First-Year English: Reinventing Literary History

The Americas

Instructor:
Linn Cary Mehta

Guide to Finding
the Best Resources

Welcome! This page highlights key resources for conducting effective library research in First-Year English:
The Americas

Handout

 

 


Personal Librarian:

Lois Coleman
212-854-9095
104 LeFrak, Barnard Hall
lcoleman@barnard.edu

 

Using the Library

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Introduction to Scholarly Research

What is meant by "scholarly?" (video: Epic Library Battles of History: Scholarly vs. Popular)

  • Scholarly journals and books are written for specialized readership, by scholars or experts in a field of study, describing “cutting edge” research,
    • are “peer reviewed” or “refereed” by other experts as a quality control mechanism,
    • have footnotes (or endnotes) and references, (citations written correctly, enabling other scholars to check sources)
    • give the affiliation of the authors (university, research institution),
    • in the sciences and the social sciences each article also has an abstract.
  • Popular magazines are written for a general audience, and do not have the above features.

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Steps in the Research Process

If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation

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Choosing a topic

  • Choose a text that you like and find interesting, and try to come up with a question about the text that you genuinely find puzzling.
  • Write down your question and try to find the main concepts in it that you can use in your research.

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Figuring out what keywords to use in your first search

  • Try to distill your topic down to three words that you think will be mentioned in books and articles on the topic.
  • If you only use two keywords, it will often generate too many results that are not relevant enough, while four keywords usually seems to be too narrow.
  • Example 1: the topic "Magical realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude, using a feminist approach" contains three main concepts:
       1. the topics you are investigating within the text: magical realism
       2. the title of the text: One Hundred Years of Solitude/Cien Años de Soledad​
       3. the lens or approach you want to use: feminism
    You might try the search terms:
       1. realism, "magical realism", "magic realism", fantas*, reality, supernatural
       2. "one hundred years of solitude"
       3. feminis*

  • Example 2: the topic "Isolation in One Hundred Years of Solitude, using an ecocritical approach."
    You might try the search terms:
       1. isolat*, time, loneli*, solitude, Colombia, rainforest*, jungle
       2. "One Hundred Years of Solitude"
       3. ecocritic*, eco-criticism

  • Here are two more examples:

    • Family and history in One Hundred Years of Solitude, using a political lens. (Think of synonyms for family, use an asterisk on the end of politic* to find different endings.)

    • Marriage and class in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in Colombia. (Think of synonyms for marriage and class, try both "18th century" and "eighteenth century" depending on the era.  When searching for historical background information, the title of the text is probably not needed.)

 

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Finding background information

  • Look at reference works like encyclopedias to find overviews and background information.  (Scholarly reference works can be cited in your paper.)  Keep a careful note of where you find useful ideas or quotes.  Look for more vocabulary words, concepts and keywords related to the topic, and write them down.
  • You can also do a Google search and read websites to find more concepts and keywords, but this is just for brainstorming purposes. You cannot cite non-scholarly websites like Wikipedia your paper.
  • Consult the English Department Guide: Reinventing Literary History.

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Refining your topic

  • After reading some background information and overviews, refine your topic.  It should not be too broad, nor too narrow.
  • A good rule of thumb is this: if there are entire books written about your topic, it is too broad for a research paper; on the other hand, if your thesis can be fully discussed in a few paragraphs, your topic is too narrow.
  • For example, "The role of women in the plays of Shakespeare" is probably too broad because hundreds of books and articles have been written on this topic; "The symbolism of Ariel's costume in the Tempest" is probably too narrow because you will probably not be able to find enough articles or books discussing this.
  • You'll probably find that you have to refine your topic several times as you go on with your research.

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Searching for books using CLIO

  • Go to CLIO and use the Catalog search to find books, journals (but not articles in journals), links to online journals, and other materials in the Barnard and Columbia libraries, including the Health Sciences Library.
  • Many of the Barnard books are currently housed in Butler Library rooms 406, 406A and 409, as part of the Milstein Undergraduate Library.  The rest of the Barnard collection is in storage until our new building is ready.
  • CLIO gives you the links for the shelving guide for Milstein and the one for the Butler Stacks.
  • In the LC (Library of Congress) classification system used in the Columbia Libraries system, the first number is a whole number (i.e. H5 is before H4501), but the number after the point is like a decimal (i.e. H8 .A4811 comes before H8 .A5).  The LC call number reflects the first subject heading listed in the record.
  • Known item searching:

    Search by Title, Author, standardized Library of Congress Subject Heading, ISBN, etc.

    Three examples, to use as practice title searches, in MLA Style:
     
    • A book:  Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land and Other Poems. Ed. Kermode, Frank. New York, N.Y., U.S.A : Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
      Notice that the place of publication and publisher are given.
    • A chapter or article in a book:  Williams, Raymond L. “An Eco-Critical Reading of One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The Cambridge Companion to Gabriel García Márquez. Ed. Swanson, Philip. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2010. 64-77. Print.
      Notice chapter title in quotes, book title in italics, the word “Ed.” (short for “Edited by”), the place of publication and publisher, page numbers for the chapter.
    • An article in a journal: Larkin, Lesley. “Reading and Being Read: Jamaica Kincaid's a Small Place as Literary Agent.” Callaloo 35.1 (2012): 193-211. Print.
      Notice article title in quotes, journal title in italics, volume number and issue number, and no place of publication or publisher are given.
  • Unknown item searching (to find books about a particular topic):

    For a keyword search on a topic, use the All Fields search
    • use "quotes" for a phrase
    • use * for truncation (to find variant endings of a word):
                 e.g. argentin* finds argentina, argentine, argentinian, etc.
    • For a complex keyword search, use Boolean Keyword searching:
      • AND finds records which have all the search terms you entered;
      • OR finds records which have one of the search terms you entered, as well as records which have more than one of the terms. OR finds MORE. Use parentheses to group terms:
        e.g. "jamaica kincaid" AND (colonialis* OR imperialis*).
         
  • Course Reserves:

    These are books and other items that are set aside for student use by instructors, and removed from the stacks. 
    • If a book is on reserve, this is shown in the holdings information in the catalog, and the book must be requested at the reserves desk indicated.
    • Anyone with borrowing privileges can borrow reserves books for any class, but can only use them for a limited time.
    • Barnard Course Reserves are held at the Circulation/Reserves Desk in the library on the first floor of the LeFrak Center, and can be checked out for up to two hours at a time.

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Searching for articles

Search multiple databases at the same time:

Also try:

  • Find Articles (Summon): searches through a massive collection of journal and newspaper articles, e-books, and conference proceedings
  • ProQuest: citations and full text articles from scholarly journals, magazines and newspapers, in many difference disciplines.

Specialized databases:

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Refining your topic again

  • Don't be afraid to adjust your topic based on your reading of books and articles and new ideas that come to you from re-reading your text.

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Documenting your sources

  • Citation Management: Barnard Library guides to citation styles and avoiding plagiarism.
  • Documenting Sources: the Bedford/St. Martin's Student Site for the Everyday Writer, by Andrea Lunsford, including a guide to MLA Style.
  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL): guide to MLA style.
  • Zotero: citation management software that allows you to store your references conveniently, and cite them in papers and bibliographies using any citation style you choose.

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Additional Resources