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Information Literacy


The Department of Government seeks to educate students about the nature and scope of political power, and to place an understanding of that power in its social, cultural and historical context. Government majors should emerge from the program with an understanding of the factors that shape a variety of political systems and influence policy outcomes at both the domestic and international level. They should be able to assess critically political actions, and to be attentive to the social forces that shape the exercise of power. They should have frameworks within which to think about the purposes of politics, the aims and responsibilities of governments, and the rights and duties of citizens.

Information Literacy

Information literacy is an indispensible foundation for developing research skills in the study of politics. The Government Department asks all students to familiarize themselves with the Smith College Information Literacy Mission Statement, as well as the Definitions and Standards of Information Literacy.

Writing Intensive Classes

Students who have taken writing intensive classes should already have learned the following information literacy skills:
& Location
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
Evaluation 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
Citation 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.

What Should Government Majors Learn and In Which Classes?

Introductory Course

Government 100: Introduction to Political Thinking, is a study of the leading ideas of the Western political tradition, focusing on such topics as justice, power, legitimacy, revolution, freedom, equality, and forms of government -- democracy especially. Entering students are strongly encouraged to take GOV 100 during their first year, either in the fall or the spring semester.

Students in GOV 100 learn how to closely read and interpret foundational texts of the Western political tradition, how to make reasoned arguments grounded in interpretations of those texts, and how to bring evidence from the texts to bear on their arguments.

Methodology Course

Government majors are strongly encouraged to take Government 190: Empirical Methods in Political Science. This course introduces students to fundamental problems in summarizing, interpreting, and analyzing empirical data. Topics include research design and measurement, descriptive statistics, sampling, significance tests, correlation, and regression. Special attention is paid to survey data and to data analysis using computer software.

Students in GOV 190 learn how to work with data sets, including the American National Election Studies (ANES) series. Such work constitutes a crucial component of information literacy in Government.

200 Level Courses

Upper-level courses in the Government department normally fall within one of four sub-fields of government: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Politics, and Political Theory. Please consult the Government Department’s web link “Navigating the major in Government” for further information.

While each sub-field may draw on distinct sources of data and scholarly literature, 200-level courses in any sub-field will begin to familiarize students with the following:
major theoretical perspectives of the sub-field, including various perspectives on what counts as knowledge and data in that field
critical assessment of key texts in the sub-field including theoretical frameworks and modes of analysis
how to locate major secondary sources, including works by key authors and significant journals as well as available secondary data sources
when appropriate to the course, how to assess information channeled through popular media

300 Level Courses

All Government majors are required to take at least one seminar building on 200-level courses taken within a specific sub-field. In most seminars, students are required to complete an extensive research project that reviews the literature for their research question and engages in detailed analysis of secondary or primary data.

For more detail on the types of information sources used in Government courses, students may wish to consult the Library web pages designed for specific courses, found under Research/Library Class Guides, or tagged for GOV.


The Honors program consists of a year-long intensive research project resulting in a thesis paper of substantial length.

In consultation with a faculty advisor, students writing an Honors thesis must
develop a workable research question
identify and review the relevant scholarly literature pertaining to the question
determine and locate the information and sources they will need to make a significant contribution to the scholarship on their chosen research question
develop and defend, through argument and presentation of evidence, a clear thesis
become adept at anticipating and addressing possible counter-arguments and alternative explanations

For further information about the Honors program, including eligibility requirements and deadlines, click here. The Libraries maintain a related page on Honors Project FAQ. Each student working on an Honors project meets with a Reference librarian for a Research Appointment.

Research Resources

A survey of important research tools for the study of government is maintained by the Smith College reference librarians and can be accessed on the Libraries' Government Subject Page. In addition, the Government Department website as well as individual faculty websites contain many resource links to informative websites.

Specific Resources / Links:

Style Sheets  
Links to Style Guides, RefWorks & Help Citation Guides & Style Manuals
Links for Chicago, APA, Turabian Style Manuals for Social Sciences
Writing Papers: A Handbook for Students at Smith College Jacobson Center Writing Links
Resources in the Five College Libraries Five College Library Catalog
Resources found on the Smith College Libraries Government Subject page...
RefWorks bibliographic management software Log in to RefWorks
Smith College Libraries Contact Sika Berger, Reference Librarian

In What Ways Will Student Skills be Assessed?

Government courses assess students’ attainment of information literacy in various ways, appropriate to the level of the course. Class discussions, examinations, and papers call upon students to demonstrate skills appropriate to the course topic and level. Through formal grading and informal feedback during office hours, instructors and librarians help students develop critical awareness of their own abilities.

Ethical Issues

Plagiarism is a serious violation of the College’s Academic Honor Code. When using someone else’s words, ideas, or arguments, students must acknowledge their sources. For more information on the College Honor Code, look here: click here.

May 20, 2010