Hopkins' observation that bibliographies are “the basis of all academic study” would seem to be indisputable. Yet this paper is in large part a response to a study that indicates that, if not open to dispute in principle, in practice this dictum is more widely ignored than heeded. The study in question purports to demonstrate that, by and large, historians admittedly do not attempt to make systematic use of bibliographic tools, relying instead on footnotes, word of mouth, and serendipity, thereby falling short of their academic obligation to be exhaustive in the research enterprise. I was reluctant at first to credit this claim, preferring to put it down to a defect in the questionnaire approach of the author. But then I discovered that the latest edition of the Jahresberichte für deutsche Geschichte, by far the pre-eminent German historical bibliography, had escaped deflowering (that is, its pages had remained uncut) on the shelves of our Reference Department for nearly two years!
One robin does not, as they say, make a spring and I would hesitate to draw any far-reaching conclusions from this single example, no matter how egregious. Yet, when I began to search out historical bibliographies, I was surprised at how many there were, particularly so for serial bibliographies and indexes, of which I have so far found about 900, at least three times as many as I had naively anticipated initially.
Bibliographies come in a variety of forms. There are major retrospective bibliographies, which aim to include all or virtually all that has been published on a particular subject during a particular period of time. Such bibliographies sometimes appear as articles, but more often as books. For African studies, Scheven has undertaken to produce periodic indexes of bibliographies of this kind, in both formats.