Finding and Evaluating Reliable Sources
You will undertake an independent library search to build essential information literacy skills in identifying, evaluating and properly documenting suitable historical studies and appropriate primary sources. The purpose of this assignment is for you to gain experience using library resources to research topics not addressed on the syllabus. I am happy to consult on designing bibliographic searches through email and office visits.
Your group is free to choose any topic that interests you relating to a technological development of the 19th or 20th century. You are not limited to topics already addressed on the syllabus. A list of potential topics is located on the third page of this handout.
This assignment essentially entails conducting a literature search using tools available through the library to develop a bibliography of scholarly sources. For the purposes of this assignment, a secondary source will be defined as a document written after a historical event has occurred that offers an interpretation or analysis about the event. These include (but are not limited to) journal articles, longer journalistic pieces, and historical monographs (aka books). A primary source is a document, petition, musical composition, visual image (e.g., photograph, map, engineering drawing, political cartoon, etc.), oral history or physical object (e.g., game trophy, t-shirt, tourist memento, etc.), which was written or created during the time period under study. These sources were created by someone present during an experience or time period and offer a first-hand view of a particular event or perspective.
While there is a wealth of general summaries available through Google searches, you will want to find scholarly sources to ensure the accuracy or add depth to broad summaries on the Internet. WPI’s Gordon Library makes it easy to search the relevant secondary literature on a topic, but it is not always the best search engine for recent materials. You will want to expand your search beyond Google and Summons to incorporate specialty libraries or archives, subscription databases and abstract services. In many of these services you will be able to digitally link to secondary and primary sources.
To identify appropriate search engines, library catalogues and databases you may use this Research Guide: http://libguides.wpi.edu/history
This Research Guide contains direct links to the research databases that will prove most valuable to your investigations. To find scholarly sources on your topics, I recommend that you follow the links to these three databases and do searches within these databases:
You can perform simple searches or more advanced searches in each database. To narrow your finding I recommend that you use quotation marks around key terms like “scientific management” or “nuclear energy.” Also take advantage of Boolean searches.
Although there will be some overlap, these databases search disparate collections. You will find materials in Project Muse that not available through JSTOR and vice-versa. Therefore, pursue your search across many databases. You do not need to read everything you find, but your complete bibliography from multiple searches will aid your understanding of the contours and significance of your topic.
Format for Assignment:
You will submit the results of your research as a bibliography of at least five (5) scholarly sources. You should include as much information as possible about them, including authorship. Remember, please, that a URL alone is not an acceptable bibliographic entry. The bibliography should be formatted in Chicago Style. Do not include encyclopedia entries, even good ones, in your bibliography. Starting with Wikipedia to find other references is fine, but you should not use Wikipedia or any other encyclopedia as a final source.
You will be graded on the quality of the bibliography, the authority of the sources listed, the relevance of the material to the topic, and the formatting.
Purpose of the assignment: In a world of too much information, how should the researcher develop practices to identify the best, most reliable and authoritative sources for her academic work? Information literacy refers to the bundle of skills and tool necessary to successfully navigate a world dripping with information. With the help of research and instruction librarians in Gordon Library, your future course work and projects will continuously hone your information literacy along six frameworks:
• Authority Is Constructed and Contextual
• Information Creation as a Process
• Information Has Value
• Research as Inquiry
• Scholarship as Conversation
• Searching as Strategic Exploration
This exercise emphasizes two of these frameworks, namely issues of “authority” and “strategic search protocols.” First, you are asked to conduct multiple searches using different search engines and databases to gather as much material as possible but also to weigh its utility. Second, you are asked to develop a rudimentary calculus for establishing the reliability and authoritativeness of sources. For example, is a Wikipedia page as authoritative as a peer-reviewed journal article? What blogs count as reliable sources? Any research paper is only as good as the sources that make up its evidentiary base. This assignment focuses on the continuous process of developing your information literacy.