1) Be sure you fully
understand the assignment, and ask
for any clarification that you need.
2) If you are assigned
an open topic: Why did you decide
to take the class? Right there is a seed your project can grow
from. If your professor gives you a specific rather
than an open topic, the steps that follow will help you to
address the assigned topic.
3) Browse through
the required and recommended texts for your art history class.
Are there any images--and text associated
with the images--that you're particularly drawn to? Read the
sections that attract you, without taking notes.
4) Using your reading
in the text book(s) as a springboard, do
some surfing on the Internet, keeping in mind that this is just
to check out what's "out there." It's NOT a search
of Internet sources to use for your paper, because so many Internet
sources are unreliable. Bookmark the most interesting websites
so you can return, but remember that often Internet sources are
unreliable, and that you will need to verify appealing / useful
material in solid sources. If you find a website that you think
is immensely valuable, Barnet includes a checklist for evaluating
Internet sources on page 289 of the 11th edition of A Short Guide to Writing About Art. But remember that except
in unusual cases a bibliography
that consists mostly of websites almost certainly will be weak
5) Go to the Library
and explore the stacks to get a sense of available resources
on campus. You'll be surprised by what you find. The most efficient way to do this is:
a) Start with a
search of the Library catalog to get a sense of the call number range
of the topics you may be interested in.
Why be concerned about call numbers?? Most
academic and research libraries use the Library of Congress Classification.
In this system, Library materials are organized by category--and
you can tell which category a book belongs to by looking at the
first letters of the call number. For example, category N (and
its variants NA, NB, etc.) includes works relating specifically
to the fine arts. But a savvy researcher knows that there's much
more "gold" in them thar stacks ("stacks"
are the many rows of bookshelves in a library). If, for example,
you are researching Minoan art--the art of ancient Crete--a Library
catalog search results will include books listed under a range
ofcall numbers, such as BL782, BL793, CB245, CD996, DF220, DF221,
HQ1075, N5333, N5635, N5660, NA267, ND2570, QE522, and U29. Why
are these books scattered all over the Library? Well, BL = religion
/ mythology. CB = history of civilization. HQ = Family, marriage,
women. QE = Geology. And U = military science. Do you see how
this broadens the researcher's options--especially considering
that in some ways art history is a form of the history of ideas?
Here are links to an article that gives a good overview of the
Library of Congress classification, and another
that explains how to read and use a call number.
b) Now that
you have some promising call numbers, go down to the stacks
to look for both specific books AND at the full collection of
books on the sheves either near your target book or in or near
the call number ranges you've identified--even the call number
of the e-book if it differs from the others you've found. If
you take your time, you'll discover books that you probably wouldn't
find if you just used the catalog. You'll also get a "hands-on"
sense of how the Library of Congress classification works (for
example) on architecture, painting, art theory, culture, mythology
/ religion, history, and specific periods of art will be in different
parts of the library. All you have to do is find a range of books
that might interest you: identify a call number category or a
book that's helpful or interesting, and then check the shelves
close to where you found the useful book.
c) Make a note
of the books that may be helpful to you--and if you're certain
you've "struck gold," borrow the book(s) from the Library
so you can do some reading at home. And please remember that
it's a kindness to your fellow students to return promptly the
books that end up being less useful than you'd thought.
Don't skip this step just because it's
a "nuisance" to walk to the Library.
This type of hand search is starting to be a lost skill,
which will set you ahead of the competition because it tends
to result in finding a wider range of material--and by extension,
also results in better quality research.
6) If you're not
familiar with it already, read some of the first chapters in
Barnet's A Short Guide to Writing About Art. And be sure to include in your reading chapters
11 and 12 in the 11th edition: "Art Historical Research"
(pages 226-243) and "Some Critical Approaches" (pages
244-269). Barnet will give you some ideas of how art historians
often approach their topics. Keep in mind that you DON'T have
to choose one of these approaches. But reading Barnet will give
you some ideas to use as a springboard.
Even if you ARE familiar with Barnet, a quick
review will probably help. If you feel you can't afford this
rather expensive book, there are several copies in the Library,
and you can buy earlier editions on Amazon.com for as little
as a penny plus shipping.
about a week of the first classroom discussion of the assignment--reflect
on your reading, library exploration, and surfing so far. At
this point, you should have a clearer sense of your topic, and
probably will have begun to be intrigued by some aspects of your
chosen (or assigned) topic, and also will probably find that
some questions are starting to emerge. This is the genesis of