Weekly Assignment #11

I’ve finally realized that if I post the assignment to the blog before class, I can use it to teach class! (If the projector is working.) Boy, these blogs are useful things. (EXCEPT when they eat your work.)

This week’s special bibliographic category is “book reviews.” One point to make about book reviews is that there are two main reasons to use them: first, to check the reputation of a book you’ve heard of; second, to discover brand-new books that you’ve never heard of.

Neither the MLA Bibliography nor Google Scholar will allow you to limit specifically to book reviews. A “Cited Reference” search on a book title in Web of Science will sometimes bring you book reviews of that work, but it’d dicey. The most useful databases for book reviews are Project Muse and JSTOR, which both allow you to limit to reviews. Go to the Advanced Search and look around for this limiter, toggle it, then plug in the book title, and voilà: book reviews of that book.

Cindy Levine has put together a guide to book reviews that is particularly helpful at pointing you to print sources that help you find older book reviews. This can be helpful for both scholarly books (secondary sources) and works of literature (primary sources). Book reviews can also have a scholarly purpose for us, of course, helping us assess a work’s contemporary reception.

Remember, too, that many periodicals exist for the sole purpose of reviewing books as they appear: The New York Times Book Review has a free weekly e-mail, and it looks like the horribly expensive Times Literary Supplement (which I covet) has instituted an RSS feed. I definitely plan to check that out. Specialized reviews such as the Women’s Review of Books can also be terrific. Keeping up with contemporary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry is (I personally believe) necessary for an academic even if you’re studying Old English.

Scholarly journals are the best source for highly specialized book reviews, of course. Also, Amazon and Powell’s have become rich sources of less formal reviews; you might be surprised how many academics have enthusiastically adopted these online reviewing mechanisms. See, for example, the Amazon reviews of Terry Eagleton’s After Theory, which came out in 2004.

(And look! Amazon has citation links, too! I either forgot about that or didn’t know about it. Evidently that feature debuted in late 2004.)

For this week’s assignment, please try to find:

  • A book review of a very recent scholarly book (2005-2006), a book you’ve never heard of before, that might be useful for you. Browse through recent issues of scholarly journals and/or mainstream reviews such as the TLS for these. You need not annotate this book review; just include the full citation for the book review and the title of the book being reviewed.
  • As many book reviews as you can find of a book you’ve already found for your topic. Please list these and write a single paragraph summarizing what they say — the general critical reception of the book.

If you can’t manage to find a recent book review that points you toward a useful book, don’t worry about it: just do the second part of the assignment. Also, as I mentioned, by “book” I mean any book — scholarly editions and anthologies and reference works as well as single-author mongraphs.

UPDATE: Domenica Vilhotti found a terrific open web resource called Scirus ETD Search that searches the Electronic Theses and Dissertations repositories of many institutions, including ours. Great for full text theses and dissertations; Dissertation Abstracts doesn’t give you full text.

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Weekly Assignment #10

This week, please find two citations for dissertations or theses related to your topic and write two paragraphs evaluating their usefulness or potential usefulness to you. (You may not be able to get a copy very quickly, although you can use Tripsaver, aka interlibrary loan, to order one if you’d like to read it.) It’s true that you can find theses and dissertations using Google Scholar, but there’s no good way to limit your search to just these genres. A much better option for this assignment is to use the Dissertation Abstracts database, which is the definitive resource for finding dissertations.

Try to find the best theses for your research, not the most easily accessible ones. But do also take a look at dissertations and theses written at NCSU. You can search for them in the library catalog by limiting to “theses and dissertations,” then quickly lay your hands on a readable copy by visiting Special Collections (in the case of pre-1997 works) or by clicking on a full-text PDF (for most works after 1997) stored in NCSU’s Electronic Theses and Dissertations database. There aren’t that many items in the ETD database, but on the plus side, you can get the material fast.

Note that your own master’s thesis, like Melanie Sue Hair’s “The Literary Merit of Young Adult Novels: Are They as Good as the Classics?”, will show up there someday soon, and, because it’s in a freely available online database, the whole thing will also be freely available to the world via Google and Google Scholar unless you specifically request that it be withheld for a time (this is called an “embargo”). Neither Dissertation Abstracts nor Amazon indexes Melanie’s thesis, but take a look at David Alejandro Cardenas’s 2005 dissertation Measurement of Involvement Factors in Leisure Studies Doctoral Programs, which is indexed by DA, by our catalog, by the ETD database, and by Google Scholar, with its full text freely available — or, of course, you can get it through Amazon for $69.99.

