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MUSE E-102 | Writing Skills Proseminar For Museum Studies


For your MUSE E-102 research project, you'll want to engage with HOLLIS, Harvard's information discovery system, to identify at least some of the sources you'll need.   

To be sure you have the ability to move confidently in the HOLLIS environment, we've given it some detailed treatment in this course guide.

We also know, however, that for the work you'll do beyond this course you'll need a repertoire of research tools beyond HOLLIS -- databases for searching journal literature in more depth, contextualizing sources, even some software for keeping track of what you find.  These facets of research are included below.  

Remember that the staff of the Harvard Fine Arts Library and the curators at the Harvard Art Museums can offer additional, special kinds of subject expertise.  You should feel free to contact them for a virtual consultation on a project.

Enjoy your work and reach out to me at any point for advice or with questions! We can meet on Zoom to talk at more length.

Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs, Lamont Library

Jonathan Paulo, Online Learning and Reference Librarian, Lamont Library

Above: Haida Effigy Pipe. Carved wood and ivory, with hinged arms.  Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada, c. 1840, PM 84-57-10/R195 (digital file #60742839).Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 

Standard Research Handbooks and Directories






Oxford Art Online

Brings together and allows simultaneous searching of four of the most important tools for art historical research:

  • Grove Dictionary of Art
  • Benezit Dictionary of Artists
  • Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
  • Oxford Companion to Western Art.


NEA Arts Participation

Since 1982, the NEA has published the largest, most representative survey of adult patterns in arts participation. From the page above, you can link into research reports and arts data profiles, including archived ones.

IBISWorld Key Industry Statistics: Museums

HOLLIS: Searching the Harvard Infoscape



HOLLIS combines the extensive contents of the Harvard Library catalog with those of another large multidisciplinary database of journal, newspaper, and magazine articles.

It allows you to look for materials  broadly -- panoramically -- across a vast information landscape of print, digital, and multimedia sources.


Normally, yes, because the "curated content" HOLLIS offers you is specifically geared toward the Harvard community that you now belong to.

That means it's been chosen carefully and vetted in one way or another by scholars, by the publishing houses where it originates, by the organizations and companies we purchase it from on your behalf, and by the specially trained library experts who are continually building up Harvard's collection.

Some of it might appear in a Google Scholar search, but a good portion of it is premium content that would never appear in search results on the free and open web. 

For suggestions on good search syntax, see

HOLLIS for Archival Discovery: Although Harvard Library Special Collections and Archives are in HOLLIS, considering using HOLLIS for Archival Discovery, where you can search the finding aids of our primary sources including letters, photographs, film and video, print items, digital materials, and objects. 

Above: Framed Victorian Hair Memorial ("hair bouqet"), 1850-60, General Artemas Ward House Museum, Shrewsbury, MA [owned by Harvard University].





Build up and out from what you know already:the "keyword" (Google search) approach.

Use the language that comes naturally to you to describe your topic.  Then mine your search results for verbal clues: other words (or word combinations) to substitute for the ones you've started with. Good searching is really about using language well and flexibly. Consciously look for ways to grow your searching vocabulary as you go.

Build from what you have already: the "item in hand" approach.

  • An author, a core text from a class, or a title of a book that your instructor recommends may contain clues that can lead you to other items that cover the same topic or some aspect of your topic.
  • The subject terms (also known as subject headings) in a book's HOLLIS record will link to related information throughout the libraries.



Above: Triangle Constellation, mobile sculpture by Carlos Amorales, 2015, Calderwood Courtyard, Harvard Art Museum.


  • When your assignment requires it, or when it helps you narrow down large result sets, limit your results to peer-reviewed articles.

  • Scour article abstracts (summaries) and when available, take note of subject terms, which you can use to refine, refocus, sharpen, or streamline your search. 
  • When it's offered, look at the Related Reading list (which displays to the right of an open item record). Like Amazon's recommendation feature, this list can help you discover similar materials serendipitously, almost "sideways," based on what other users have read. 
  • When offered, click on the Citations link.  The impact of an article can be measured, at least in part, by how many other scholars chose to use it as a source for their own investigations. The more times cited, the more important and more influential a piece of scholarship is. 


Image, left: Sundial (with nocturnal on reverse side), French, 17th century,  The Center for Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University, Inventory number 7318.



Despite the fact that our physical items are unavailable and buildings are shuttered, HOLLIS can and should continue to be a key research resource, wherever students are.  That's in part because of the sheer size and enormous variety of what it contains, but also because the online content students can surface there is substantial. 

1. Search HOLLIS as you typically would (we give some advice on constructing effective search strings here). Results can then be limited, via the right-side filters, to materials ONLINE.

The limiter for online materials (like other filters) can be locked for the duration of your HOLLIS search session. ​When you apply the filter, it will, by default, look like this:    When locked, the icon color changes to blue: 

Locking filters is a useful option when you want to modify a search, do a completely new search, jump to a subject heading string,etc. You can mix and match locked and unlocked filters, too, as in this example: filters for language, onlline access, date, and resource type displayed, with 3 of the 4 locked


2.  Many publishers are opening up temporary, emergency access to a wide array of e-books, textbooks, and digital materials that fuel scholarship. Listed below are several that may have particular utility for students and faculty working on social science and interdisciplinary research projects, including those for Expos 20.

