A student asked me this:
“Hi David, I was just wondering if you had any advice in finding sources for essays and revision now that we can’t go to the library.”
Here’s an answer:
- Look at the VLE pages for the course you’re working on, and the formal course outline. There will be online reading lists with hyper links to some of the key resources themselves. There will also be links to other sources. I suspect many of us are working on putting texts up on the VLE that will be helpful right now, so keep looking.
- There is a huge amount of material available from our library online. So do library searches in the usual way and see what ebooks you can find, and what other electronic resources they throw up. Our library gives you access to lots of online journal articles. Don’t be afraid to ask for help by email from the librarians.
- Then, be persistent and creative. The internet is big. So the key thing is to look for all kinds of resources online, but always think critically and explicitly about what the sources are and what they tell you.
- You’ll find any number of classic texts online. I just googled ‘”Origins of Totalitarianism” full text’ and there it is, the whole book by Hannah Arendt. I googled ‘Marx Capital “full text”’, and there it is, Volume 1. You have to be careful, make sure it really is what it appears to be.
- There is no source that is off limits, but the important thing is to make a judgment about what any source can tell you; and to cross reference things to make sure they’re true; to use your critical judgment and your sociological imagination. So for example, people often say Wikipedia isn’t a legitimate source, but it depends how you use it. You can’t use it as a reference in an essay but you can use it to give you information by which you can then find more quotable sources. If you want to know about the London Plague of 1665, for example, the Wiki page will tell you quite a lot. One of the things it will tell you is that Samuel Pepys wrote a first hand account of what it was like to be caught up in the plague. Once you know that, you google “Pepys Plague” and find some of his writing, which is a primary source – even if you need to think about who extracted them and how they chose the extracts. And you have to make a judgment about what kind of website you’re looking at and whether what you’re reading is indeed a genuine primary source.
- If you can’t find a book that you need, by a particular sociologist, you might find other things they have written about the same topic. You might find early drafts of parts of it that were published as papers. Or you might find articles which were published in more accessible spaces, like newspapers or the New York Review of Books or The Atlantic or Open Democracy… or any one of hundreds of other places you can find online.
- If the person you want to read is still working in a university, you might find their university homepage, and you might find lots of their work linked to from there. Look at our own Goldsmiths homepages, for example, and you’ll find huge amounts of free access material that we’ve written. I think given the current circumstances, if you can’t find a specific article or book, but you can find things written by the same person about the same topic, then markers will be understanding.
- Try YouTube. For example, if you’re interested in Kirsten Campbell’s work on the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia) do a search of her name in YouTube with “ICTY” and you find a video of her giving a conference presentation. You find her, you find things which quote her, you find things about the ICTY; you might find things are negative, as well as positive, about her work.
But this is also a good example of where you have to be careful and critical. Maybe a video – or any source actually – that you turn up about the ICTY is not what you thought it would be. Maybe it is sympathetic to one side or another of the conflict; maybe it is even sympathetic to ethnic cleansers rather than to transitional justice, maybe it is produced to whitewash one side’s crimes. But every source can be useful if you use it right. Once you work out what you’re looking at, a video or a website produced by supporters of one side in a conflict might be really interesting. It might tell you important things, they might just not be the things that the people who created the text think they’re telling you.
- Sticking with the same example, the ICTY itself has a website and on that website is an unimaginably huge amount of written and video material. There are footage and transcripts and judgments and interim judgments; literally millions of pages. You can’t use millions of pages but you can look, and browse and search. But again, be a little suspicious of the material an organisation writes about itself.
- Think about online sources: who produced them, why, what is their position, when did they produce them, what is their narrative, what is their version of reality? Is it authoritative or popular? Does it contain facts which you might judge are true, or does it contain lies and conspiracy fantasies which are only interesting as examples of propaganda? Perhaps it looks like respectable academic
Good luck. Work hard. Think hard. Don’t be afraid to discuss the sources that you are using in the text of your coursework itself`. Don’t be afraid to compare different arguments or positions.
Sometimes external difficulties force you to be more interesting and original and critical than you otherwise would have been.
The department is absolutely working and your lecturers and tutors are still there for you. Don’t be shy, email us, ask to talk by phone or skype, make sure you’re getting the dissertation supervision you need, and talk to us about coursework.
And stay safe. Look after yourselves, look after each other and look after others.