Fine Arts Questions

July 7th, 2014

This summer, we’ve been examining the tools available to you to perform the best possible research at IU East – from broadly applicable general techniques to in-depth tools for specific disciplines.  This week, we’ll explore the fine arts.

Fine arts is a broad subject, including the graphic arts, music, and performance art.  You might be looking at a specific creator, or a creation.  Or, you might be exploring a technique, instead.  We have plenty of good arts databases for examining theory, execution, or artist.  Some, like JSTOR, Humanities International Index, or ProQuest Arts are good for any of the fine arts.

Others are more specific – ones like International Index to Performing Arts, Film Index International, Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Online, or International Index to Music Periodicals are all excellent choices.  And the Oxford databases – Oxford Art Online and Oxford Music Online – include detailed artist biographies (and extensive galleries of artwork), in addition to articles on theory, technique, style, or time period.  They also have digitized versions of major reference sources like Grove Dictionary of Art, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, The Oxford Companion to Western Art, the Grove Dictionary of Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, The Oxford Companion to Music, and the Encyclopedia of Popular Music.  All of our arts databases are listed here.

oxford art online

So, if we had a question about technique like “What prompted the use of metal plates in the development of intaglio printmaking?” we might form a search like this:

(intaglio OR engrav*) AND (history OR develop*) AND (plate* OR copper OR zinc)

You can see that we are searching for the three main concepts in the question, although we are using several synonyms to make sure we don’t miss good articles.  We would use the same structure for a question about a person or artwork as well – so if our question was “What were some of the effects of the ‘Mighty Five’ group of composers on Russian music (but not their effect on music elsewhere in Europe)?” this would be a good search:

(mighty five OR russian five OR balakirev circle) AND (music* OR compos* OR symphony) NOT europ*

Russian Five

Although it looks more time-consuming to type in a search this way, the quality of your results will be much closer to what you want than just typing “intaglio” or “mighty five” and hoping for the best – so you’ll save a lot of time searching through irrelevant results.

But, of course, the study of fine art has needs that are unique to the discipline – after all, of what value is a three thousand word essay on a symphony or piece of artwork, if you can’t hear or see it?  So there are several special sources for this type of material.


Looking at an artwork in sufficient detail is critical to art appreciation and criticism, and finding good examples can improve your art papers and your own understanding of an artist or movement.  Aside from the galleries in databases like Oxford Art Online, there are a number of free image searches on the web, and many of the major search engines have dedicated picture modules.  Chances are, you’ve already used something like Google Image Search, Bing Images, or PicSearch – all three allow you to limit to only large, high-resolution images.  Or, try something more experimental and ‘draw’ your search with Retrievr.  And if you already have a low-resolution image and want to find a better version of it, Google Image Search, Retrievr, and TinEye allow you to upload a picture (or supply a URL to one already online) and look to see if a larger version of it is available elsewhere on the web.



While you’ve no doubt listened to many popular songs on YouTube, there’s a lot of material that is much harder to find, especially for composers that are not part of modern pop culture.  Naxos Music Library is a great resource for full audio for classical music – the NML is the largest online classical music database in the world. Currently, it offers streaming access to almost 100,000 CDs with nearly 1.5 million tracks, including a staggering number or rare or out-of-print songs. Hundreds of new CDs are added every month.  Chances are, if you are studying music, you’ll spend a lot of time with this database.


Sometimes you need to play a piece of music yourself, or see exactly how the notes are arranged.  Sheet music is ideal for this.  Library Music Source is one database for this, featuring hundreds of thousands of pages of classical music, which can be downloaded in PDF.  But there are other, more specialized collections, too – if you need American music, the Library of Congress offers tens of thousands of songs in a variety of historical periods. Other sources of sheet music available freely online include the Julliard School’s manuscript collection and Music Scores.  They are less comprehensive, but can still be valuable tools in your music scholarship.

With so many fine arts databases available to you, you’ll be able to do great research for any project.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at!

History Questions

June 30th, 2014

Over the course of the summer, we have been looking at how to perform high quality, academic research in all of the major disciplines IU East teaches.  While we started with general techniques usable in any research, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Each area of study has its own quirks and special types of knowledge, and we want you to be good at whatever type of scholarship you choose to major in.  This week, we’ll dig into the study of history.

