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Humanities E-100: Researching Junot Diaz and David Foster Wallace (Becker)

Introduction to Graduate Studies in Dramatic Arts, English and Religion



This guide has been designed for the Fall 2020 graduate proseminar taught by Professor Peter Becker. 

It's meant to offer you a first point of entry for accessing scholarly literature sources in cover of book called Conversations with David Foster Wallacethe Harvard research environment.  The intent is neither to be comprehensive nor finely grained -- we want to give you just enough to encourage exploration  and help you gain confidence, without overwhelming you with choices. 

Research is about hypothesis-making and testing and for that reason, you'll find that it's often more iterative than linear. 

As your project develops and your thinking deepens and expands, other tools, other kinds of information, and other search techniques might need to be added  to this knowledge base.  

Feel free to contact me, at any point in the process, whenever questions arise.  

We can triage by email or arrange to talk face-to-face on Zoom. 

Enjoy your work! 

Sue Gilroy, Research Librarian, Harvard College Library

First Stops: Companions, Curated Reading Lists, Special Journal Issues




Burn, Stephen J., and Marshall Boswell, eds. A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Clare, Ralph, ed. The Cambridge Companion to David Foster Wallace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.



Junot Diaz, Oxford Bibliographies Online (2019)



A David Foster Wallace Special Issue, Orbit: A Journal of American Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, 2017


Special Numbers: David Foster Wallace, ed. Marshall Boswell, Studies in the Novel, vol. 44, 2012


Unfinished: Critical Approaches to David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, ed. Luc Hernon and Toon Staes, English Studies, vol 95, no. 1 (2014)



Serendipity and Strategy: Ways of Searching in HOLLIS



1.  Understand what HOLLIS is.

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"  -- the system default --  your results represent content from both databases together, at once.  You can make different choices, however before or after you execute a search, if you want to view "library catalog" content separately.

2. Know how to work HOLLIS.

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



3. Take control of your HOLLIS 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 Books and Covid 19 tab. 


Your "default" approach to searching Harvard's catalog, HOLLIS, is probably similar to your Google approach: enter some words, see what comes up, then try again or improve from there. 

But BROWSING in the catalog is an under-appreciated research strategy, especially when you're trying to discover your interest. It helps you see how writing ABOUT an author, an idea, an event, etc. has been broken down and categorized. So instead of getting the typical list of titles, you see results in terms of sub-topics. Inspiration may lie there!


Open HOLLIS. Click on the  link above the search box. Then select SUBJECT. 


 What does a Browse search give you? Click on the  image above to find out! 



Browsing subject headings lists can teach you a lot about searching, because they rely on standardized language and standard ways of qualifying or further describing a give subject.



Despite the fact that our 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. Services like Scan and Deliver 

In addition, some organizations (and a few commerical publishers) are opening up temporary, emergency access to a wide array of e-books, textbooks, and digital materials that fuel scholarship. Humanities E-100 students should know about:

undefined HathiTrust Emergency Library: If a still-in-copyright text is in HathiTrust and has been digitized, 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.

From within HOLLIS, full-text items from HathiTrust are linked.  You should arrive right at the Temporary Access link with a single click.

If you enter HathiTrust directly over the web (at, you might, instead, be told that the item is unavailable because of copyright.

 The key here is to announce yourself as a member of the Harvard community.  Just click on the  button, at the top right of the screen, and choose Harvard University

undefinedOpen Library (via Internet Archive)

Create a free account to borrow (virtually) items in this collection.  It's less robust than Hathi Trust, but sometimes you'll be surprised at what you find! 



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 of this library consortium can obtain a card that allows access to the collections and privileges similar to those at Harvard libraries.  

Participating members: Brown U, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, U of Chicago, U Penn, Yale

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

Journal Databases: Tools for Close Looking

  • Project Muse: An essential collection of humanities and social sciences content Peer-reviewed journals (and increasingly, books and monographs) from the world's leading universities and scholarly societies are made available in full-text here. 
  • MLA International BibliographyThe most important U.S.-based organization of literary scholars is the MLA (Modern Language Association).  It produces an academic database for deep searching of the scholarship produced about all periods of literature (and in all languages). The MLA Bibliography also has strong and substantial coverage of scholarship on film,popular culture, folklore, and film. If a Literature Department teaches it, you'll find it covered here.
  • Literature Online (LION)in the U.K., the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) has something like the stature of the MLA in America. The database of scholarship it compiles makes up a sizeable portion of LION, which also includes primary texts and some important literary reference works.  There's overlap between MLA and LION to be sure, but also some content that's unique to each, so it's worth checking both when you're searching for literary criticism.
  • Google Scholar: familiar and current; searches full-text which can be an advantage when you've got a very narrow topic or are seeking a "nugget" that traditional database searching can't surface easily. Google Scholar incorporates more types of information -- not just books and journal contents-- and depending on your need, comfort level, and perspective, that eclecticism can be an advantage.  

    Google Scholar is perfectly acceptable for most general forays into scholarship; its algorithms are excellent and do return relevant results. 

    It's also an excellent way to follow CITATION TRAILS. Enter the title of a book or journal article and then click on "Cited by" when the item appears.  If the cited references are very numerous, consider keyword searching with them.

See below for advice on how to optimize your Scholar settings for full-text access. 


Image, above: Junot Diaz, illustration by Jennifer Mortsell, to accompany the New York Times Magazine article, "Junot Diaz Hates Writing Short Stories," by Sam Anderson, September 27, 2012.

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: