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International Relations *: Background Information

A guide to databases and scholarly web sites in support of research in international relations and comparative politics.

Comprehensive Searching

Initial use of search engines designed to access a large volume of materials can be helpful in scanning the literature on a particular topic and obtaining an initial understanding of how scholars, journalists, and others have studied your topic of interest. The USC Libraries' search engine only accesses materials owned by the library, but it can be a good place to obtain background information from a variety of scholarly and non-scholarly sources. Google Scholar covers a much broader array of [mostly] scholarly resources but not everything you find may be accessible.

USC Libraries Search Option

The search option on the USC Libraries main web page provides a single search box with comprehensive access to print and online books, selected digital resources, and full-text journal, magazine, and newspaper articles owned by the USC Libraries or accessible online through subscriptions. Information about using the Libraries' search engine can be found here.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar provides access to mostly scholarly [i.e., peer-reviewed, academic] sources, including scholarly titles from Google Book Search. The search engine has a "Cited by" feature that allows you to track where a particular source has been subsequently cited after publication. Information about using Google Scholar can be found here.

Databases for Basic Background Information

Specialized Databases

The full-text and keyword searchable databases listed below enable you to search the contents of dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopedias, and other reference books in a variety of subject areas or to find scholarly summaries of topics. These databases can be a good place to locate definitive, unbiased explanations of key concepts, theories, and topics as well as biographic profiles and descriptions of historic events. Most of these databases are multidisciplinary and some of their content overlaps, but search more than one database as needed to gain a thorough description of your topic.

  • Blackwell Online Reference -- brings together online research materials in the social sciences and humanities, with a particular strength in providing access to several hundred handbooks [a concise reference book that covers a specific subject area].
  • CQ Researcher -- provides access to original, comprehensive, single-themed analytical reports on topics in the news. The reports offer unbiased coverage of health, social trends, criminal justice, international affairs, education, the environment, technology, the economy, and many other subject areas.
  • Credo Reference -- comprehensive collection of highly-specialized reference works, primarily dictionaries and encyclopedias, across all subject areas. Good place to go for succinct definitions of concepts, theories, or topics.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library -- includes several hundred subject encyclopedias and other specialized reference works across all subject areas, but with particular strengths in the social and behavioral sciences and the humanities. A good source for authoritative background information.
  • Oxford Reference Online -- provides access to the content of approximately 100 language and subject dictionaries and reference works published by the Oxford University Press in a single cross-searchable resource.
  • Reference Universe -- database that facilitates searching the tables-of-contents and indexes in several thousand reference works and subject encyclopedias. The database can help locate specialized sources that will provide background information on a specific topic.
  • SAGE eReference -- a full-text collection of over eighty online specialized encyclopedias from SAGE Publishers in the social and behavioral sciences, including communications, public policy, gender studies, social work, history, psychology, and political science.
  • SAGE Research Methods Online and Cases -- the database contains links to more than 175,000 pages of SAGE Publisher's book, journal, and reference content on applying quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methodologies. Also included is a collection of case studies of social research projects that can be used to help you better understand abstract or complex methodological concepts.