This assignment serves several purposes: it is an opportunity for you to begin exploring possible questions for your final paper; it is a way to see what kinds of conversations go on amongst scholars of contemporary literature; it is a chance to rehearse the steps involved in a research project; and finally, it is an introduction to Zotero, an add-on to Firefox that simplifies the process of recording, annotating, formatting, and sharing bibliographies.
Begin the assignment by settling upon a research topic or problem. Ideally this topic could lead to your final research paper, but it doesn’t have to. The topic might be a specific writer or a specific novel, but it could also be something more general, say, trauma theory, dystopian literature, or apocalypticism in the postmodern world.
Locate eight works of criticism or scholarship that might be relevant to your topic. Find a mixture of books and journal articles. Avail yourself of the various research databases George Mason has access to: the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, the MLA International Bibliography, JStor, Project Muse, etc. Once you’ve found one or two articles, consider “mining” their own bibliographies for possible appropriate sources.
Use Zotero to record the bibliographic information of each of your eight sources. If you’re using any of the library’s databases or online catalogs, it is supremely easy for Zotero to “grab” the citation information (and associated PDF files as well). Store your eight citations in a new Zotero collection (so that they will easily stand out from any existing citations you have gathered in the past).
We will have a three-tier system of annotations, in which each successive level requires deeper engagement with fewer sources:
Tier One: Use Zotero’s tagging feature to tag all eight sources with 5-10 relevant tags, or keywords. Base your tags on the title, author, subject, abstract, or other pieces of metadata you find associated with the source.
Tier Two: Decide which four sources sound the most promising or interesting and look at them up close. You don’t need to read these four books or articles all the way through. Look at introductions and conclusions and skim through the rest. Try to get a sense of the argument and approach of each of the pieces of scholarship. Synthesize what you learn about each of the texts, and record your findings as an annotation in the Notes tab for each citation in Zotero. These annotations should be no longer than several sentences. Think of them as your capsule description of the book or article, highlighting what is most worth mentioning about the piece of scholarship. They should give you (or another researcher looking at your bibliography) a snapshot of the source.
Tier Three: Out of the four sources you annotated, select one article (not book) to read thoroughly. Write a two-page response to the article in which you consider these questions:
- Who is the article’s intended audience? That is, specialists, the general public, scholars with certain interests, something else entirely?
- What is the central claim or question of the article?
- What is your response to the article’s argument — do you find it persuasive, unpersuasive, interesting, uninteresting? Explain your response.
- What do you notice about the article’s methodology — the kinds of evidence the writer draws on and the critical approach the writer takes in framing a question or problem to analyze?
- How does the scholar situate his or her argument in relationship to other critics? That is, does the scholar write to undercut x’s argument, or to build on y’s argument, or in agreement with z’s argument? How does the argument signal its participation in a larger critical conversation?
- What questions come to mind as you read the article?
We will use Zotero’s Group feature to share our resources with each other online. After you have finished the first three parts of the assignment, you can drag your eight sources from the Zotero collection on your computer to an online Group that I will set up for the class.
Also, export your Zotero collection of eight sources as a Zotero RDF file (be sure to include the notes and files when the option comes up). Email the resulting file to me. Also email your response to the single article as well. This material is all due Tuesday, November 24.
Once I have everyone’s annotated bibliography via Zotero, I will compile all the citations from all the students into one large bibliography, which I will post online, and which we can begin using as a shared resource.