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Jewish Studies: How do I get started?

Guide to Library research and resources in Jewish Studies

Getting Started

How do I get started?

Define your research interest: what is your research question? If you do not have one, what would you like to learn as a result of your research? These questions may assist you to define a research question: When and where did the events you are interested in studying occur or where and when did the people whose lives you are interested in studying lived? When and where was the document, book, pamphlet written, artistic product created about which you would like to learn more? Why are you interested in this topic?

Narrow down your research topic

When developing your research question, think about the following questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. You can also narrow your research in these common ways:


Look at your research interest from within a particular age group, gender, ethnic group, religious group, occupation, etc.


Focus your research on a single country, city, town, or consider examining a type of environment (such as rural or urban). 

Key issues

Think about key issues that interest you. Your opinion can be turned into a research question.


Trying looking for the cause, effect, or impact of an issue you are researching.


Are you interested in current events or a historical time period? Try to narrow down the time period as much as possible.



Issue of interest: I'm interested in researching the history of antisemitism in America

Additional questions to ask to help with narrowing: when in America, where in America, what was the form of antisemitism, who was the target or perpetrator of the antisemitism? 

Further ways to explore and narrow: look at timeframe, location, cause, effect

Example of a narrowed research question: In what ways did antisemitism impact the Jews of Miami during the first half of the 20th century? 

Strategy: how to start your research whether you are familiar or not with the topic

IF you already studied this topic or read about it:

Summarize the information you already have and list your sources, primary and secondary alike. (In other words, create an annotated bibliography.) What issues did the sources address and which questions did they left unanswered? While reading you may have had questions which the author did not answer or not sufficiently address in your opinion.

You might want to explore additional sources to find an answer to your question, which in turn may influence how you word your research question. Footnotes and bibliographies list additional sources. You can also find out by using the Library catalog if the authors of the sources you read have produced other works on the topic or related topics. Additional information may direct your attention to another research question or confirm that your original research question needs to be addressed.

IF you have not done any previous reading:

Based on how you determine the chronological and geographical boundaries of the research and whose lives you would like to study gather primary information from general reference works, such as dictionaries and lexicons. Compile a list of relevant vocabulary for your research by consulting the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Keep adding to and removing from your list of subject headings as you work.

Use your headings to search UF catalog, unified catalogs, and bibliographical indexes to compile a reading list.

Searching the UF catalog:

- based on previous readings (exploring additional works by same author, following up footnotes, etc.)

- following up on lexicon and dictionary entries which often list additional readings at the end of the articles

- using your list of subject headings

You may find books, articles, and review articles. They may lead you to additional readings: see footnotes and the titles which the chosen review article discusses.

Write down the complete call number for each book you wish to use. Maintain a list of all the call numbers you identify so that you can browse pertinent areas of the collection. Sometimes, you may find the best resource when standing in front of the bookshelf browsing books.

Interlibrary loan?

You may want to check out unified catalogs like OCLC Worldcat too, in case there is a book or there are documents unavailable in UF Libraries. You can use the interlibrary loan service but be advised that the delivery of the books may take longer time.

Review articles and bibliographical indexes

They are helpful to gain additional perspectives on the available literature on the topic which you chose to study and the angles from which other researchers approach the questions that arise through scholarly debates. Follow the link to check them out on this website and consult additional electronic and printed ones in the Library.

Compiling a reading list

After gathering information about the available sources, compile a reading list. Try to add to it all the information you already know about the author and the topic of the book, it may help you as you draft your paper and phrase your research question. Finding the connections between the arguments your readings propose is an important step towards articulating your own claims.


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