History is an area of scholarship with a broad scope – you might be researching something that happened five years ago, or five thousand.  Few other subjects have as wide of potential range.  Fortunately, there are a lot of great places to look.  For research articles, there are general databases like JSTOR or Modern World History Online, or period-specific ones that run the gamut with subjects like America History and Life, Ancient and Medieval History Online, Black Thought and Culture, Early Encounters in North America, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Iraq, 1914-1974: The Middle East Online, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive, and numerous ebooks, as well.  All of our history-related databases can be found here.

So, if we had a question like “How were prisoners of war treated in the American Revolution?”  First, we’d pick a general database or an American history one like America History and Life.  Then, we would put together a search like this:

(“revolutionary war” OR “american war” OR “american revolution”) AND (prisoner* OR captive*) AND (treatment OR welfare OR well being)

american revolution prisoners of war from library of congress

As you can see, we are looking for three different concepts, and have included synonyms for each one, in case if the author uses an unexpected term.  The syntax we used is described in more detail in the general techniques.  It’s a little more complicated, but starting your search like this pays off in a big way.  Just typing “american revolution prisoners of war” and hoping for the best will turn up a few things, but not much – we get a lot better results with our search words.

But there are plenty of other, more esoteric history sources, as well.  And the study of history has many special demands


Primary sources are things that were written directly by a participant, rather than information that comes second-hand from interviewing or study.  They are crucial for understanding people in a distant and unfamiliar time period, because good scholars don’t depend on what others say about a culture – they look at the primary evidence themselves.  They can include letters, diaries, personal notes, oral histories, and more, and depending on the time period you are studying, there may be many of them, or very few.  Like with research databases, some repositories for primary sources are general, and some focus on one issue or time period.  But we have a lot of them to choose from – databases like African-American History Online, American Civil War: Letters and Diaries, American Indian History Online, American Women’s History Online, British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries, Modern World History Online, Oral History Online, North American Immigrant Letters & Diaries, and Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 are all examples of databases partially or completely dedicated to primary sources.


Along with primary sources, historical newspapers represent an irreplaceable window to the thoughts and feelings of people in a given era of time.  Unlike some other types of primary sources, they have an immediacy to them, because they were written as events occurred rather than after a long period of reflection.  Seeing how people’s understanding of an event changed over time can be exceptionally illuminating.  Databases available for historical newspapers include 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, British Newspapers 1600-1900, British Periodicals 1 & 2, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Historical Newspapers: New York Times, Illustrated London News Historical Archive-1842-2003, Picture Post Historical Archive, and PIO – Periodicals Index Online.  While we have a few other large newspaper databases, like Newspaper Source and News and Newspapers, those two are more focused on current newspapers, and less on historical ones.

historic newspaper


Sometimes, videos and documentaries are helpful for familiarizing yourself with a topic, especially if there is a strong visual or kinesthetic component involved in understanding your research subject (for example, if you are studying the use of dance in a given culture, a video will be much more useful than an article).  We have several databases dedicated to films on history topics, including World History in Video, American History in Video, and VAST.  They include documentaries, news programs, interviews, and more.  Many have full, interactive transcripts that make it easy to follow along or skip ahead to a section of interest to you.  You can search by keyword, type, or historical event.

With so many history tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to do better research in a fraction of the time.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at!

Political Science Questions

June 23rd, 2014

This summer, we’ve been exploring what goes into good, academic research.  And although there are plenty of great basic skills and techniques usable for any discipline – which we covered in the first week – each subject taught at IU East has its own unique character and needs.  Here, we’ll look at the sources for your research in political science.

Like with most other academic topics, there are a number of excellent databases that will give you great research articles – start with a database like ProQuest Political Science or Military and Government.  Another great source is CQ Researcher (despite being named ‘Congressional Quarterly, it is produced by journalists, not the US government), which has incisive, deep reports on a variety of hot political topics from gun control and immigration to bullying and racial politics.  Each one also includes a chronology briefly describing major events affecting that issue.  If your topic is historical, you might try JSTOR or browse or book and ebook collection, as well.  All of our political science databases can be found here.


