So, you have your books and articles, and right now it may seem as if you have a mammoth task ahead of you. And you do, but it will be an enjoyable one.
The publications listed in the bibliographies of the LÄ, the OEAE, and other similar reference works, are likely to be quite general, and so they provide a great basis for your research. It is a good idea to spend a good amount of time reading these. Throughout the course of your reading, make a note of anything that you find particularly interesting, or any specific topics that you would like to research further and take note of any bibliographical references. This will help you to narrow down your topic to a more specific one. For example, if you have chosen to research Ramesses II, there are a huge number of specific aspects that you could look at – military campaigns, foreign relations, or art and architecture. Within each of these categories, there are a multitude of further topics. For art and architecture, you could focus on the Ramesseum, and to narrow it down further, you could choose to research one particular wall relief. General topics such as ‘Ramesses II’ are best left to the encyclopedias, due to the sheer amount of information that would need to be covered in order to give a complete picture.
Hopefully by now you have your specific topic. As an example, we’ll focus on the popular view that the First Intermediate Period was a ‘dark age’. The general publications will have given you some further titles to look at and your pile of books will be even larger. You are probably thinking that there are not enough hours in the day to read everything that you have. Scanning and skimming are excellent ways to read for academic research, particularly when you have a lot of publications to get through. The Open University offers excellent advice about efficient reading, including scanning and skimming and also note taking.
I find it useful to make a note of some key words and phrases which I then look out for while scanning and skimming. They also allow you to consult the index of a book in order to quickly find what you are looking for. For our topic, you might choose words and phrases such as ‘dark age’, ‘art’, ‘pottery’, ‘technology’, and ‘burial customs’ – it is dependent on what you want to focus on. You might decide that you want to focus on the art of the period, comparing it to that of the Old Kingdom to see if there is a decline in quality or quantity, and so key words might include ‘art’, ‘relief’, ‘monuments’, and ‘statues’.
As you read, do keep making a note of further publications to look at. It really is like a treasure hunt – each book or article is like a clue that leads you on to more and more books and articles.
You will find that there is more than one opinion regarding your topic. Some scholars believe that the First Intermediate Period was a ‘dark age’, a far cry from the beauty and prosperity of the Old Kingdom. However, there are other scholars who believe that this is not the case, arguing that the First Intermediate Period was a time of technological advances. It is a good idea to make a note of the different arguments, and keep a record of who argues for them, and who argues against them. You will eventually decide which argument you agree with, or perhaps even have your own opinion – either way, you will need to argue for or against other scholars. There is nothing worse than being unable to find something that you read earlier at that moment when you need it most.
Here are a few more bibliography resources that I find very useful:
- The Online Egyptological Bibliography (OEB) is a fantastic tool for Egyptological research. Unfortunately, not everybody will have access to it. It has a subscription service – academic institutions which offer Egyptology courses are likely to have subscribed. You can search for key words, and the OEB provides you with a list of publications which contain those words, including those which are not written in English. Most of the entries are accompanied by an abstract allowing you to quickly assess whether or not the title will be of use to you.
- The UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology is exactly what is says it is. It is an online encyclopedia with many easy to read articles. The articles are informative and accompanied by good bibliographies.
- JSTOR is a not for profit online collection of academic journals. Like the OEB, JSTOR has a subscription service – again, academic institutions which offer Egyptology courses are likely to have subscribed to the Egyptology journals. However, some publications are free to all. There is a good search function, and the number of back issues is impressive – for example, JSTOR holds all issues of the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (JEA) from 1914 to 2006. For the most recent issues, you will need to go to a library.
Next week: Forming a thesis statement.