In a given scholarly conversation, there will be larger conversations and smaller conversations, big thoroughfares and smaller alleyways. The larger parts of the scholarly conversation center on keystone texts, articles or books that get cited hundreds or even thousands of times because they discuss a topic in ways that are useful, unique, or interesting enough that other scholars feel it useful/important to bring them into the conversation.
A list of some of the ones I've come across in the PS (American Literature) section of the library is under "Classics of American Literary Criticism" on the Criticism and Theory Page of this guide. However, you may come across different keystone texts yourself if you search Google Scholar for general terms related to your topic.
As you find books and articles, pay attention to what the author of a useful source says about other scholars in the field. Most scholarly articles and books have a section where they discuss the scholars that impacted their own present work. Look for phrases like "So and so is a key leader in the field" or "So and so's methodology impact our work in significant ways" or "We disagree with so and so in these ways."
Note the scholars that your original source describes as significant. Then go find the books and articles those scholars wrote. This is how you trace the conversation happening around your topic.
By tracing cited works, you will find connections that you would otherwise miss. You will discover the patterns of the conversation around your topic. This is the way most scholars search for sources, so if you also search this way, you'll be searching in a very sophisticated and informed manner.
How to do a bibliographic trace: Search for cited books by title or author in library catalogs; for journal articles, check the Do We Have This Journal by journal name to see if we have the full text of an article. Several databases also include features telling you how often a work has been cited (like the ones below). Use Tracking Down Materials for more pointers on how to find hard copies. Please also contact me or any other librarian if you need help at any point of this process.
You can (and should) also go forward in time to see who has cited your original source.
As a supplement to the information in the box above, here's another way to think about bibliographic traces (which we also sometimes call cited reference searches):
|BACKWARD IN TIME||FORWARD IN TIME|
|What is it?||Go BACKWARD in time,
finding sources cited by some
initial source you are using
|Go FORWARD in time, finding
sources that cite some initial
source you are using
|Why use it?||Allows you to find related
sources, trace the roots of your
initial source, enter research
conversations more fully
|Allows you to find related
sources, trace the impact of
your initial source, enter
research conversations more
|How is it done?||
1) read lit review of your initial
1) go to scholar.google.com and
|How do I find hard copies of the new sources I've identified?||Use Tracking Down Materials tab (above) for more tips. And contact Julie with any questions. Tracking down hard copies can be one of the trickiest parts of doing research. This is one of the most common research questions librarians get, so please reach out.||Use Tracking Down Materials tab (above) for more tips. And contact Julie with any questions. Tracking down hard copies can be one of the trickiest parts of doing research. This is one of the most common research questions librarians get, so please reach out.|