Historical resources can be anything from archival guides to bibliographies, encyclopedias to atlases. Part of the challenge for the historian is knowing the types of sources available in their field and perhaps even more importantly, knowing how to identify new resources. Historians are fortunate in that theirs is a field rich in scholarly guides to the discipline such as Istoriia SSSR or Maichel’s Guide to Russian Reference Books. These excellent resources will assist the scholar in identifying the types of sources available in the field and define the scope of each. An additional challenge facing the scholar today is identifying the more recent resources that are appearing in an array of formats.
Russian history has its own unique challenges for the scholar. The wealth of resources can be a mixed blessing. The scholar beginning research on a topic will be confronted with archival guides, subject encyclopedias, historical atlases and dictionaries, bibliographic guides, national bibliographies, subject bibliographies, online catalogs and databases, subject portals, online journals, periodical indexes, necrologies, city directories, geneological guides, biographical indexes and dictionaries and a number of other sources, all with a wealth of information. It is essential to determine the kinds of resources you need by a careful analysis of your topic. That is, are you seeking primary or secondary sources? Do you need a bibliographic citation or a piece of information? Is the material you are seeking in modern or old orthography? Where is the information you are searching likely to have been published, in Russia or in the West?
The guides to the discipline will be most useful here. Many are arranged by historical topic and classify their resources accordingly. An example of such a work is Istoriia istoricheskii nauki v SSSR. Dooktiabrskii period. Bibliografiia. Moskva: Nauka, 1965. This complex work includes sections on “The historiography of the USSR up to 1917,” “The historiography of the peoples of the USSR,” “Literature on the scientific organizations and societies related to history” among others. Thus, if you are looking for information on historical societies of 19th century Russia, you will find the resources relevant to studies of Russian societies in general grouped together. These will include the papers of the society, bibliographies of the publications of the society, biographical materials on members of the society, etc. Frequently, alternate routes for identifying information will have to be found.
The printed guides have the obvious disadvantage of being closed resources. That is, they obviously cannot include newer materials. The prevalence of online resources make the solution to this problem seem simple. Indeed, there are numerous indexes and portals that can be very useful in identifying newer sources of information. However, the same rule holds here as applies to the printed sources: it is essential that you analyze your query before you go online to identify the most useful avenue for research. Resources online such as Historical Abstracts or the American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies (ABSEES) will be very useful in identifying current publications on historical topics. There are new and growing Russian resources, indexing journals and newspapers. These are available by subscription only.
Online resources can be grouped into several categories: indexing services, library catalogs, e-books and journals, web subject portals, online bibliographies, listservs and online reference agencies.
There are indexing services such as Historical Abstracts, Current Contents, Article First, the Russian Academy of Sciences indexes available through the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN). University libraries subscribe to different services depending on the needs of their faculty. Information on those available to your campus will be listed on your library’s homepage. Frequently there are links to sources of special interest from department webpages. In general they are an excellent source for getting an overview of the field and for identifying newly published material. They are also very good sources for book reviews. Many are now linked to the full text of the journals they index allowing the user to find bibliographic information and view the article in one source. They can expedite research in many instances. They are, in general, limited to fairly recent publications, having little retrospective depth.
Library catalogs are especially valuable after you have completed your bibliographic research. Searches for and in library catalogs are discussed in the pages on Library Catalogs .
E-journals are becoming more and more broadly available. Services such as JSTOR often make entire runs of periodicals available, in full text. Russian Review is just one example of a periodical with complete text of the full run available online. Such services are usually available by subscription only. However, there are many sites on the web that provide full text of current periodicals. Such sites are accessible through subject lists or in regional search engines. Occasionally, the publisher of a journal will make the contents of the most current issue available at no cost and charge only for access to previous issues.
E-books and e-texts are also becoming an important resource on the web. Sites such as that maintained by Moscow University History Department, frequently have the full text of significant historical documents. These have many uses including as supplementary course materials. There are also subscription utilities such as NetLibrary. This service presently has Western language publications.
Resources on Russian history reflect the political climate in which they were produced. Those periods of severe censorship affected the level of comprehensiveness in the sources. Gaps in coverage will often cover materials omitted from the Soviet sources. In some cases, Soviet materials published in the 1920s will include works and information omitted in later publications. It is sometimes useful to approach the subject in a less direct manner. For example, the Soviets did not include some of their military journals in their periodical bibliographies. If you were searching for the title Voennaia mysl, it would not be referenced in Periodicheskaia Pechat’ SSSR 1917-1949. It is listed in Letopis Periodicheskikh Izdanii SSSR v 1937g. a less widely available publication. It is also indexed in Letopis Zhurnal’nykh Statei. The point is that it is essential to be aware of the different avenues open to the scholar. Another method of finding information on this journal would be through an online catalog. The cataloging record on such a title will certainly tell you when it was published. Tracking it through the bibliographies tells you something more about ideological changes in the Soviet Union.