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Information Literacy

Comparative Literature

What Should Comparative Literature Majors Know?

By the time of their graduation all majors in Comparative Literature should understand how literary scholars conduct research and how they then communicate the results of their work to colleagues. One way of describing this process is “information literacy” – i.e., the ability to conceptualize what literary information is needed combined with the skills necessary to locate, evaluate, and effectively and ethically use this information (please refer to the final section of this page).

Every Comparative Literature student should be familiar not only with this page, but also with the information given in the information literacy sites for all the languages she studies: Classics, East Asian Language Japanese, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.


Writing Intensive Classes

Students who have taken writing intensive classes should already have learned the following skills:

  • to define and articulate the need for information and identify a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information beyond the web search engine
    [AT THE VERY LEAST - students will be able to identify and locate the two most appropriate types of information needed to complete their assignment.]
  • to articulate and apply initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources
    [AT THE VERY LEAST - students will be able to distinguish between popular and scholarly materials in a variety of formats such as books, periodical literature, and websites.]
  • to acknowledge and cite the sources used in conducting research for an assignment using an acceptable style guide
    [AT THE VERY LEAST - students will be able to locate the appropriate style guide and emergency online help.]

These skills may be regarded by all students as a base for further study. Help is available through the Neilson Library Reference Department's Ask a Librarian options.

Beginning Comparative Literature majors (100 level and 200 level courses)

Beginning comparative literature majors should build upon this base by applying and expanding their information skills:

  • Apprentice scholars in comparative language and literature cannot rely solely upon their own knowledge; they must back up what they say by citing both the primary text and reliable secondary sources. To this purpose, students should learn:
    • How to quote texts, images and films using standard academic practices of citation (the Chicago Style sheet, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers)
    • How to incorporate secondary material into their own argument and within their papers.
  • Students should demonstrate an ability to write on a variety of topics making appropriate use of critical terminology.  To this purpose, it is highly recommended the use of basic reference sources for rhetorical figures and critical terms such as the following:
    Source Call Number/Access

    Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

    ref PN 1021 .N39 2012
    A Handbook to Literature ref PN 41 .H335

    Manuale di retorica

    ref PN 183 .G37 2003

    Dictionnaire des termes littéraires

    ref PN 44.5 .D53 2001
    Dictionnaire des figures de style ref PC 2410 .R53 2003
    Diccionario de términos literarios ref PN 44.5 .A97 1990
  • To locate scholarly literary sources students need to become skilled users of standard databases such as (but not limited to) the following:

    Five College Library Catalog

    Use the Catalog tab on the Libraries' homepage to search for books at all Five Colleges.

    WorldCat Search libraries worldwide -- request books not in the Five Colleges through Interlibrary Loan.
  • Article Databases Connect to article databases 3 ways:

    MLA Bibliography 1920+

    JSTOR - mostly back issues with some current content

    1. Comparative Literature subject page (Choose Subject under "Find Resources" on libraries' home page
    2. Find Articles page (Research > Search for Articles)
    3. Databases by Title page (Research > Databases by Title)

  • Apprentice literary scholars need to maintain a flexible vocabulary which will allow them to alter initial search strategies if necessary.
  • For basic background knowledge, students should consult encyclopedias and similar basic reference works in English and other languages (see the bibliographical references given on the information literacy sites of the student's target languages)

300 Level Courses and Seminars

Advanced Comparative Literature majors at the 300 level courses and seminar level should be able:

  • to identify the standard scholarly editions of major writers and to distinguish these from less reliable print or online sources.
  • to trace the development of a literary debate from its beginnings to the present day.
  • Through the use of book reviews, review articles, and citation databases to be able to defend their use of scholarly materials by evaluating the reception of such works by others in the profession.
  • to apply their skills in using literary databases such as MLAIB to those resources in other related disciplines such as Philosophy, Anthropology, Religion, History, Sociology, Film studies, the Performing Arts, etc.
  • Moving beyond MLA and WorldCat students should be able to locate and use the databases containing scholarship and primary sources in their chosen languages – e.g. ARTFL, AfricaBib, Bibliography of Asian Studies, Bibliographie der deutschen Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft , etc.
  • to become familiar with the major literary journals in the field or related fields. A  comprehensive bibliography of such journals can be found at:  LINK

In What Ways Will Student Skills be Assessed?

Students completing work on a paper at the 200 level should submit a bibliography in which primary and secondary sources listed reflect the use of the online catalog, at least some scholarly journals through the use of MLA International Bibliography. Students should be prepared to defend the credentials of authors cited if asked.

In 300 level seminars, students should routinely cite both supportive and oppositional arguments from primary and secondary sources in papers including book reviews or other articles found through the use of footnotes or citation indexes. The seminar paper might include an annotated bibliography in which students are asked to indicate the source of their citation and its relative value to the argument within the paper.

Ethical Issues

An 'ethical use of information' means to make a clear distinction between received knowledge and the production of new knowledge. The incorporation of the work of others into the student’s his or her own must comply with such distinction. Therefore, every written and/or oral work in the discipline must clearly state its source, if it has any doubt, except in the case of “received knowledge,” such as dates and facts found in many encyclopedias and dictionaries. If in doubt, students should take the online quiz.

Updated May 16, 2013