An encyclopedia article is often the best place to look when you need to know the context of a situation, the basic outlines of a person’s life or why a place is important. Encyclopedia articles are a good first step; but they are never all you need. Remember, this is background material to help your understanding of the historical events. These are not materials to base your research papers on, but they can provide you with the knowledge and vocabulary necessary to search for more substantive material.
A good encyclopedia article is written (and signed) by an expert on the subject and represents the consensus of scholarly opinion. A good encyclopedia article should also have a short bibliography on the subject of each article, a list of sources for further reading.
There are several kinds of encyclopedias; general encyclopedias (e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica), subject encyclopedias (e.g. The Canadian Encyclopedia) and biographical encyclopedias (e.g. Dictionary of Canadian Biography) to name some important categories.