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"Researching Biography" explores strategies and resources for studying a person's life history, using as an example the author Douglas Sladen, whose works "Oriental Cairo" and "Queer Things about Egypt" are included in the online Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). We discuss keeping track of your findings, using the library catalogs, research databases and periodical indexes, and finding out basic information about your subject. This is part two of a nine-part course that uses Sladen's work for a case study on performing historical research.
Douglas Sladen Drawn by Yoshio Markino

Author as subject

In the course of a research project, you come across an interesting book from the time period you are studying, but you know nothing about the authorand thus do not understand what perspective he or she has adopted. How do you study people's lives and glean significant details about them? In this module we willexplore how to conduct research into biography by doing a case study on how to research the background of Douglas Sladen, author of Oriental Cairo: City of the Arabian Nights . ( Oriental Cairo is one of many historical texts collected in the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) . ) We will be using a variety of resources, from the title page of his book to online catalogs. This module is designed to aid you instudying biography by suggesting research methods, providing examples and applying the information you find in a productive way that furthers your project as a whole.

We will begin by looking for books about our author, such as a biography or autobiography. Then we will move on to articles written about him orhis work contained in periodicals. Finally we will mine the daily newspaper archives for any mention of Douglas Sladen, including book reviews, his obituary or articlesby the author himself. But first we should make sure we know exactly who we are looking for.

Identifying your author

Basic information

In order to avoid accidentally researching the wrong author, it is important to gather some very basic information about our Douglas Sladen, suchas his full name, birth and death dates. If there are any copies of "Oriental Cairo" in the library, then the catalog should provide that information for us.If you would like to take a brief tutorial on how to access and use WebCat (the online catalog used by Fondren Library, our example library), visit our WebCat module . Let's do a quick Title Search on the catalog to see if it is in the stacks. Enter the title"oriental cairo" into the text box, and select the title search option.

A glance at the results list tells us that our book is not in the stacks.

Which brings up an interesting question...

What if the work you are looking for is not at your library?

Our research is certainly not limited to what can be found at our library, in thiscase Fondren. However, we are not yet left to the mercy of distant archives and dusty diaries. Fondren, like most other libraries, is part of a network ofsister institutions that make their collections available through interlibrary loan. Books from other collections can be located and accessed throughinterlibrary loan by visiting Open WorldCat .
Open WorldCat is the free version of a catalog that collects records from libraries around the world. Yourlibrary probably has a subscription to the full version of WorldCat , which includes additional features. The examples given below reflect the interface and toolsprovided by the full version of WorldCat available through OCLC's First Search .

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Conducting historical research: the case of "oriental cairo". OpenStax CNX. Oct 23, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10291/1.4
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