Check List for Week ONE
. . .
The week following the first discussion in class of your semester project.

Be sure to follow ALL of the steps, rather than just the ones that appeal to you.

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 and inadequate.

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 for as little as a penny plus shipping.

7) Within 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 your project.


© Jan Mainzer