Searching for Scholarly Articles in Literary Databases

>>Literary databases like JStor,
the MLA International Bibliography, and Project Muse are collections of
scholarly criticism from journals and books. They allow you to search volumes of
aggregated information vetted by experts. While differing in appearance, library
databases often share key features. Many of them offer keyword and field
searching, tools for narrowing a search, and recommendations for similar
texts and ways to collect citations. There is no one-stop shopping
for scholarly articles. Sometimes databases offer overlapping content. Journals and Project Muse
may also appear in Jstor. However, they typically offer
some unique content. In this video, we are going to
cover two kinds of databases, ones with full text, and ones that are indexes. Large databases like Project Muse and JStor
have full text articles from many disciplines. They serve as repositories
of scholarly criticism. Sites where you can both
discover and access articles. They retrieve results based on the occurrence
of the search terms anywhere in the text. Because of the breadth and
range of these repositories, assessing search results is the most significant
and perhaps difficult element of using them. We will focus on Project Muse for this video,
but many of the principles can be applied to JStor and other full text databases. The MLA International Bibliography
is a different kind of database. It is an index of journals
and books on literature. A bibliography, whether it is at the end
of a scholarly book, or in database form, is a collection of citations about
the scholarship in the field. Because it is an index, it doesn’t
machine search the full text. Instead, an index is created by experts
from the Modern Languages Association, who select key information about each
text, like subject, genre and time period, based on literary categories and vocabulary. You won’t get every article
with every instance of work. Instead, you’ll get articles that are
about the terms that you’re searching. Let’s look at texts that discuss
marriage in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, using Project Muse and the MLA Bibliography. In Project Muse, if we put in marriage and
Hamlet, we get back about 1,500 results. Scan the titles of the articles to see if
they seem to fit what you’re looking for. Clearly, the impact of rural
political economy on gender relations in Islamizing Hausaland Nigeria is
far afield from our research question. This happens because keyword searching in a full text database returns all the
results with those words in the text. While keyword searching is powerful,
because it returns all the results, and because it doesn’t require
knowledge of a specific vocabulary, it also leads to many irrelevant returns. Adding Shakespeare to our search narrows the
results, but there are still about a thousand. How do we decide what to read? As you scan the results,
the article titles and names of journals can reveal standout
articles right away. The order of display is also useful. Results are sorted by relevance,
which means that the articles where the search terms are most common and most closely located
together on a page come up first. While the first result, Out of Joint:
Memento as Contemporary Hamlet, seems like an odd fit, it
might be worth looking at. Further down, if a result
seems to be about another work, you can be more secure in weeding it out. As you do more research and become
more familiar with the field, narrowing down results becomes easier. Let’s look at Out of Joint:
Memento as Contemporary Hamlet. Most article pages have information about the
article, and ways to get and save the citation. On the right is a box of related
content, which includes articles on topics similar to the one you’re viewing. Other databases have similar
recommendation functions. Because this article seems like it might not
apply to the research question we’re looking at, let’s begin by clicking Control-F or
Command-F to search within the text. Looking through instances of the word marriage, we see that later in the article is a
section explicitly about marriage and Hamlet. Articles from some journals in Project
Muse only have the text of the article, without additional information,
recommendations or citation features. With full text databases, it is important to narrow your search results before
you begin sifting through them. Using specific language will
help you get better results. For example, in Hamlet, Gertrude is called a
Jointress, which is a much more specific term. Project Muse will be better for a search
like jointress Hamlet than marriage Hamlet, if you’re interested in the idea of
jointer in marriage in the period. Let’s compare Project Muse
to the MLA Bibliography. The same search, Hamlet, and Shakespeare,
and marriage, returns only 16 results. This is because MLA is a much smaller
site, tailored to the literary field. Though there are very few
results, many of them look helpful. There are two ways to find further
results, by using controlled vocabulary and by using smart text searching, which
is a recommendation feature in MLA. Controlled vocabulary is a set of agreed-upon
words that are used to categorize materials. They include author names, genre,
and specific subject terms. One way to learn and use the controlled
vocabulary in the MLA is to look at the list of subjects below the title in each entry. These terms can help you find other material,
and even revise your research question. You can also discover controlled vocabulary
and narrow the results by using the facets on the left side of the search results screen. When you want an article or book from
the MLA, click on the Penn Text button, and you’ll be taken to a separate page where you can find the electronic
and print versions of the text. As you begin to collect citations from MLA,
as well as other sources, like the footnotes of books, you can also use the
database’s Cited References under More. Follow the chain of text on a particular topic. For example, if Francis Dolan’s work on marriage
has been helpful, you could follow the citations to Shakespeare and marriage, an open question. And from that to the 64 works
that the article cites, and so on. Scholarly repositories and
indexes like JStor, Project Muse, and MLA International Bibliography are the
places to find what other scholars have written about a topic, to see how scholars
have debated major issues in the field, and to locate both older scholarship
and the latest research on a topic. Keep in mind what the database is searching,
the text or information about the text, and what journals are included-only
those you would want to use, or a whole range of disciplines. Using synonyms to produce more
results, exploring subject terms, and using recommendations features
are ways to expand your search. Using facets that filter by field, journals
or subject, can help narrow your search. Assessing the results of your searches
takes practice, and is often learned through seeing what journals and types of discussions scholars in
your field are invested in. Finding and assessing articles will become
easier as you continue to conduct research.

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