History information resources: Background information

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Liaison Librarian at or byousefi@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

As you look for information for your projects, it can be helpful to spend a little time doing some background research. Items such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and biographical resources can give you quick overviews and help you to understand more about the major issues, people, and events related to your research topic.

There are a few different ways to find background information:

  • Search for your topic in the Library Catalogue, then choose 'Reference Entries' under the Resource Type filter to the left of your search results.
  • In the Catalogue, include words such as encyclopedia or dictionary in your search (e.g. Africa AND encyclopedia).
  • You can also look through the following resources, which are particularly useful for providing context and background information in the area of History.

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Liaison Librarian at or byousefi@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

Oxford Reference Online
This online collection of dictionaries, encyclopedias, timelines, and other reference materials provides access to general reference sources, as well as subject specific resources. There are over fifty resources that explore specific historical topics. These resources can be searched individually or simultaneously.

Book covers by ISBNs: 0199202478


Book covers by ISBNs: 0816042497


Biographical information

Oxford Dictionary of national biography
An illustrated collection of biographies of the men and women who shaped all aspects of the history of the British Isles and beyond, from the earliest times to the year 2005. Does not include people who are still living.

Dictionary of Canadian biography
Biographies of important figures in Canadian history who died between the years 1000 and 1930 or whose last known date of activity falls within those years.

American national biography
Portraits of more than 17,400 people from all eras and walks of life whose lives shaped this nation.

Dictionary of Irish Biography 
The most comprehensive and authoritative biographical reference work available both in print and online for Ireland.

The Canadian who's who: a handbook of Canadian biography of living characters (print only)
Contains information on living Canadians. Past editions of The Canadian who's who are available electronically.