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WGSS 4350 / HIST 4301 - Issues in Feminist Research

Find and access sources for your capstone project.

Libraries and archives are political spaces

As your class materials suggest, archives do not just store manuscripts and artifacts, but actively construct versions of history as they collect, arrange, and describe archival materials. In the process, they have replicated existing power structures and their values, resulting in marginalized communities being left out or mischaracterized in archival collections and descriptions. 

Similarly, libraries do not just collect and display books and online journal articles. The patterns and methods of collecting, describing, and sharing library materials actually produces its own messages about what kind of information is important, which sources are "scholarly," and whose academic and creative works should be easy to locate and access.

It is important to consider who and what is represented in libraries and archives in order to challenge the harmful power dynamics that can result from replicating the dominant culture within the methods of organizing and describing resources for research.

As you do research in this class, you are challenged to adopt a similar mindset and to understand how both libraries and archives are political spaces.

This kind of research mindset will involve thinking about:

  • The language you are using as you conduct searches in archival and library databases, including how terms have changed over time, 
  • How cultural and political norms have shaped the course of scholarship, and
  • Why some primary or secondary sources may not exist in databases or may be very difficult to find.

A few resources that showcase this kind of research are listed below.

Formulating your research question

As you start researching for your project, it's important to remember that the process is not always a linear one. It often involves repeating steps as you find new information and refine what your research question is. This chart demonstrates how that might look:

Flow chart that follows through the research process steps of "pick topic," "initial research," "research question," "search for sources," "refine research question," "write and revise," and "repeat as needed"

You'll likely start the process by picking a topic that's either too broad or too narrow. This will give you a place to start with your initial research, so that you can gain more background knowledge. As you learn background information surrounding your topic, you will be able to incorporate new details that will allow you to find a topic that's neither too broad nor too narrow.

Eventually, you will develop a research question, which will inform your search for sources that relate to your question. As you find new sources, you might refine or change your research question.

You can repeat this process as needed until you get to a point where you have a final question for which you've been able to find relevant sources.

For some visual tools that can be helpful in organizing your thoughts, ideas, and research directions, see the following: