Monday, May 14, 2012

Essentials for Today's Literary Research

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For those involved in reading and writing about literature today, I have identified four broad categories which I believe represent areas in which students need familiarity and literacy. By this I mean one should know what these things are, how to find them, and how to make use of them for researching literature. How literate are you in each of these areas?:
  1. Traditional Scholarly Sources
  2. Electronic and Online Sources
  3. Social Networks
  4. Digital Research Tools

1. Traditional Scholarly Sources

  • Scholarly books (published by respected academic presses, including both monographs and edited collections, as well as scholarly editions of primary texts).
  • Scholarly articles (published in respected peer-reviewed journals)
  • Scholarly reference works (print or electronic finding aids, research guides, bibliographies, etc.)

2. Electronic and Online Sources

  • Offline or proprietary databases of high quality (such as the Oxford English Dictionary, or Chadwyck-Healey's Literature Online). Access to these depends upon one's location and institutional affiliations.
  • Online sources
    • for primary texts (archives, special collections, virtual exhibits)
    • for traditional literary criticism (Google Scholar, library catalogs, etc.)
    • for contemporary, informal discussion (blogs and other social media, presentations, events, multimedia, etc.)

3. Social Networks

  • For indirect research (discover who is discussing or making use of one's primary text or discussing one's literary topic, using online forums and social media such as blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or subject-specific networks)
  • For consultation, interaction, and collaboration (actually seeking out and interacting with others who have a stake in these texts or topics, whether briefly and informally or through more sustained or in-depth collaboration)

4. Digital Research Tools

Such tools change frequently, so it may be more useful to name their functions than to identify specific services. Today's literary researcher needs tools through which he or she can:
  • access electronic resources (including basic internet access but at times formal access to propriety or subscription-only sources. Increasingly, this will mean having a smart phone with apps and internet access.)
  • keep track of sources (including bookmarking of online sources as well as for bibliographic / documenting purposes)
  • make and organize research notes (typically through a cloud-based system, and including not only basic documents but also wikis or other tools for curating content, privately or publicly)
  • publicly draft ideas (via blogging or other modes of social proof)
  • find and interact with enthusiasts and experts regarding one's research topic and texts (this means literacy in topical social networking)
Not everyone will agree with that second to last thing (the need for tools for publicly drafting one's ideas), but this gets to a broader philosophical issue regarding the functions and audiences for literary criticism (more properly addressed in this blog as a whole).

1 comment:

  1. Here's my observation on the effect of literary fiction: It's the one kind of reading my father, who has Asperger's syndrome, absolutely refuses to read, chiefly because he's not interested. Naturally. To get more info please visit