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Social Studies 98


Social Studies 98td: Contexts, Overviews, Consensus Views, and Methods

Oxford Bibliographies Online

OBOs combine the best features of the annotated bibliography with an authoritative subject encyclopedia. They aim to help you identify some of the most important and influential scholarship on a broad social, political, cultural or interdisciplinary disciplinary topic. They're regularly updated to remain current.

Often the issue in information-seeking isn't scarcity of material but overabundance. 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.



Literature reviews are essays that help you easily understand—and contextualize—the principal contributions that have been made in your field. They not only track trends over time in the scholarly discussions of a topic, but also synthesize and connect related work. 

Literature reviews may be standalone essays or (as in a dissertation or monograph), part of a larger study.  

Some places to find them:

  • Annual Reviews offers authoritative syntheses of the primary research literature in 46 academic fields, including anthropology, economics, law, political science, and sociology. The advanced search screen  offers excellent search tips, including ways to select certain AR titles or limit to particular disciplines and narrow by date.  
  • International Studies Review, produced by the International Studies Association appears 4 times a. year.  It publishes analytical essays that review current debates, book review essays (which often contextualize and synthesize the larger scholarly conversations), and individual book reviews. 
  • Scholarly subject databases, like Social Science Premium Collection allow you to identify literature reviews by using filters.  Before or after your keyword search,  limit by format/document type to this category. . 
  • ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global is the official digital dissertations archive for the Library of Congress and the database of record for graduate research. While an unpublished dissertation itself may not always be recommended as a source, dissertations usually contain fairly comprehensive literature review chapter which you can mine for bibliography, statements of trends, and the like. 


PRO TIP: If you find a published literature review that seems on point, but rather dated (10 years or so), try searching for it (or one of the authorities it cites) in Google Scholar.  Then follow the “cited by” links. You  may discover something more recent there. 

Handbooks are typically edited volumes, with chapters written by recognized experts. They synthesize current "consensus" thinking around a particular topic or present the most widely accepted perspectives. They usually contain an extensive bibliography which you can mine as well.



PRO TIP:HOLLIS is also a good place to search for these tools. One strategy is just to combine a broad keyword search with this format type (e.g., corruption AND democra* AND handbook). Other terms to try (for rough equivalents of the handbook) are companionguide and reader.


Sage Research Methods Online

The ultimate methods library, it has more than 1000 books, reference works, journal articles, case studies, and instructional videos by world-leading academics from 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 (reference works, 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.

Indicators and Data


Key Library Contact for Data:


Diane Sredl, Data Research Librarian 


Some Key Data Portals


Bertelsman Transformation Index 

The BTI is a  collaboration of nearly 300 country and regional experts from leading universities and think tanks worldwide. The project analyzes and compares transformation processes towards democracy and inclusive market economy worldwide. The BTI aims to identify successful strategies for steering change. Produces country and regional reports and features a Transformation Atlas. 


The COVID-DEM Infohub has been established to help democracy analysts worldwide track, compile, and share information on how State responses to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are impacting on democratic governance. 

From this site, you can also access its Global State of Democracy Indices and read its annual  Global State of Democracy report. 


EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit)

Detailed country profiles, data, and short-term forecasts. From some of this data, EIU also compiles an annual Democracy Index.

Fragile States Index

The Fragile States Index, produced by The Fund for Peace, is a critical tool in highlighting not only the normal pressures that all states experience, but also in identifying when those pressures are pushing a state towards the brink of failure.

By highlighting pertinent issues in weak and failing states, The Fragile States Index—and the social science framework and software application upon which it is built—makes political risk assessment and early warning of conflict accessible to policy-makers and the public at large.

Freedom House:

Freedom House produces research and reports on a number of core thematic issues related to democracy, political rights and civil liberties. Its research and analysis are used to frame policy debates in the United States and abroad on the progress and decline of freedom.

Freedom House's flagship publication, Freedom in the World, is the standard-setting comparative assessment of global political rights and civil liberties. 

Freedom House also provides country reports and place-based research, based on information from its local chapters.

Transparency International

A global coalition which operates in over 100 countries to expose the systems and networks that enable corruption. TI does research to advocate for  policies and laws to change the system, and it build coalitions to drive national, regional and international change.

TI produceds two important annual reports.

The Corruption Perception Index scores and ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be by experts and business executives.

