Library Prep: Secondary Sources: Academic Arguments & Methods

Library Prep Assignment: Secondary Sources: Scholarly Arguments & Methods

Complete this assignment before our Library session on Secondary Sources (Scholarly Arguments/Methods). It will take two hours. Plan accordingly. You must complete the assignment and organize your results (typed, printed) as indicated below. It is worth 5% of your course grade.

Warning: These instructions will feel tediously detailed and excruciatingly constrained.  That is my intention.  For this assignment, do not do your search in google, JSTOR, or any other database. Use only the disciplinary databases listed below for searching. The Find-It button might link you to J-STOR to retrieve the article itself–that’s fine, but don’t start your search there. Later on, no limits, but for today’s exercise, I want you to gain experience in cracking open these specific databases. Ultimately, these methods and skills open up worlds to you and will feel, yes, liberating and empowering. Trust me on this.  (Wax on, wax off….)

Your result will be an organized list of 14 citations plus 3 lists of keywords.

Citation format note:  Don’t worry too much about citation format. But do include all relevant publishing information:  authors/editors, article/chapter title, book/journal title, vol./issue #s, dates, etc.).

Do pay close attention to quotation marks vs. italics (in Chicago style, same in MLA):

  • Quotation marks around “smaller” things:  “Article Titles” and “Chapter Titles.”
  • Italics for the larger things:  Journal Titles and Book Titles.

Keyword lists

Start with your own brainstorming & terms from your primary source searching. Pick up key terms from browsing database entries and skimming articles:  article titles, abstracts, footnotes, etc. What terms will help you find more material related in some way? Divide the terms into three lists:

a. subject matter terms:  people, places, organizations, movements, political or social terms, historical events and eras, etc.

b. media or format terms. e.g., photography, film, television, painting, cartoons, theatre, sculpture, etc.; and genre or styles, e.g., fashion, fiction, documentary, blockbuster, landscape, portrait, farce, satire, realism, abstract, etc. Don’t forget  synonyms or closely related terms, e.g., film = movies, motion pictures, Hollywood, etc.

c. concept terms:  specialized terms, concepts, frameworks, approaches, methods, etc., e.g., iconology, formal analysis, comparative analysis, close reading, feminist, materialist, “the gaze,” nationalism, etc.

1 & 2: Humanities Databases

subjectdatabases_iconGo to GW Libraries main page and click Subject Databases (below the main search box). Click the A-Z tab & use alpha keys to find the two databases below by database title:


1. America: History & Life with Full Text and/or Historical Abstracts = covers all major academic history journals published in English (and some other languages). AHL = history of North America; HA = history of the rest of the world. You can choose one or both of these. Click on one in the A-Z list; once inside it, you can add the other to search both simultaneously. Or you can just search them separately.


2. MLA International Bibliography  = academic journals covering literature, language, and culture, worldwide.

For each of these (1. & 2.), find at least 3 scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles of interest to you–whether for their subject matter, or, as importantly, for their concepts or methods in analyzing images. Skim the articles online and save them as PDFs.  Copy in their citations into a list, organized under the header for each database. Note: at least some of these must be analyzing visual images or visuality, not, say, the time period in general.

Then, for each of these (1. & 2.), figure out how to find references to books and/or book chapters (essays in anthologies). (1.) AHL & AH do not index books or chapters, but they do index book reviews, so look for those and write down the citation for the book that is reviewed. (2.) MLA indexes both books and book chapters, which they call “book articles” (nobody else calls them this). Find at least 1 citation for a scholarly book or book chapter–one that analyzes images from a scholarly perspective. Look up the book in GW Library Catalog and add the call number to your citation. Add those under Databases: 1. and 2. above.

So, under 1. and 2., you’ll have three article citations (a., b., c.) and one book citation (d.) each. Remember: most important here are articles & books analyzing images or issues of visuality, not the general subject matter or time period (those are easy to find later as needed).

3. & 4. Other Disciplinary Databases

How do other fields analyze historical images?  or images in general? Go back to that A-Z list of databases (above) and choose two of these (follow your potential disciplinary/area interests):

  • Anthropology Plus
  • Art Source
  • Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals
  • Bibliography of the History of Art
  • Business Source Complete
  • Communication and Mass Media Complete
  • Gender Studies Database
  • History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance
  • Philosopher’s Index
  • PsychINFO
  • Sociological Abstracts
  • Urban Studies Abstracts

In each database (3. & 4.), figure out how to limit your search to peer-reviewed journals (this is usually a box to click). Some databases include articles from popular or intellectual magazines; these may or may not have robust arguments. Most scholars want scholarly arguments/methods, but in some realms (e.g., LGBT issues), magazine articles may be doing strong theoretical work that later makes its way into academic journals. If in doubt, bring it and show me in class.

You might start just with image words (visual, image, photograph, etc.). Notice how different (or similar) your results are in each database. ). Figure out which keywords are most useful in searching, and which search field (keyword, subject, title, etc.).

For each of these two (3. & 4.), compile citations for three scholarly articles (a., b., c.).  If you find citations for scholarly books analyzing images, list those, too (d.), but not required. Again, most important are articles/books analyzing images or visuality, not the general subject matter.

Type & print it up for class, organized just like this:

Keyword lists

a. subject terms
b. image/media/genre terms
c. concept terms

1. America History & Life

a. article citation (author, “article title,” journal title, vol., issue, date, pages)
b. article citation (ditto)
c. article citation (ditto)
d. book citation (author, title, publisher & place, date); or book chapter (author, “chapter title,” book title, book editor [if any], publisher & place, date).

2. MLA International Bibliography

a. article citation (author, “article title,” journal title, vol., issue, date, pages)
b. article citation (ditto)
c. article citation (ditto)
d. book citation (author, title, publisher & place, date); or book chapter (author, “chapter title,” book title, book editor [if any], publisher & place, date).

3. Your choice database from list

a. article citation, as above
b. article citation, ditto
c. article citation, ditto
d. optional book citation

4. Your choice database from list

a. article citation, as above
b. article citation, ditto
c. article citation, ditto
d. optional book citation

Plus: Note all materials you could not find, plus any questions you still have about searching/retrieving. Have all the articles for these in PDF on your laptop, if possible.  Optional: bring any books you checked out.


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