One caveat – in many other disciplines, you have probably searched for ‘peer-reviewed’ journals.  You may have heard that these are more rigorous or accurate or scholarly than other articles, and they are: they are examined by other experts in the field – the ‘peers’ of the author – before they are published.  A lot of researchers limit their searching to only peer-reviewed articles out of habit.  But if you are researching an emerging topic or event going on right now, you definitely do NOT want to limit yourself to peer-reviewed articles.  The process of peer-review adds months, at least, to the time it takes to publish an article.  So if you want up-to-date information about, for example, the ISIS uprising in Iraq, you need articles that can be published far faster.

So, let’s say we were interested in researching what effect Colorado’s decriminalization of marijuana has had on non-medical uses of the drug. We might put together a search like this:

(marijuana OR pot OR cannib*) AND colorado* AND (criminal* OR legal* OR decriminal*) NOT (medic*)

Note that we are looking for three concepts – marijuana, the state of Colorado, and legality – and excluding another – medicine.  The synonyms grouped in parentheses and using wildcards help us find articles that may not use a word we expected, but that is still relevant.  If an article only uses the word ‘cannabis’ to refer to marijuana, for instance, we will still find it.

Just blindly typing in ‘colorado marijuana’ will give us a mix of medical and non-medical uses of the drug, and not necessarily look at the effects of its legal status – the article might only be interested in economics, for example.  There will be less false hits and more strong ones with our more focused search.

But like all areas of human knowledge, political science has several types of information that require different types of research.  Fortunately, we have plenty of material to meet these needs.


For most subjects, objectivity is important.  Scholars try, as best as they are able, to minimize or eliminate their own biases from their work.  That’s true in political science, as well, to a certain extent.  It can be difficult – presumably, you decided to study this field because you were inspired by some political issue, so looking at something so personal objectively can be a daunting task.

But politics is made of people who approach issues very differently – sometimes bitterly so.  And studying those interactions and differences of opinion is crucial to the understanding of political science.  That’s where Opposing Viewpoints in Context comes in.  This database includes information on all the major political issues, including some news and research content – but its main distinction are ‘viewpoint’ articles, written by partisan leaders and clearly and articulately stating the positions and beliefs of each side.  These articles make no pretense of being unbiased, but they are an unparalleled source for quickly finding cogent and well-reasoned descriptions of major political viewpoints.


Political alliances are made up of smaller groups, and understanding those groups can be important.  How many members are there?  What are associated organizations, or their allies – is it an independent or subordinate group?  How do you contact them?  Do they have tax-exempt status?  If so, are donations made to them tax-deductible?  How much money do they have?  For these questions, databases like Associations Unlimited are excellent resources.  You can use this database to research organizations – or, if you are an activist, to join or donate to one.



Recently, we looked at legal and criminal justice research.  There is some overlap with political science, too – but political science is also concerned with changing laws, and advocating for passing new laws.  This sort of proposed legislation – bills currently being debated in Congress – can be found through the Library of Congress.  Just choose “Legislation in Current Congress” and search by keyword, bill name, bill number, sponsor, or even what committee it came out of.  You can find out what the legislation is for, the current wording of the proposed bill, which chamber it’s in (House or Senate), who all sponsors or co-sponsors it, current status and amendments, and votes that have been taken.  It goes back to the 93rd Congress (1973), allowing you to ‘look behind the curtain’ at how a lot of existing law was made.

With all of these tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to do better and more nuanced research on political science topics.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at!

English Questions

June 16th, 2014

If you’ve been following this blog, you know we’ve been examining how to do in-depth research in each of the major academic disciplines IU East offers.  There’s a lot that is the same for any type of scholarly research, and we started off looking at those general techniques.  But every field of study has its own, unique needs, and to be a great researcher, you need to learn them.  This week, we’ll look at English and literature.

Obviously, we have a lot of great general purpose databases for locating research articles – some of these include MLA International Bibliography and ProQuest Language and Literature.  But another great source is JSTOR, a database that has journal articles dating back more than a century.  Unlike research for a topic like medicine or science, this is a good thing.  Currency is nowhere near as important in the study of English or of literature as it is in some other disciplines.  A book or article even forty years old might be considered current, and those authors’ insights will be very useful to you.  All of our databases dealing with the study of literature or English can be found here.

So, let’s say we were researching a topic like “What kinds of Christian symbolism did Ben Jonson use in his plays?”  Putting the basic techniques we learned into practice, we might try a search like this:

jonson AND (religio* OR christ*) AND (theat* OR play* OR comed* OR traged*)

Notice how we’ve structured the search – we’re looking for three main concepts (grouped in parentheses), and are looking simultaneously for synonyms for those concepts.  A search like this will give us a lot more of what we need, and a lot less of what we don’t, than just typing ‘ben jonson’ and hoping for the best.

ben jonson photo from britannica

But, of course, literature and English have their own unique characteristics that set them apart from other disciplines.  Learning how to do good research in these areas will make you a much better student of English.  Fortunately, we have plenty of tools at your disposal.


The very nature of language plays a role in study, in a way that other disciplines don’t grapple with.  What does a word mean?  How is it being used?  Was its meaning different to the author than it is to us?  These are all questions that can help us understand a text or work of literature.  For some, a common dictionary would suffice.  But for a scholar, no source equals the Oxford English Dictionary.  The OED is a complete (and very thorough – the hard copy is well over twenty thousand pages long) dictionary, with normal definitions, pronunciation guides, and related words.  But it traces the development of the English language, too, showing how words entered English, what language they entered from, and how their usage and spelling changed over time.  It can be useful for dating an unknown text – is the language it uses contemporary?  It can be helpful for a writer, as well – if you are writing your own fiction, it can help you match your dialogue to the era.  Our extensive book and ebook collections contain numerous titles to help in the formal study of the English language as well, such as Ronald Carter’s Investigating English Discourse: Language, Literacy, Literature or M.A.K. Halliday’s Studies in English.


In examining a work of literature, it will often be put to interpretive criticism.  More than merely reviewing books, literary criticism interprets and evaluates the work in a variety of modern and historical contexts, such as a feminist or Marxist worldview.  Some criticism can be quite lengthy, examining a whole author’s corpus of work, or a particular literary movement.  Books and ebooks are the best sources for these sorts of criticism, and our collection includes titles like Studies in Literary Criticism and Theory and Twentieth Century Fiction: From Text to Context.  But for shorter critical writings, we have several databases entirely dedicated to the topic, including Literature Criticism Online and Literature Resource Center.


Learning about the author of a piece of literature can offer deep insight into what and why they wrote.  Unlike disciplines like science and medicine, where the author tries to remove their own individual quirks from their writing, these personal characteristics instead deepen and enrich literature.  We have numerous databases dedicated to this sort of study, including Contemporary AuthorsDictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online, and Something About The Author Online.  And again, books and ebooks can lend insight to hundreds of writers – a few samples include A Companion to William Faulkner and Mark Twain: A Short Introduction.


Where a book was written, and by whom, gives cultural context to works of literature, as well.  As you might expect, we have lots of top-tier resources for examining these issues, too.  A sampling of the many databases we have that serve cultural literature study include Black Women Writers, Caribbean Literature, Early English Prose Fiction, Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period, Latino Literature: Poetry, Drama, and Fiction, and 20th Century American Poetry.  Our books and ebooks run the gamut, as well, with such titles as New Spain, New Literatures and The Literature of Ireland: Culture and Criticism.


Primary sources are anything written directly by a participant, rather than information that comes second-hand from interviewing or research.  They can include letters, diaries, personal notes, oral histories, and more.  Databases like Literature Resource Center and Litfinder allow you to limit a search to only primary materials like this, and other databases like British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries reflect the personal stories of types of authors that can be underrepresented in more general works.


With all of these tools, doing research on literature or English topics will be much easier for you.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at!

Law and Criminal Justice Questions

June 9th, 2014

For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at how to get the most out of scholarly resources for each discipline taught at IU East, and this week we’ll look at criminal justice.  Many of these methods will build off of the general techniques we explored earlier, but some are unique to this field.

Like medicine, law is another type of information that you don’t want to leave to the free web.  There’s a lot of misinformation and commercial material out there, and it can be hard to determine fact from advocacy.  Fortunately, there are plenty of good, reliable tools – and all of our criminal justice-related sources can be found here.  Databases like SocIndex or ProQuest Criminal Justice are perfect for high-quality articles and research on legal and criminal justice topics like law enforcement, corrections, rehabilitation, family law, or drug enforcement.

