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Expo E-25 | The Mystery of Identity





This research guide has been designed for students in THE MYSTERY OF IDENTITY, a Spring 2020 Expository Writing class taught online by Sarah Ahrens.

The resources and strategies described on this page are specifically targeted: they represent our first best guesses at where you might find the information you'll need to execute Essay 3 successfully.

See them simply as starting points for your research into current critical responses to one of the films you'll be considering: Persepolis, Transamerica, Moonlight, or Lost in Translation.

Remember that good research is often about following up on hunches, testing out a hypothesis and then seeing where else (or to what else) it leads.

Language will be essential to the effort.  You may need to try several combinations of search terms, in fact, before you strike gold. 

Let me know how I can help as your work on Essay 3 gets underway. We can triage by email or set up a time to meet on Zoom for a longer talk about your project. 

Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs, Lamont Library

Subject Databases: Close-Looking Through the Disciplines


Research projects often require you to look close up at a body of research produced by scholars in a particular field.  This research is typically collected, codified, and made findable in a tool called a subject database.

Every academic discipline has at least one subject database that's considered the disciplinary gold standard -- a reliable, (relatively) comprehensive, and accurate record of the books that scholars are publishing, and the ideas they're debating and discussing in important and influential journals. 

Databases are like lenses: they change what you see and how you see it -- and they offer you easy and efficient ways to bring your questions into sharper focus.




Film and Television Literature Index

As its title implies, this database covers both film and television and from many angles:  theory, preservation and restoration, writing, production, cinematography, technical aspects, and reviews. 



Screen Studies 

A comprehensive survey of current publications related to film scholarship alongside detailed and expansive filmographies. This collection includes FIAF International Index to Film Periodicals, which is a premier resource for authoritative scholarly literature, while also canvassing some non-scholarly publications (magazines and trade publications).


MLA International Bibliography

The most important academic database for deep searching of the scholarship produced about all periods of literature (and in all languages). It also has strong and substantial coverage of scholarship on film, popular culture, and folklore. In other words: if a Literature Department teaches it, you'll find it covered here.





Multidisciplinary Databases For Widening the Frame


ProQuest Performing Arts Periodicals

This database covers a broad spectrum of the arts and entertainment industry - including dance, drama, theater, stagecraft, musical theater, circus performance, opera, pantomime, puppetry, magic, performance art, film, television and more.

Project Muse

This database includes both journals and and books from non-profit scholarly publishers, including university presses and societies. Muse is weighted heavily toward the humanities  (though its coverage of the social sciences is also robust.)

Academic Search Premier

A multidisciplinary database that provides you with range of article types(scholarly, popular, news). 



Serendipity and Strategy: Ways of Searching in HOLLIS



HOLLIS combines the extensive 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" you're searching both of these databases together, at once. For better or for worse, "everything" is our system default. 


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 in the Books and COVID-19  tab in this section. 





1. Use QUOTATION MARKS for phrases

     "united states"   ||  "barry jenkins"               

​2.  ​Connect search terms and phrases explicitly with AND/OR and do so with capital letters:  

     transamerica AND film AND passing

​3.  Enclose synonyms or interchangeable concepts in PARENTHESES

    (manhood OR masculinity)  AND race 

4.  Truncate words with an ASTERISK to pick up alternatives: 

     politic* will also retrieve  politics, political,  politician (etc.)  

5.  ​FILTER your results via right side limit categories.

   You can sharpen up and whittle down your search results to peer reviewed articles or by date, language, resource type (and more).   

​6.  Take advantage of special system features: always sign in.

7. STORE the items you want to track down or read later via the    icon; SAVE a good search so you can remember what worked.



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 going beyond the BorrowDirect consortium and beyond our reciprocal lending agreements.  However, 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 at Copley Square is a prime example). 

3. Ask your local library about an INTERLIBRARY LOAN.  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.  Borrow Direct Plus: currently enrolled Extension School students who live near a member library  of this consortium can obtain a card that allows access to the collections and privileges similar to those at Harvard libraries.  

5. If you live close by the college or university from which you graduated, ask about ALUMNI PRIVILEGES there

Tools for Locating Full-Text

Google Scholar Settings: 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  into the search box and save your choice.  As long as you allow cookies, the settings will keep.  

Lean Library: Download the extension and it will automatically detect when you are on a website that contains content the library subscribes to.