Obscure/Recent Topics - Find Scholarship and Criticism

Use Full-Text Resources

When you're searching for something obscure, you will get very few hits, which makes full-text searching more productive:

  • Find a Database (on the guide for graduate students) lists top picks for searching full-text scholarship
  • For recent topics, Google Books is a good place to find just-published material, often well before you can find it in HOLLIS (if we don't have the book yet, use Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan to request a copy)

Expand the Kind of Sources You Use

Especially for more recent topics, the discussions around that topic may not yet have made their way through the very slow publishing timeline for academic books and journals. This is no cause for despair---there is a lot of insightful expert analysis that gets published in other venues, often written by literary scholars. An author's own reflections on their work can also be extremely useful. Important note: it's important to vet these sources carefully---who's the author? Where do they get their expertise from? What's the platform? Is there any kind of editing or fact-checking going on? (A good trick for evaluating a platform is to do a web search for mentions of it that are not on the domain. For example, if you're trying to figure out if Medium.com edits its content, try medium.com -site:medium.com.)

  • Author interviews
    • Check author webpage for links and references
    • do a general web search for [author name] interview (you'll likely find audio and video as well as text!)
    • some databases, e.g. Academic Search Premier, allow you to limit your search only to interviews
  • Long-form journalism and highbrow magazines
    • Check author webpages for a "press" section
    • Academic Search Premier allows you to search across a good selection: filter to "Magazines"
    • Individual web sites (once you have a citation, use the Check Harvard Library Bookmark or just search HOLLIS to get full access): the Atlantic, Harpers, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, New York Times Magazine, the New Republic
  • Social media
    • Twitter -- many academics use their accounts to share brief thoughts or have conversations with other academics
    • Blog posts -- these can be harder to search for

Expand the Scope of Your Topic

Good research involves constantly revisiting and revising your topic. Even if it's true that nothing has been written on the main topic you're working on, it's always a good idea to keep reframing your search topic until you find something you can connect to---another scholar to think with.

Think about how you would describe an obscure author or text in terms of:

  • literary movement
  • associates (what other names co-occur with your topic?)
  • time period
  • region
  • genre

Expand what You Use Sources For

  • Browse journals and monograph series on the general topic
  • Read for methodology and rhetoric as well as content