Amy Barlow

Document Type

Book Chapter

Department (Manual Entry)

James P. Adams Library, Reference


The review of literature is a common feature of academic research and writing across the disciplines. In the humanities, it takes many forms, including but not limited to narrative reviews, bibliographic essays, historiographic essays, and reception history. I have observed through my experiences as a teaching librarian that these kinds of projects can leave undergraduate students feeling overwhelmed. My purpose in this chapter is to share a cooperative classroom approach, based on applications of the distant reading method, for engaging students in the difficult work of surveying the literature. I present conceptual background as well as practical examples of how to perform distant reading with bibliographic information provided by JSTOR and the MLA International Bibliography. The included lessons were created to help students see how their own ideas fit into the larger picture of scholarship on a topic. They may also help students identify perspectives that are absent from the literature. Equally important, distant reading can foster critical thinking about information resources, surfacing questions about the production and limits of bibliographic tools and underscoring the need for a plurality of resources during the research process. Finally, I argue that distant reading promotes learning about academic research in ways that are both enjoyable and supportive of pedagogical goals.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.