1. Choosing your Subject
First, you need to choose a topic. In the papers you do for college courses, a general "topic" will generally be assigned. For example, in this course you know you will be writing a substantial paper on Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
2. Finding your Focus
But since everyone else will be writing on the same subject, and because that subject is too large to cover intelligently in the course of a single paper, you will need a narrower focus. You will start to focus by choosing one of the subjects proposed on the syllabus, for example, "gendered spheres and racial roles," or "work and worth." As you read about your subject, you will probably begin to develop a more specialized interest that will serve as the real focus of your project.
3. Locating and Choosing Resources
Try doing a search of the Assumption College D'Alzon Library catalogue to find material on your subject. Be sure to experiment with using different key words so that you are sure you have found all the relevant texts. When you come across a text that looks pertinent to your interest, look at the catalogue record to find the subject headings. By clicking on a subject heading you can find other resources on the same topic.
Use the databases provided by the D'Alzon Library to locate articles and books on your subject.
Use bibliographies to find recommended sources on your subject and/or focus. Remember, there is more than one kind of bibliography. Some list only primary works (as in all the works ever written by Nathaniel Hawthorne) and some include lists of criticism (for example, articles and books about Hawthorne and his writing). There are several places you can find bibliographies. Here are a few suggestions:
The D'Alzon Library
In the D'Alzon library catalogue, there are 500 works listed as bibliographies; you can skim through that listing to find materials on literature and history.
You can ask a librarian for help finding an appropriate kind of bibliography, or you can walk past the shelves of reference materials related to history and literature.
You received a handout at the library on the resources you can use for researching literature. In addition, you can find a sheet at the library recommending resources for historical research.
We've already talked in class about some of the sources you might want to use, including The Dictionary of Literary Biography (the DLB), and The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature, edited by Mary Beth Norton.
Your Books for the Course
Both the Norton Anthology and Uncle Tom's Cabin include bibliographies. Consult those for recommendations.
Web Pages Posted by Academics, Academic Associations, or Academic Institutions
You can find some extremely helpful bibliographies by consulting the resources available on the web. Make sure to determine that the bibliography has been presented by a reliable source, for example, a college or university professor, a library, an academic association, or some other educational organization.
Even if your bibliography is from a credible source, you can test the information provided by comparing the resources that are recommended with those suggested by other bibliographies.
One valuable and reliable site for finding bibliographies on literary topics is Paul W. Reuben's Perspectives in American Literature site at http://lead.csustan.edu/english/reuben/home.htm
The Course Bibliography
Although the course bibliography does not include all the resources included in the D'Alzon collections, you can use it to see what kinds of materials are available there.
You should also use your own common sense to select the books and articles that seem most appropriate. As you locate articles and books, which ones sound as though they are connected to your topic? Which ones sound as though they make sense? Don't be too put off by hard words or difficult concepts--it is inevitable that you will find scholarship hard to understand. But if material sounds impossible to understand, either consult with your teacher to help you figure out a "translation" or move on to something that makes more sense.
Back to the Syllabus