A Bibliographic Search Strategy for Anthropology
As is true of most academic disciplines, finding relevant texts is one of the crucial elements of research in anthropology.
There are many ways to organize a search for bibliography relevant to a term paper, thesis or other writing project in anthropology conducted by students and others at the University of Alabama. What follows is simply one suggestion for the steps that might be taken to initiate quickly and efficiently such a bibliographic search, using UA library resources as well as those generally available to the public.
UA Libraries & Scout
Once you have thought through the search terms that will guide your collection of sources, the obvious place to begin is with the online site for UA Libraries. On the home page you will find links, among others, to Databases, Research Guides, Libraries Catalog, Interlibrary Loan, E-Journals and Scout. Learn to use all of these resources, of course, but pay special attention to Scout, which is best accessed from the library's opening page. Scout is an all-in-one search tool for books, ebooks, academic journals, dissertations/theses, reviews, newspaper articles, archives, government documents, etc. It is an easy way to get pdfs of articles and ebooks, if they are available to us for free or via UA subscription. The Scout tutorial will get you up to speed quickly with this very handy resource.
Close to the start of your search, it is advisable to draw upon the considerable human resources at your disposal. Ask your professor(s) for bibliographic advice and don’t hesitate to query your fellow students if their interests are similar to your own. Once you have identified key researchers in your area of inquiry, you can always contact them for help in establishing and augmenting your list of references. [Note: If you do seek the help of strangers, make sure your request for bibliographic information is not too burdensome and ALWAYS acknowledge receipt of responses to email requests for information.]
- ResearchGate is a social networking site for researchers and academics that allow them to share papers. By “following” specific topics and individual scholars who do research in your own areas of concentration you can get access to papers, often before they are actually published. You can also ask for bibliographic suggestions for your own projects. This, and other, scholarly networking sites have been criticized on a variety of counts, but used judiciously they can be useful.
Published bibliographies can greatly accelerate your search. Excellent sources include Oxford Bibliographies Online, Annual Review of Anthropology, Abstracts in Anthropology and Reviews in Anthropology. The American Anthropologist also periodically publishes overviews of recent work in cultural, archaeological, biological and linguistic anthropologies.
There are many online databases available to you and some (such as Google Scholar, Anthropology Plus, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, Web of Science, etc.) should be consulted on a regular basis as your projects develop. Your best (but not only) sources for “full-text” pdfs of anthropological materials are AnthroSource, JSTOR, and SocINDEX with Full Text. All of these sites are particularly good for articles. But don’t rely on a single database. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. None have attained completeness.
Make some effort to build a working bibliography by using the “snowball” technique. When you find an article or book that is spot-on, look at the works it cites and those that cite it. Many electronic databases contain entries with links such as “cited by,” “references,” or “related articles,” which take you to bibliography that might be of particular relevance to your project. Find seminal works and use bibliographic information about them to widen your net.
On the other hand, learn to use Advanced Search (instead of “Basic Search”) to narrow and focus your list. There is no search quite as disheartening as one that generates far more hits than you can possibly browse. For example, a basic search for “culture” on Google Scholar just presented me with 6.2 million results. “Pilgrimage” produced 495k hits; “Christian pilgrimage” yielded 218k results; “Christian pilgrimage in Spain” generated 114k hits...and so on). Refine your searches as much as possible using the Advanced Search function.
ProQuest Dissertations and Theses can be searched for recent theses/dissertations that often contain quite detailed and up-to-date bibliographies of interest. The more recent the dissertation or thesis, the more timely its bibliography is likely to be. Also, look for relevant dissertations and theses that have "References" and "Cited by" links. These links take you directly to bibliographic information.
Sign up for services that “push” potentially relevant citations to you, saving you the trouble of seeking them out and “pulling” them into your bibliography. A good example is Google Scholar Alerts, which automatically sends you notice of papers concerning key topics and scholars that you select. Content alerts or tables of content notification can also be set up by publisher and/or individual journal. Again, the broader your search terms, the greater the likelihood you will be presented with many citations irrelevant to your writing project.
Books can be searched for in a wide variety of online sites, including, of course, the UA Libraries Electronic Catalog, but also the Library of Congress and WorldCat. Amazon is a great site for locating and acquiring new and used books and ABE excels at hooking you up to used books. Increasingly, the sites indicated above that focus on articles are also providing information on books.
The growing importance of eBooks for scholarly purposes should not be underestimated. Our library currently offers about 4 million volumes and fully 1.8 million of them are eBooks. To learn how to access and download eBooks, see this UA tutorial. Google Books and the Hathi Trust Digital Library are very useful sources of pdf copies of books that are no longer copyright protected.
Once you begin accumulating bibliographic information, you will face the problem of managing a growing body of items. It is wise to begin (as early as possible) using a citation manager that allows you not only to store your citations, but to organize them in the creation of bibliographies. Happily, as a UA student you have access to two excellent software packages: EndNote and RefWorks. Additionally, you can also use Zotero, “ a free and open-source reference management software to manage bibliographic data and related research materials.”
Having successfully compiled a list of articles, books and other sources, you will likely discover that neither our excellent library nor currently existing electronic databases contain copies of every single source you have discovered. This is where Interlibrary Loan will prove invaluable. Quickly learn to use it with this tutorial.
There are many more bibliographic sources and techniques for accessing them than are indicated above. The UA Libraries currently provide us with over 600 databases and that number is increasing with new sources emerging yearly, if not monthly. Therefore, you should take advantage of the assistance that UA’s Anthropology Librarian, Karleigh Riesen, can offer. You may contact her at (205) 348-5975 or firstname.lastname@example.org See her Anthro Guide at http://guides.lib.ua.edu/anthropology. Indeed, she has already assisted you (and me) by helping to fine-tune this page.
A related site, Online Bibliographic & Writing Tools for Anthropology, arranges links to all of the sites described here, but without the text. It also contains links to some writing tools that you may find helpful.