Contexts, Backgrounds, Overviews, Methods

Oxford Bibliographies Online

OBO entries combine the best features of the annotated bibliography with an authoritative subject encyclopedia  in order to help you identify some of the most important and influential scholarship on a broad topic.

Often the issue in information-seeking isn't scarcity of material butits sheer abundance. OBO entries can help you solve the problem of  knowing what or who to read or which voices in the conversation you should give some fuller attention to.

Entries potentially relevant  to SS 98se course themes include:

Annual Reviews

This is a "classic" tool, the most famous example of the stand-alone literature review. For nearly 100 years, it's offered, each year ,authoritative syntheses of the primary research literature in 46 academic fields, including political sciencesociology, and anthropology -- just some of the fields that might take up questions related to race and ethnicity in the United States. 

A search of Annual Reviews can therefore help you easily identify—and contextualize—the principal contributions that have been made in your field.  The comprehensive critical review not only summarizes a topic but also roots out errors of fact or concept and provokes discussion that will lead to new research activity. 

Some fairly recent examples of literature reviews potentially related to class themes can be browsed here.

 Strategies for Locating Lit Reviews published elsewhere: 

  • In subject databases, like those on this guide, you can often limit your search results this way.If a literature review option exists, you'll probably find it under filters for document type or methodology.
  • Review essay is another filter to try, when it's offered. Typically, a review essay will take two or three recent publications as an occasion to discuss trends, approaches, and research directions more generally. 
  • In dissertations, lit reviews commonly appear as a preliminary chapter. Try ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

Special Note for Historical Approaches

  • The preferred term for "literature review" in this discipline is historiography.


Sage Research Methods Online

The ultimate methods library, it has more than 1000 books, reference works, journal articles, case studies, and instructional videos on topics across the social sciences. It also boasts the largest collection of qualitative methods books available online from any scholarly publisher.

Users can browse content by topic, discipline, or format type (book chapters, definitions, etc.). 

SRM offers several research tools as well: a methods map;  user- created readng lists; a project planner' and advice on choosing statistical tests.

Academic Research Beyond JSTOR and HOLLIS

Ethnic Diversity Source (EBSCOhost)

A full-text resource of books, academic journals, primary source materials (speeches, documents, interviews, videos) that covers the culture, traditions, social treatment and lived experiences of different U.S. ethnic groups: Black Americans, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans,Latinx Americans, Indigenous Americans, and Asian Americans.

EDS can sometimes feel broader than it is deep, so supplement it with resources like Ethnic Newswatch and other appropriate subject databases, in history, sociology, politics, and the like.

Ethnic NewsWatch (ProQuest)

A current resource of full-text newspapers, magazines, and journals of the ethnic and minority press, providing researchers access to essential, often overlooked perspectives.

Race Relations Abstracts (Ebscohost)

Focuses in particular on issues related to diversity, discrimination, ethnic studies, immigration, and other essential areas of race relations.

ProQuest Black Studies 

A database that brings together 120 significant arhcival collections, 160 scholalry periodicals, 10 major Black newspapers, and  schoalrly essays on Black life and culture from the Schomburg Center .

America: History and Life (EBSCOhost)

The premier database for deep access to scholarly books, journals, and dissertations on the United States and Canada.

Sociology Collection (ProQuest)

A core resource for Social Studies concentrators, it covers sociology, social theory, social planning/policy, and related disciplines.

Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (ProQuest)

WPSA provides citations to and summaries of journal literature in political science and related fields, including political sociology, political theory, economics, law, and public policy. 

The Left Index

Collects the diverse literature of the left, with an emphasis on political, economic, social and culturally engaged scholarship both inside and outside of academia. Other emphases include the labor movement, ecology and environment, race and ethnicity, social and cultural theory, sociology, art and aesthetics, philosophy, history, education, law, and globalization.

Policy, Numbers, and Public Opinion Surveys

Note: Our data librarian is Diane Sredl. She'll welcome hearing from you with data-related questions.

Think Tank Search, HKS Library 

A custom Google search that brings together the contents of 1200+ of these organizations for easy searching. 


The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world by conducting public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. Pew is non-profit, non-partisan, and non-advocacy. Examples of Pew publications and interest clusters:


A statistics portal that integrates over 60,000 diverse topics of data and facts from over 10,000 sources onto a single platform. Information derives from market researchers, trade publications, scientific journals, and government sites.

Roper Center iPoll

The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, located at Cornell University, is one of the world’s leading archives of social science data, specializing in data from public opinion surveys.

The iPoll section of the site enables you to search 650,000 actual public opinion questions. Registration required, but is free to Harvard affiliates.

The General Social Survey (GSS)

This site gathers data on contemporary American society in order to monitor and explain trends and constants in attitudes, behaviors, and attributes.  Hundreds of trends have been tracked since 1972. In addition, since the GSS adopted questions from earlier surveys, trends can be followed for up to 70 years.

The GSS contains a standard core of demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal questions, plus topics of special interest. Among the topics covered are civil liberties, crime and violence, intergroup tolerance, morality, national spending priorities, psychological well-being, social mobility, and stress and traumatic events.

The GSS Data Explorer allows you to select variables and extract data in SPSS or SAS to analyze trends yourself.  Or you can  search on the Key Trends page, topically arranged, for premade graphs.

Primary Sources


Words matter: ethnograph*, case study, personal narrative, sources, correspondence, interviews, images  are just some of the terms in which primary sources are typically described. 


ProQuest Congressional

Legislation, legislative history, congressional hearings, CRS Reports (lbriefs for Congress).

Newsmedia: Current


A news and business information database produced by the Dow Jones company, containing content from more than 200 countries (and in 28 languages, though English predominates). Material is drawn from newspapers, news sites, newswires, TV and radio transcripts.  Full-text coverage varies by title, but is generally better from 1980 forward. Factiva is the major competitor to NexisUni (see below) for current news access.


A powerful news database which covers more than 3000 newspapers from around the globe, most in English (or English translation). Coverage varies by title but usually dates from the 1980s forward. NexisUni is also good for searching  transcripts of major TV and radio news broadcasts (including BBC and NPR). 

Newsmedia: Historical (pre-1980)

Sources for Identifyinging Archival Materials

Themed Collections

Related Research Guide: Primary Sources

Getting Around Paywalls on the Web


  • Google Scholar Settings: One simple change can turn 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
  • Set up a Check Harvard Library Bookmark. It works like a browser extension; click on it when you want to check Harvard's access and it will "unlock" content we provide.

Directions are available here:

  • Lean Library: a browser plugin that (nearly always) identifies digital availability of items at Harvard and runs automatically as you search books and articles.  Some users find it intrusive, however.