JSTOR E-books (30,000 books selected from academic presses)

Project Muse E-Books (a growing collection of temporarily free e-book and journal content, contributed by academic and university publishers)

University of Michigan E-Book Platform

HathiTrust Emergency Library: If we have it, and HathiTrust has a digitized copy, you'll be able to check it out, reserves-style. Presently, loan are given for 1 hour, renewable if there's no waiting list. The key here is be sure you click on the button, top right  and choose Harvard University.

 NOTE: Harvard Libraries do not, at present, subscribe to all of the e-book collections offering expanded, free access to their content. Access will most likely sometime between late-April and June 2020 (depending on the publisher).


WorldCat  is a database of library databases; using zipcodes, it can tell you which libraries in your vicinity own the book.  

Search and select a title, add your location, and see what happens.

As long as any of the area libraries allow you in (often a phone call or a scan of their website will clarify policy), you'll be in luck!



1. Check the catalog of the large PUBLIC LIBRARY in your area.  Depending on the region, the size of the library, its mission, and its funding, a local public library may have a significant research component to its collection (The Boston Public Library at Copley Square is a prime example). 

2. If you live near one of the libraries in the BORROW DIRECT system, you might be able to  use your Harvard credentials to get onsite access (or loan privileges). Rules vary, but asking is worth a shot!

3. Ask your local library about an INTERLIBRARY LOAN (ILL).  Libraries routinely borrow from each other on behalf of their patrons; if you have a library card, you should be able to request it (or have a librarian do so).  ILL can take a bit of time, however. You might wait a week or a bit more before the item arrives. Some places charge a small fee for the service. 

4. If you need a specific chapter from a book in Harvard's collection, or an article from a journal that's not online, use the SCAN AND DELIVER service. You'll receive a PDF of the material within four working days.



Journal Databases: Museum Studies Beyond HOLLIS


  • Academic Search Premier This database will be an excellent next step after you've sampled what's available in HOLLIS. Academic Search Premier is also multidisciplinary in its coverage, also provides you with a range of article types (some scholarly, some not). But while still broad, it's a smaller universe than HOLLIS.



In addition to covering art historical topics in depth, this database also covers topics such as museum design and construction; programming, exhibition spaces, and visitor experiences; cultural heritage; museum collections and their curation.

The scope of ARTbibliographies Modern extends from artists and movements beginning with Impressionism in the late 19th century, up to the most recent works and trends in the late 20th century. The database covers all aspects of modern and contemporary art, including performance art and installation works, video art, computer and electronic art, body art, graffiti, artists' books, theater arts, crafts, jewelry, illustration, and more, as well as the traditional fine arts of painting, printmaking, sculpture, and drawing. 

This database provides the most comprehensive coverage of scholarship in the disciplines of art history and architectural history. It will surface information on articles published, since 2008, from 1,200 academic journals. Also included are citations to art-related book content, conference proceedings, dissertations, and exhibition catalogs.

Image, above: Harvard University Art Museum, photo by Basher Tome, January 23, 2015, Flickr Commons, CC x 2.0




This database is considered the gold standard for researching business-related topics of all kind.  If you're interested in museum marketing, planning, funding, or administration, this is a resource to explore.

  • IBISWorld: This database provides comprehensive industry reports (including on US Museums) that detail key demographic and business trends and outlooks.




Use this database for topics that touch on museum education, exhibit creation, and instructional practice.

Image, left, from the Blaschka Glass Models of Plants Collection, Harvard Museum of Natural History. Photo taken by Curious Expeditions, March  16, 2009. Flickr Commons  CC-By-NC-SA 2.0.



The essential database for topics related to the U.S. and Canada.  Local history is well-represented, as is scholarship on history museums more generally.



ontains full-text of nearly 30 journals and newsletters, all published by the American Anthropological Association. Look here for discussions of cultural heritage, material culture, museums of anthropology, science, and natural history (among other things). 

A core resource for researchers, professionals, and students working in sociology, social planning and policy, and many related disciplines. It draws its contents from more than 1800 journals, relevant dissertations, selected books and book chapters, and association papers, as well as citations for book reviews and other media. Look here for studies of museum culture, the social experience of museums, the political dimensions of museums and collectioms, etc. 



A good option  for projects that might involve natural history museums and science/technology-focused museum topics, particularly in their historical contexts.

Broadly searches across the sciences, social sciences, and humanties.  NOTE: the default display of results is by year; you may get more pertinent information -- depending on your topic -- by resorting by relevance. 

Tools for Managing Research


One simple change can turn Google Scholar into what's effectively a Harvard database -- with links to the full-text of articles that the library can provide. Here's what to do:  Look to the left of the GS screen and click on the "hamburger" (); then click on .  Look for "Library Links."  Then type Harvard University into the search box and save your choice.  As long as you allow cookies, the settings will keep.  

Lean Library: a browser plugin that (nearly always) identifies digital availability of items at Harvard and runs automatically as you search books and articles.  


 Zoteroa free, open source citation management tool will take the process of collecting and organizing citations, incorporating them into your paper, and creating a bibliography or works cited page to the next level. 

It's worth the small investment of time to learn Zotero.  A good guide, produced by Harvard librarians, is available here: