Hit the Source: Research, bibliographies, and databases.
Sources are an interesting thing. If someone throws enough of them at you, you’re inclined to believe that what they’re saying is true, that all the sources are relevant, and that they’re all unbiased and accurate sources.
This is not always true. Just like the news outlets, some of them have specific biases, or present information in misleading ways. But sources can be incredibly important, and immensely helpful for writing papers.
Here’s why, as explained by Grinnell:
Citation is important because it is the basis of academics, that is, the pursuit of knowledge. In the academic endeavor, individuals look at evidence and reason about that evidence in their own individual ways. That is, taking what is already known, established, or thought, they use their reasoning power to create new knowledge. In creating this knowledge, they must cite their sources accurately for three main reasons:
Reason One: Because ideas are the currency of academia
Reason Two: Because failing to cite violates the rights of the person who originated the idea. (Implicit or Explicit claims the idea is yours is plagiarism).
Reason Three: Because academics need to be able to trace the genealogy of ideas
Read and save the PDF here. I have removed the explanations that follow the reasons for a quick read, but I recommend you go back and read them. It also answers the question: “Doesn’t the ownership of ideas reek of Capitalism?”, and gives a great run-down of citing yourself, citing other people, extended quotations, and laziness in writing.
In summary: Ideas are valuable, they have ‘ownership’ and ‘credit’ to the people who had them, and tracing how and why ideas change can help you learn. Pretending ideas are of your own invention is plagiarism.
So what about doing research? People paste long bibliographies and that doesn’t seem to do anything. Why are those needed?
Bibliographies and Annotated Bibliographies are a list of sources regarding a particular subject or topic - or directly relevant to a particular paper. They may look something like this:
— Screencap of Bibliography: Free People of Color and Creoles of Color
Sometimes, bibliographies are annotated, meaning they give a short description of each entry - perhaps a paragraph of information explaining each source, its usefulness, a summary, or other pertinent information. Annotated bibliographies can cut down on the time you spend trying to determine if a source is relevant for you.
Purdue OWL gives samples of Annotated Bibliographies here. Here’s a student project from U Michigan that shows an annotated bibliography regarding Chicanos and identity. Here's a much more elaborate annotated bibliography regarding Native American history in Federal Documents. You can see there's a big difference between an extensive annotated bibliography, and a concise one. Both formats, however, can tell you what the bibliography's author thinks of the sources.
This means that the author of the bibliography may be biased or disregard things that aren’t useful to them, but may be helpful to you!
The accepted citation format for history and art history is Chicago style, a quick guide can be found here.
Citations tell you: Who wrote or edited something, where it was published, who published it, when it was published, and the title. It can even tell you the volume, edition, and translator.
When you find a book or journal related to something you’re trying to learn more about, you can look at footnotes, or the bibliography in order to find where they got their information.
Say I’m looking up slave culture in New Orleans:
Donaldson, Gary A. A Window on Slave Culture: Dances at Congo Square in New Orleans, 1800-1862.” Journal of Negro History 69, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 63-72.
I find this article online, and access it through a database. (I used JStor, in this case.) It was published in 1984, so I already know that anything this paper cites came out in 1984 or before 1984.
The footnotes (or end notes, in this case, because they came at the end of the paper) tell me where the author got their information:
This author even annotated their endnotes, telling us more information about the sources they used. If any of those end notes seem relevant to me, I can write them down, and look for them later.
But since this was published in 1984, it might also be helpful to see who has mentioned this paper since 1984 for more current information.
JStor and Google Scholar (as well as other databases) have helpful buttons like these:
"2 items citing this item"
Other items (written works by the author)
and Related Items.
Clicking on “2 items citing this item” gives me a list of things published after the article came out in 1984 that cite this. It actually gives me 3 things when I click on the button:
They were published in 2010, 2012, and 2013, and while they may not all be helpful, this is how you get a good start looking for things that can help you in your research. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt. You have to follow the directions and clues to find the information you need or want. "Scholarly peer review" is a phrase that means that the information you see has been reviewed, critiqued, or tested by other scholars to see if the information holds up. You can also search for reviews of journal articles.
Check your sources are related to what you want to talk about or are claiming, see if they are legitimate.