The Global Corruption Barometer supplements the CPI  by surveying ordinary citizens around the world. Country and regional information can be accessed from the site. 

V-DEM [Varieties of Democracy]

Provides  a "multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The V-Dem project distinguishes between five high-level principles of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian, and collects data to measure these principles. 

WorldBank Worldwide Governance Index

Aggregate and individual governance indicators for six dimensions of governance: Voice and Accountability; Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism; Government Effectiveness; Regulatory Quality; Rule of Law; Control of Corruption.

Databases: Beyond JSTOR


Key Subject Specific Databases 


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.

PAIS  (EBSCOhost) 

PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service) covers publications on the full range of political, social, and public policy issues  and on any topics that are or might become the subject of legislation or are of import internationally.

Sociological Abstracts (ProQuest)

A core resource for researchers, professionals, and Social Studies concentrators, in general. It includes citations and abstracts from over 1800 journals, relevant dissertations, selected books and book chapters, and association papers, as well as citations for book reviews and other media. Sociological Abstracts sits inside a larger multidisciplinary database, the Social Sciences Premium Collection for those times when broader exploration is warranted. 



Three Multidisciplinary Hubs


Academic Search Premier

The advantages of Academic Search Premier are 1) its multidisciplinary; 2) its inclusion of very recent content; and 3) its mix of scholarly, news, and magazine content.

Your search results may seem more manageable than in HOLLIS and less narrowly focused than JSTOR, but that said, ASP can sometimes also seem broader than it is deep.  

When that's the case, try one of the databases listed below, or scan the longer list of EBSCOhost databases that the Harvard Libraries subscribes to.

Social Science Research Network

A world-wide collaborative devoted to the rapid worldwide dissemination of social science research. It's often an excellent place to check for papers that may have been presented in a pre-publication, "working form" or at conferences.

Through a partnership with some major publishers, moreover, SSRN will sometimes identify new studies "in press" (i.e., slated for publication in an upcoming journal issue).  Most documents are downloadable free of charge, in keeping with the site's emphasis on open access, but you'll want to register on the site to access them. 

Google Scholar 

Most of the research databases you use through the Harvard Library  search for information differently than Google Scholar.  Most base their results lists on "metadata" -- the descriptive information about items that identifies features  in certain fields (title, author,  table of contents, subject terms, etc.). 

While Google Scholar's algorithms account for some of this same information, it adds full-text into the mix when it retrieves, sorts, and ranks search results.

What does this mean for you? Sometimes, better relevance, especially on the first page or so. 

And sometimes, given that it searches full-text, Google Scholar might reveal more quickly than our databases where a hard-to-find nugget of scholarly information is hidden away in a published article.

Google Scholar can also be a good place to do a "cited reference" search in order to trace scholarly reaction to/engagement a particular article forward in time. 


Beyond Books and Journals: White and Grey Lit


CIAO [Columbia International Affairs Online]

CIAO is the most comprehensive source for theory and research in international affairs. It publishes a wide range of scholarship from 1991 onward that includes working papers from university research institutes, occasional papers series from NGOs, foundation-funded research projects, proceedings from conferences, books, journals and policy briefs.



Policy Commons [free searching but requires registering]

A one-stop community platform for objective, fact-based research from the world’s leading policy experts, nonpartisan think tanks, IGOs and NGOs. Resources are vetted and curated, can be keyword-searched and are also browsable in several ways, including by topic. An advanced search allows for powerful combinations of terms and filters. 



Two specially constructed search engines allow you to canvass information that might otherwise be difficult to turn up. Many of the documents produced by IGOs and NGOs are widely distributed on the web but not necessarily included in standard databases of published scholarly research.

IGO Search Engine 

includes material from the World Bank, UN Development Program (UNDP), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), European Union, Organization of American States, the Asian Development Bank and many others.


NGO Search Engine

Includes local, regional and international NGOs  and draws its materials from sources as diverse as AARP, Earth Watch Institute, International Crisis Group, OXFAM, the World Agricultural Forum. Sites were chosen based on their consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO).


word cloud  image of think tank key research areasThink Tank Search (Harvard Kennedy School)

Brings together the policy writings of 1200 think tanks, US and global, from across the ideological spectrum. Publications of think tanks, while often influential, are scattered across the web and thus difficult to canvass.