Other relevant links:

  • NCSU Graduate School’s Thesis and Dissertation Guide — I looked here for exact information on who exactly owns the copyright of your thesis, but to no avail. What I think is that you retain most of the copyright to your work (“copyright” is really a bundle of rights), but that you sign a waiver at some point that allows both NCSU and UMI the right to distribute copies of it but does not allow them to block publication of your work elsewhere. Note that the section on “Copyrighting and Microfilming” is mostly concerned with copyrighted material in your work; this is because UMI and NCSU are effectively publishing your work, and they don’t want to be sued by other copyright holders. Note too a work need not be registered with the Copyright Office in order to be copyrighted, a distinction that is not at ll clear in this guide.
  • ProQuest / UMI’s Dissertation Publishing webpage — You can read here about ProQuest’s business deals with Google and Amazon and about the Open Access publishing option, which (I learned) costs $95.

What exactly counts as a publication in this day and age, anyway?

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Weekly Assignment #9

For this week’s assignment, please do your best to identify two major journals in your field and/or the field relevant to your question. You might want to use the MLA Directory of Periodicals for this, or you might want to ask a scholar to recommend two prominent journals, or you might want to choose two journals that have been cropping up repeatedly in your research.

Describe and evaluate both these journals, making sure to include at least

  • The scholarly “mission” of the journal — its approach, its partisan affiliation, its critical orientation;
  • Whether it is peer-reviewed;
  • How often it comes out;
  • When it was founded; and
  • Who publishes the journal.

You should find this information near the beginning of any print or electronic issue. Please DO NOT copy and paste unattributed boilerplate descriptions of the journal. You may, of course, quote and cite portions of this text.

I also recommend that you visit the publisher’s website and see whether you can subscribe to an RSS feed for this journal. Critical Inquiry, for example, offers a feed of its latest issue, while other journals will often feed you their tables of contents.
If you ever plan to publish any of your research, it would also be a great idea to subscribe now to a journal that really sparks your interest, so that you can get a comprehensive sense of what sorts of things they publish.

Also, our library has set up an Alerts service that allows you to get journal tables of contents in your email, but it doesn’t look like this service includes many humanities journals yet.

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Guest speaker next week

Greg Raschke, Associate Director for Collections and Scholarly Communication Administration at NCSU Libraries, will be our guest speaker next week on the crisis in scholarly communication. Unfortunately, I won’t be here Tuesday, because I’m flying up to New York to see my mother, who’s just been hospitalized for heart problems. Greg will conduct class alone on Tuesday, but I’ll be back in time for Thursday’s class.

Please attend class as usual next week, and watch the blog for the next assignment. Thanks.

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Weekly Assignment #8

By midnight of the day before the next class, please submit a chronological list of journal articles and books related to your topic that form what we might call a “citation chain” or simply a “scholarly conversation” — you’re looking for works that cite each other, in short. To generate this list, please find the oldest relevant journal article that you can and follow it forward as far as you can by using the “cited by” link in Google Scholar and the “Cited Reference Search” in Web of Science. List as many articles as you like that are both useful to you and within six degrees of separation of that original article. (Not all articles on the list must cite that original article; some can cite articles that cite that original article.)

Annotations are not required this week, but if you like, you can write a paragraph describing your search experience — I always enjoy reading those — and/or discussing any interesting information you got by, for instance, pressing the “analyze” button in Web of Science. Any surprises as to how many times an article is or is not cited?

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Reference works addendum

I wanted to remind you that reference works are by no means limited to dictionaries and encylopedias: bibliographies, directories, atlases, and all manner of handbooks count, too. And to find a reference database that might be useful for you, you might want to spend a good bit of time browsing through that A-Z list to dig up untold treasures. I also don’t mind if you ask Cindy for advice on this or any other assignment! Though please do give it a shot yourself first.

Have a good fall break.

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Weekly Assignment #7

The assignment this week isn’t due until the week after next, as neither the Tuesday class nor the Thursday class will meet next week due to Fall Break.

By midnight of the day before the next class, please do both of the following:

  • Find a print reference work related to your topic by searching the NCSU Libraries catalog. Include a full citation, and annotate this as usual with a paragraph that both describes the source and evaluates its usefulness for you. Include in your description such key information as whether the work is issued serially (e.g., every five years), how it is arranged, and any special features.
  • Find an electronic reference work (not the MLA Bibliography nor Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts) that contains information relevant to your topic by searching the NCSU Libraries website. In your paragraph of description and evaluation, please try to include such key information as its scope (e.g., what it includes), how many records/entries the work includes, how often it is updated, and how far back it goes (e.g., the online MLA Bibliography now dates back to the 1920s, farther back than the print version). Be sure to get this information from within the database itself, as the database descriptions on the Libraries’ website may be out of date.

To find print reference books in the catalog, remember that you can click on the “Genre” facets on the left-hand side to limit to Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and so on. You can also go to the Advanced Search page and leave only the “Reference Works” box checked. To find electronic reference works, you can start with the Browse Subjects Reference Tools tab, but you may well find untold treasures just by searching the catalog or browsing the alphabetical list of databases. If you like, you may also look for a database available at UNC or Duke but not at NCSU.

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