Scholar 

Google Scholar may not provide access to full-text, however, by linking to the Library you can access full-text where there is a University subscription. 

  1. Selecting Settings from the top of the Google Scholar Home Page
  2. Selecting Library Links
  3. Search for University of Edinburgh. Select it from the list and Save your settings

You will now see FindIt@Edinburgh links next to items in your Google Scholar results that you can use to access the full-text.

This short video below demonstrates how to do this.

Reference works, texts, epigraphy

You can find more reference works related to Classics and Ancient History, both online and in print, by searching DiscoverEd. 

There are a number of open access online resources you may find useful in this area. Here are just a selection of some available:

Images, audio-visual, primary sources

The University has access to an extensive range of online primary source and archival collections covering 100s of years of world history. These databases contain digitised copies of a vast range of primary source documents and material. 

Not sure what database to use to search for primary source material or documents? Don't worry, these guides will help you identify primary source databases by time period, country/region or theme, as well as useful cross-searching tools and platforms.

Searching effectively

While it can be tempting to launch straight into a search, knowing how to search effectively and planning your search before you begin will save you time and ensure your search results are relevant.


It can be useful to think about the following:


  • What is your research question?
    • What questions do you need answers to? What are the gaps in your information?
    • Don't be too broad or too narrow with your topic, it has to be manageable.
    • Do you have any limits to your search?
      • Time period
      • Geographical location
      • Language
  • Keywords are key
    • What are the key concepts you need to research and what keywords or phrases can be used to describe these.
    • Don't just stick to the first ones you think of (which you will generally get from your research question). 
      ​You need to also think of:
      • Synonyms
      • Related terms
      • Alternative spellings and variations in terminology
      • Variations in terminology over time
      • Abbreviations
      • Technical terms
  • Where to search?
    • The databases on this page are all recommended for History but "history" is a broad subject area and you need to look at the databases description to see if it is relevant for your particular topic.While some databases might just cover history in general others will cover specific time periods or countries or events, etc., not all will be relevant for your search.
    • However, you will often have to search more than one database to ensure you don't miss any key papers or documents. While there is crossover between the databases each will also have unique material.
  • Better searching
    • Use boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine your keywords and phrases together to produce better search results.
      • AND
        Allows you to narrow your search results. By using AND you're telling the database to only bring back search results if they feature all keywords.
      • OR
        Allows you to broaden your search results. By using OR you're telling the database to brin gback search results if they feature any of the keywords.
      • NOT
        Allows you to narrow your search results by excluding keywords from your search. NOT should be used with caution and isn't widely used in humanities.
  • Improving your search results
    • Whether you are getting too few or too many results or if your results don't seem that relevant there are ways to improve your results by using just some of these options:
      • Phrase searching
      • Field searching
      • Truncation and wildcards
      • Chaining

Useful further resources


For further help or advice contact your Academic Support Librarian (ASL):

Accessing material not in the library collection

If the library does not have what you want then there are different ways of getting access to the material:

The Inter-Library Loan (ILL) Service: 

This allows you to request material either held at distant university library sites including the  University Collections Facility, or material not held by the university. 

Request a book image

Book Recommendations: 

If you are unable to find the book that you need for your studies then use the Student Request a Book (RaB) service to recommend a purchase.

Visit another library: 

It may be possible (and sometimes quicker) to visit another library to get access to the item you require. Some reciprocal schemes and agreements allow our staff and students access to some other libraries

SAGE Research Methods

A good starting point for information on research methods is SAGE Research Methods. 

It contains content on the steps involved in a research project, including a full range of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods for the social and behavioural sciences, as well as many methods commonly used in the hard sciences.

Topics: Key concepts in research, Philosophy of research, Research ethics, Planning research, Research design, Data collection, Data quality and data management, Qualitative data analysis, Quantitative data analysis,  Writing and disseminating research.

SAGE Research Methods also includes a project planner designed to guide you through a research project.