Senior Seminar on the Built Environment (Prof. Aaron Passell)

"The Interwoven Cityscape" by Peter Alfred Hess, via flickr

This guide highlights key resources for conducting effective research in urban studies with a focus on the built environment. 

 For a full list of recommended resources for urban studies, including reference tools, article databases, books, maps, data sets, and more, please see the urban studies research guide.

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

If you need assistance organizing, analyzing, or visualizing your data sets, please visit the Empirical Research Center (ERC)

Aaron Passell

Personal Librarian 
Jennie Correia
Social Sciences Librarian
Room 304, Milstein Center


Reference Sources
Journal Articles
Data & Stats
Writing, Citing, & Organizational Tools


Finding Background Information/Using Reference Sources

Consult scholarly reference sources to get an overview of a topic, an introduction to a theory, definitions to discipline-specific terms, and more. Urban studies is an interdisciplinary field, so both specific and broad resources may be useful. Check out the research guides in other subjects for more recommendations. 

Google Advanced Search can be quite helpful:  

  • Limit by domain (.gov, .edu, .org).
  • Limit by format - try PDF to find working papers/reports, and try XLS or CSV for data sets. 

Finding Books

CLIO is the online catalog of the Columbia University Libraries, including Barnard Library, but excluding Teachers College and some information from the Law Library. Use the Catalog search to find books, print & online journals (not articles in journals), multimedia sources, and other materials in the Barnard and Columbia libraries. 

Catalog search tips:

If you know exactly what book (journal, video, etc.) you are looking for, you can search by Title, Author, ISBN, etc.

To find items about a specific topic, first try a keyword search in All Fields.

  • Use "quotation marks" to search for an exact phrase: "community gardens".

  • Use * for truncation (to find variant spellings and endings of a word): wom*n will find woman, women, womyn; feminis* will find feminism, feminist, feminists, etc.

  • For more complex search, use AND and OR:

    • 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.

    • For more help with using AND and OR, check our guide to advanced/Boolean keyword searching.

  • Use parentheses to group terms:  Brooklyn AND (buses OR subways)

Subject headings: If you find a book that's relevant, look at its subject headings in CLIO and click through to find more related works.

You can also look for books in other libraries:


Finding Articles

There are hundreds of databases available through CLIO. You can use the Articles section in CLIO to search multiple databases simultaneously, including many listed below. 

Search tips:

  • The general search tips for CLIO also apply to the article databases. 
  • Backward citation searching: If you have an article or book that is useful, the bibliography/works cited can be a useful road map to other relevant literature that was previously published.  
  • Forward citation searching: If you have an article or book that is useful, you can use Google Scholar and some other databases to find out whether it was cited by other scholars after it was published. Search for the title of an article/monograph and search and click on "Cited by" to generate a list of sources that have referenced that source.

Selected database recommendations for this seminar:

    • America: History and Life with full text provides access to the scholarly literature on the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. The database indexes journals from 1964 to present and includes citations and links to book and media reviews.
    • Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals provides citations to articles in worldwide architecture and related periodicals with a primary emphasis on architectural design and history, but it also includes coverage of archaeology, landscape architecture, interior design, furniture and decorative arts, garden history, historic preservation, city planning, urban design, real estate development, and environmental studies. You will find both scholarly and popular periodical literature, as well as publications of professional associations, American state and regional periodicals, and the major serials on architecture and design of Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Australia. Coverage is mainly from 1934 to the present, with selective coverage back to 1741.
    • GenderWatch includes full text from contemporary scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, regional publications, books, booklets and pamphlets, conference proceedings, and government, NGO and special reports.
    • Google Scholar is very useful for seeing if a book, article, etc. has been cited by other scholars. Search on the title, and then follow the "Cited by ..." link. 
    • Historical Abstracts provides access to the scholarly literature on the history of the world (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, and the history of education. It provides selective indexing of historical articles from more than 1,800 journals in over 40 languages back to 1955 as well as the full text of more than 300 journals and over 130 books.
    • HUD User Bibliographic Database, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is dedicated to housing and community development issues. It contains more than 10,000 full-abstract citations to research reports, articles, books, monographs, and data sources in housing policy, building technology, economic development, urban planning, and related fields.
    • Index to Current Urban Documents features citations and municipal records including plans, surveys, and budgets from approximately 500 U.S. and Canadian cities and counties.
    • ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global is a searchable and browsable database of dissertations and theses from around the world, spanning from 1743 to the present day. It also offers full text for graduate works added since 1997, along with selected full text for works written prior to 1997. Dissertations have extremely detailed bibliographies and can be an excellent starting point for research.
    • Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) is a multidisciplinary database with searchable author abstracts, covering the journal literature of the social sciences. It links publications based on citations allowing you to search the "web" of communication surrounding a topic. You also can search Science Citation Index and Arts & Humanities Index simultaneously with the Social Science Citation Index - click on "MORE SETTINGS" to select the databases you want to search.
    • Sociological Abstracts is the best bet when starting a search for scholarly sociological research. This core database covers sociology and related disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences, including research focused in social work, human services, and related areas. The database provides citations from 1963 to the present and includes references to journal articles, book reviews, book abstracts, book chapters, dissertations, and conference papers.
    • Urban Studies Abstracts features bibliographic records covering essential areas related to urban studies, including urban affairs, community development, urban history, and other areas of key relevance to the discipline. Records are selected from many of the top titles within the discipline, including Journal of Urban Affairs, Urban Studies, and Canadian Journal of Urban Research.

