«What role have minority rights claims (i.e. ethnic, sexual) played in promoting murals and graffiti art from 1970 to the present day in the United States?» This being the research question, what are its key concepts? What about ‘minorities’, ‘graffiti’, ‘1970-2012’ and ‘USA’? How do I devise appropriate search terms for each key concept?
Via the UvA-Library homepage I can access several databases, among others Sociological Abstracts and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts. These two resources can be searched simultaneously and will prove useful in devising search terms.
When searching for ‘minorities’, the databases retrieve both a publications’ list and two lists of related subjects (see screenshot). In the case of ‘minorities’, the subjects lists suggest such diverse terms as “ethnic groups”, immigrants, “black americans”, females, homosexuality, discrimination, “racial differences”, “human rights”, citizenship and assimilation. As diverse are the terms suggested by the databases when searching for graffiti.
How far I go selecting and using terms from these lists depends on the aim of my research, whether I only need a couple of publications or I want to perform an exhaustive search, for example when writing my thesis. The most important to keep in mind, however, is that I can use these terms not only when searching Sociological Abstracts and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts: most search tools allow to combine two or more terms (with AND, OR and NOT) or two or more searches (with ‘search history’), and to perform phrase searching (“ethnic groups” will retrieve the two words only when appearing next to each other as a phrase).
The references I find by ‘playing’ with both the different search terms and the different search options will help me further in finding additional literature. One of the peer reviewed articles I find in Sociological Abstracts and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts is the following: Collins, L.G. (2006). Activists who yearn for art that transforms: parallels in the black arts and feminist art movements in the United States. Signs, 31, 717-752. Its bibliography helps me tracking down earlier (=before 2006) relevant publications.
Some databases, however, allow me to track down also later (=after 2006) relevant publications, that is finding out what articles have cited an article after publication. The outstanding database for citation tracking is Web of Science: if I search Collins’ article in Web of Science, I will find that it has recently been cited in the following: Moravec, M. (2012). Toward a history of feminism, art, and social movements in the United States. Frontiers, 33(2), 22-54.
Just as with systematic search, it’s up to me and the aim of my literature research to decide when to stop snowballing. It is important, however, to keep in mind that I can gradually rephrase my topic also according to the resources I (don’t) discover.
Photo of Men snowballing on capitol steps – Tallahassee, Florida belongs to Florida Memory, the central repository for the Florida State Government.