American Studies Majors Research Skills

American Studies scholarship constructs accounts of American culture through the interdisciplinary analysis of primary sources. It can be useful to think of research in American Studies as a series of concentric rings:

Primary Sources

These can be anything from laws and legal documents to diaries and letters, from popular songs (whether in sheet music, on vinyl, or in mp3 format) to the material culture of furniture, food, and dress). While primary sources are key to American Studies research at all levels, they are especially important in AMS 201 and AMS 340/341. Here is a listing of archives and online collections recommended by members of the American Studies Committee—all potential routes to finding primary source material:

Primary Sources (Smith College Libraries) - A great place to start—one that will introduce you to excellent collections at Smith and the Five Colleges—is with the “Primary Sources” link on the library’s Research Page.  Under the “Find More” heading, click on “Primary Sources.”  Start with “Collections at Smith,” which will direct you to the College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection, and the Mortimer Rare Book Room. And don’t forget digital (or digitized) primary sources, many of which are available on the Libraries' Primary Sources guide.

Making of America (Cornell University) - A rich collection of primary sources produced by the Cornell University library.

American Memory (Library of Congress) - A set of links to the Library’s collections, ranging from advertising and architecture to war and women’s history.

Contemporaneous Contexts

 

In order to “read” a primary source, it is helpful to know and to reconstruct the time and place in which it was originally produced and circulated. The research subject page for American Studies (in the libraries’ research guides by subject) lists databases, guides, and online Companions helpful in the construction of these contexts.

Analytical Framework

 

A successful analysis is explicit and self-aware about the questions it asks of the source, the method that is brought to bear in an attempt to understand the source’s significance. AMS 202 is the course in which explicit methodological thought is the chief focus.

Critical Conversation

 

As scholars, we enter and engage an ongoing conversation about the topics that interest us. The AMS Committee especially recommends American Quarterly, the premiere journal in the field. Additional books and journal articles are best found through the databases listed in (and linked to) the American Studies research subject page.

November 21, 2011