United States History: Topical Overviews
Why use a reference work?
Reference works help you rapidly acquire an authoritative overview of a topic, relaying fundamental facts and interpretations of those facts that have won the consensus of most scholars in a discipline. Because each entry in an encyclopedia, dictionary, or handbook is written by an expert scholar and typically also includes references to standard scholarly works on a topic, they can be a useful starting point for deeper research into aspects of a topic that scholars continue to debate.
While reference resources on the open web, such as Wikipedia, can be a useful beginning point for your work, you should bear in mind that a resource editable by private individuals working on their own or, in the case of Wikipedia, anyone with web access, does not bear the same authority or maintain the same objectivity as a resource produced by a professional scholar and/or published by a respected publishing company. Similar to scholarly reference works, Wikipedia articles often also contain citations to serious scholarship, in print or online, which you can find on your own or with the help of a librarian. So remember: Wikipedia is an acceptable starting point for research, but you should always make an effort to locate, evaluate, and cite resources with a greater degree of authority when you produce your final research.