    Selected journal recommendations for this seminar:


    Finding Data & Statistics

    For help finding and analyzing data, check out the Empirical Reasoning Center (ERC). The ERC's calendar lists when staff is available to answer your questions. No appointment necessary!

    • American FactFinder (U.S. Census Bureau) is a key source for population, housing, economic, and geographic data. You can find fact sheets, statistics, and data sets.
    • National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) provides aggregate census data and GIS-compatible boundary files for the United States between 1790 and 2013.
    • Passport from Euromonitor International is a market research tool that monitors industry and product trends in countries around the world. They also have selected city reports. You can search for these by the name of the city or browse available reports - click on "Economies" in the top navigation bar and then "Cities".
    • Social Explorer helps you visually analyze and understand a variety of data sets, including U.S. demographic, crime, health, election, and religion data, as well as international data such as World Bank World Development Indicators.
    • State of the Cities Data System (SOCDS), produced by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), offers data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.
    • Statistical Abstract of the United States is the authoritative and comprehensive summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic conditions of the United States. Once provided free from the U.S. Census Bureau, now provided by ProQuest.
    • UNData from the United Nations Statistics Division has some data tables for cities.
    • World Council on City Data Open Data Portal is based on the first international standard on city data — ISO 37120. The WCCD Open City Data Portal allows you to explore, monitor, and compare member cities on up to 100 service performance and quality of life indicators.

    Need even more data sources? Check out Social Science Data & Statistics Sources.


    Finding Maps

    • David Rumsey Historical Map Collection focuses on 18th and 19th century North and South American cartographic materials and includes atlases, globes, school geographies, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps including pocket, wall, and manuscript maps.
    • GIS and Statistical Data Resources is a list of additional resources provided by Columbia University Libraries. 
    • The Lehman Social Sciences Library Map Collection at Columbia University has various types of maps, including topographic, aeronautical, thematic, nautical, and geological maps.  
    • Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division/New York Public Library (NYPL) is one of the world's premier map collections in terms of size, scope, unique holdings, diversity and intensity of use. Established in 1898, holdings include more than 433,000 sheet maps and 20,000 books and atlases published between the 15th and 21st centuries. The collections range from the global to the local scale and support the learning and research needs of a wide variety of users.
    • Spatial Data on the Internet is a great list of resources compiled by the Columbia University Digital Social Science Center.

    Writing, Citing, and Organizational Tools

    • Annotated bibliographies - a couple of good resources on what they are and how to write them:
    • Barnard guides to citation management provides information about citation practices, style guides, and software programs (like Zotero) you can use that help you keep track of your sources and create bibliographies.
    • Chicago Manual of Style has full details on citing primary & archival material in Chicago style. You can find full-text of the style guide in print or online.
    • Cite Source presents visual information about how to cite various sources in a visual way, and they offer guidance on citing tricky sources. Check out the source help for Chicago style.​
    • The Craft of Research is an online book that can help guide you through the full research process.
    • Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) has lots of general and subject specific writing tips and techniques, along with research advice and detailed citation and formatting standards for Chicago style.
    • Try using a search log to keep track of what you've searched and what you want to try next.  You can copy this to your Google Drive and adjust it to suit your needs. 
    • Zotero allows you to manually add special items like letters, interviews, etc. to your Zotero library.

    Last updated January 19, 2018