So, if we had a topic like “What are the prevalence or types of police misconduct, not counting extreme things like tampering with evidence or framing a defendant?”  Using our basic techniques, we might construct a search like this:

(police OR law enforcement) AND (accountabil* OR corrupt* OR misconduct) NOT (tamper* OR alter* OR frame*)

You can see that we’re looking for two distinct concepts with this search (the words grouped in parentheses) and excluding a third concept (the types of misconduct we’re not interested in).  A search like this will give us more of what we want, and less that we don’t.  If we’d just typed ‘police misconduct’ and hit the search button, we would miss a lot of articles relevant to us and get back others that focused on the wrong things.  Although it can seem time-consuming, setting up a good search always improves the speed and accuracy of research.

But while these databases are great, the most comprehensive legal source is Lexis Nexis.  Lexis Nexis also includes news and business information, but the true strength of the database is in the depth and connectedness of its legal information.  And it is indeed powerful – you can look up any federal or state legal case.  You can look at the United States or any individual state’s constitution, legal code, statutes, administrative regulations, or court rules.  You can browse law review journals.  You can even look up patents.  Some legislation and case law from Canada and the European Union are also included.

Some of this material is in the public domain – Indiana case law, for example, can be found on the state’s website.  But Lexis-Nexis is organized and interconnected in a way that makes it by far your best choice for legal research.  And it is well-suited for many of the specific needs of legal researchers.


‘Code’ or ‘Statutory’ law is law created by legislators, like Congress.  They write and pass laws, which courts then interpret and enforce.  Often codes are quite lengthy and specific, covering many tens of thousands of pages, and in a country like the United States, there is a delicate interplay between what is covered by Federal laws (laws affecting the whole country) and State laws (which can differ greatly in defining crimes and their punishments).

However, legislators can never predict every eventuality, so frequently courts will have to interpret the law’s intent in a new situation.  Case law, or Precedent, is the practice of courts to respect previous court decisions in ruling on their cases, so as to make legal decisions more predictable and fair.  Precedent can be used directly, or to inform a similar, but not quite the same, situation.

lexis nexis search

In Lexis Nexis, under ‘search by content type’, choose the type of law that you want.  So for statutory law, you may want something like Burns Indiana Code § 35-42-1-1, the statute which describes homicide.  Or, if you’re interested in a specific case, you may look for a federal decision like Roe v. Wade , 410 U.S. 113 or an Indiana decision like Castor v. State, 587 N.E.2d 1281.  Regardless, you have a lot of options – you can search by keyword, citation, or the names of the parties.


Almost always, you need to know how a point of law has been used in later cases.  For decades, a product that did this was Shepard’s Citations, a company that indexed cases by whenever they were mentioned in later rulings or decisions – so lawyers came to refer to doing this type of research as ‘Shepardizing’ a case.  That company was purchased by Lexis Nexis, and is now an integral part of the database.  The online version is easier to use than the old book format – start by simply pull up a case, such as Scott v. Sandford , 60 U.S. 393.

dredd scott shepardized

The red stop sign on the left side of the screen is a warning that a major point of law used in this case has been subsequently overridden.  A yellow warning sign indicates that there may be some change, and a green symbol means the case or point of law is still valid.  To find out, on the right side of the screen, under ‘next steps’, choose ‘Shepardize this’.  In this example, we can see that the decision has been ‘superseded’ by subsequent decisions and laws – that is, it is no longer valid.  If the case was ‘followed by’ others, it would still be valid.  The whole legislative history is listed below (the Dredd Scott case is a fairly extreme example, and the legislative history for this one is very lengthy).


The best source for reliable statistical information is the United States government.  Several publications cover different aspects of legal, crime, and law enforcement statistics.  The most comprehensive of these is the Statistical Abstract of the United States (section 5 deals with criminal justice topics), although it ceased publication in 2012 due to budget cuts.  Fortunately, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI Uniform Crime Reports offer in-depth information on a variety of topics, including data on both victims and offenders.  Individual states also produce crime statistics, but with less consistency than the federal government.

With these tools, starting research on a criminal justice topic will be much easier.  But if you have any questions, please contact us at!