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SoA Senior Thesis Research: Literature Review

This guide will help ground you in resources available on campus while also offering research strategies developed to save you time but cover your bases.

What is a literature review?

literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.

The literature review should:

  • identify key sources
  • identify key theories
  • identify major debates or issues relating to the topic
  • identify major questions or problems addressed by others to date

Infiltrating the Canon

"I need the most important book written on XXX." There is no magic search term that will retrieve the most important book on whatever topic. Rather, there are a variety of ways in which researchers track down core or canonical scholarship, such as:

- Bibliographies of authoritative encyclopedia entries can be good leads, and the entries themselves may be written by notable scholars in the field. For example, Reyner Banham wrote the entry for Brutalism in the Oxford Art Online.

- How often has an author's work or a specific title been cited? This information tends to indicate the relative importance of a scholar's work within the subject area. If you perform a Google Scholar or Web of Science search for "william cronon," you will see that his scholarship has been cited hundreds and hundreds of times. 

If researching a specific artist or architect, determine if a catalogue raisonné has been published. (What is a catalogue raisonné?)

- Have there been any exhibitions or conferences on your artist/architect/movement? If so, who was the lead curator and was a catalog ever published? What about proceedings?

- Has a dissertation related to your topic been written? If so, scan the dissertation bibliography for tips, leads on archives, interviews, etc.

- Determine if any Princeton faculty teach or specialize in areas related to your research. You can usually start with the departmental web page and identify faculty areas of research. From there, determine what the faculty members have published by looking in indexes, the main catalog, google scholar, etc.

How to develop a literature review