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AFRAMER 11: Introduction to African Studies

Welcome from your Course Librarians

Welcome! This research guide has  been created for AFRAMER 11: Introduction to African Studies, a Fall 2020 class taught by Professor Daniel Agbiboa. 

It will introduce you to some of the important "wayfinding" tools you may want to use when you undertake research for papers in the coming weeks. 

The secondary sources described here are among the field's gold standards. Some will help you contextualize, for example, or close a knowledge gap. The subject databases section offers you option for searching, efficiently, the authoritative scholarly conversations and debates in this interesting interdisciplinary field.  We also offer you some advice on searching HOLLIS effectively and on being strategic in getting access to materials during the pandemic.

Remember that librarians are your research lifelines: you can contact us at any point for an in-depth conversation on Zoom about your project; we'll triage by email; or you can chat with one of us in real time from HOLLIS or another library webpage). 

And we look forward to  better times to come, when we can once again welcome you into our library buildings, stacks, and special collections -- our "learning laboratories" on campus. In the meantime, you can continue to learn with us online through the ongoing library programming we offer here:

Links mentioned in our Zoom session: Lean Library, the browser plugin that helps you get to e-resources | Information about library book pickup for those in the Cambridge area during COVID | Zotero (recommended citation tool- helps organize, manage & format citations & bibliographies; scroll down to see classes)

Enjoy your research adventures! 

Sue Gilroy, Research Librarian Lamont Library 

Emily Bell, Research Librarian, Lamont Library  

Reading Toward A Research Topic: Common Pathways

via an annotated reading list 

Why give them a try: curated reading lists, assembled by professional researcher and scholars, can give you a sense of the "shape" of conversations around a topic -- and also help you identify, early on, which scholars/researchers and which of their works have had most impact in driving that conversation.

via an expert subject summary

Why give it a try: as you know from Wikipedia, the encyclopedia-like short article is great for a broad overview of a topic: it summarizes key themes, helps you figure out good keywords, and provides you with a few leads to follow up on.  Encyclopedias like Oxford's are written by scholars in their respective fields and give you a few leads on important primary sources. 

via news accounts, current or historical

Why give them a try: these are one of the most "immediate" ways to get information on emerging topics, and events as they emerge in real time; identify  stakeholders, get early public responses, and more.  Both in current and historical forms, news sources can be a powerful kind of primary evidence as well. 

via a web search engine or portal 

Why give these a try: portals and specially designed search engines help to facilitate access to information that may never appear in traditional news sources or in published news sources and may be disparately spread across the web. 

HOLLIS: A Key Research Resource




1.  Understand what it is.

HOLLIS combines the exclusive contents of our library catalog, the record every item owned by every Harvard Library with those of another, large and multidisciplinary database of journal, newspaper, and magazine articles. 

When you search "everything"  searching both of these databases together, at once. For better or for worse, "everything" is our system default. 


2. Know how to work it.

Creating search strings with some of the techniques below can help you get better results up front. 




3. Take control of your results.

While the broad and panoramic approach to searching HOLLIS can be mind-opening, you can sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by either the numbers or types of results your search returns.


When that happens, try one of these easy tricks:


Limit your Everything search results set just to the items listed in the LIBRARY CATALOG.

Your numbers will immediately get smaller. Keep in mind, though, that the results will be heavily weighted toward book-length studies.


Limit your Everything search results set to items that are identified as PEER REVIEWED ARTICLES.

You'll eliminate newspaper and magazine materials as well as books, of course, but you'll also raise the visibility of scholarly journal articles in what displays. 


Think about limiting your results to publications from the last 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.

By doing so you'll get a snapshot of the most recent research trends and scholarly approaches in a field (or around a particular issue).

Experiment with limiting your searches to materials available  
You'll reduce your numbers of books by a wide margin, not often a good strategy, but an expedient one in exigent circumstances.  Learn more about strategies under the Pandemic Considerations tab.




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 content students can surface there is substantial.  

Here are some ways to think through your digital options in HOLLIS.

1. Scan & Deliver

This service, free to Harvard students even before the pandemic can be a lifesaver when you find something in the catalog that's essential -- but only available in print.

Scan & Deliver allows you to request a PDF of an article, a portion of a book (and now, a portion of a special collection, under some circumstances). Just remember that the library staff  responsible for this service are returning to campus slowly for safety reasons, so the response time (usually within 4 days) may be delayed.

2. Hathi Trust Temporary Emergency Access Library 

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

Just as when you check out a book on Reserve, these works are only available to one user at a time. If you finish early return the item so someone else can use it. If you encounter a message saying it's checked out, come back later. 

3. Internet Archive Open Library

For books not available online via a HOLLIS link or through HathiTrust, the Open Library may be a good next step. You'll need to create a free account to "check out" books (one reader at a time, for up to 2 weeks).  

 4. Plugins (Like Lean Library) and other shortcuts to online content through the Library

We mentioned Lean Library in your library orientation session and linked it on the first page of this guide. How to Use Your HarvardKey to Get Online Articles for Free says more about LL, "Try Harvard Library" in Google, and the Harvard Library Bookmark. 


When you're far from Cambridge, identifying books in print and on shelves in Harvard's library buildings can seem like a futile exercise. You can, however, often get your hands on items your find in HOLLIS even if you live many miles away from the Yard.


1.  WorldCatthis is a database of library catalogs and useful for identifying college, university, and other  library collections that are in your vicinity.  Search for the title and then enter your ZIPCODE to identify your options.

With WorldCat, you're seeing libraries in the US and some international ones.  As long as any of the area libraries allow you in (often a phone call or a scan of the website will clarify policy), you'll be in luck!

2. 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 (BPL) at Copley Square is a prime example). 

Public libraries large and small also have access to ebooks, and can be a rich alternative source if Harvard doesn't have it/you can't get to ours. Do check out your local public library but you can also join the BPL with your Harvard email address. See "BPL: Who's Eligible for an Ecard?" for the link.

Using Google in Research


Tricks with "regular" Google: 

Example: education language policy

  • Add filetype pdf (on the assumption that longer docs, studies, and reports may have this form)

Tricks with Google Scholar

  • Adjust your Scholar settings to recognize Harvard full-text content you have access to. Here's how:

Look to the left of the GS screen and click on the "hamburger" (); then click on .  Look for "Library Links."  Then type Harvard  into the search box and save your choice.  As long as you allow cookies, the settings will keep.  

  • Click on "cited by" to see which scholars picked up and used a research article/book in research. 
  • Big "cited by" lists can be whittled down by adding keywords and clicking on the "search wthin cited reference" option.
  • "Related articles" helps you identify research that's --algorithmically -- close to the item you started with. 


Beyond this Guide