Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Library Research
Step II: Keystones

Keystone texts—older works that have become the enduring basis for discussions of your topic—provide two benefits to your research process. The first involves the sources themselves: if a work has structured the critical discourse addressing your topic, why, you should read that work. The second is subtler: a keystone text can become a search term in full-text databases, allowing you to construct a genealogy of the keystone text's scholarly descendants.

  • Keystones in recent articles or books

    This step is an extension of the step described above that involves searching recent scholarship for references to earlier works called "foundational" or "groundbreaking" or "classic." At this point, you can look more generally for the earliest critical sources quoted in recent scholarly works and bibliographies. For example, if you find that a work published in 1964 is the only pre-1980 source cited in three recent articles, you have likely found a keystone.
  • Keystones as full-text database search terms

    When you discover keystones, note the author names or title phrases for later use as full-text database search terms. This step will only work for full-text sources, including some of the databases of articles and Google Books.
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