American Studies

American Studies

Get Started: Reference Sources

The best results are those that give you clues about where you might look next (other entries, similar names, and especially "further reading").

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Web of Knowledge for Finding Theoretical Perspectives

One of the trickiest things to do is find scholarly work that takes a particular theoretical approach. This is because articles, books, and book chapters are described according to the topics they tackle rather than the methods they use to tackle them. So what happens if you want to find a deconstructionist reading of Virginia Woolf? Well, there is no perfect way to do this, and it will always take a lot of digging and critical reading, but the Web of Knowledge can give you a better starting place than most. Here's how:

  1. Click "cited reference search" and enter the name of a key theorist in your area (in this case, perhaps Michel Foucault) in the format they specify (in this case Foucault M*) and press "Search."

  2. Select all the options that appear to be for your theorist. For often-cited people (such as Foucault) use the "Select All*" button, even though this will probably gather in a few citations that aren't relevant to your search. Also note that this will only gather the first 500 results. If you really want to be thorough, you'll have to do searches for 500 results at a time (next time starting on page 11 for results 501-550) and then OR those searches together in your search history. (Come talk to me for help interpreting these instructions.)

  3. At the bottom of that page, click "finish search."
    Don't spend time looking at your results yet!

  4. Click "search" (up near where you first clicked "Cited Reference Search") and enter the name of the author or work you're interested in (in this case Virginia Woolf), and click search.
    Don't spend time looking at your results yet!

  5. Click "Search History" (up near "Search" and "Cited Reference Search"), check the boxes next to your two searchs, select the "AND" radio button, and click "combine."

  6. NOW dig through your results to see if there are any there that deal with your author/work.

The idea is that if the article talks about your author or work, and if it cites a primary theorist in your area, then the chances are greater that the work will either tackle your topic through your theoretical lens or will point you toward another article that does. This is not a foolproof method, remember. Scholars will often cite theorists in order to refute them, or because they say something that's tangentially related, or even just in passing. Your chances are improved somewhat, though, over reading every article on your author or work that shows up in the MLA International Bibliography.


Iris Jastram
4th Libe - Room 463
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