Discussions on the art and craft of research

Category: Research (page 1 of 2)

Citation Analysis of Honors Theses in Economics at Connecticut College

There are approximately 500 Honors Theses in the Digital Commons at Connecticut College. Since 2011, all new Honors Theses are deposited by requirement in this growing and popular collection of outstanding student work.

Some of the most popular theses are downloaded tens of thousands of times, such as Cecilia Brown’s 2013 thesis, entitled “Are We Becoming More Socially Awkward? An Analysis of the Relationship Between Technological Communication Use and Social Skills in College Students,” which has been downloaded more than 73,000 times.

Director of Special Collections, Ben Panciera, recently told me on the telephone, Honors Theses average about 2,000 downloads overall, with about 400 downloads per year, or roughly once a day. The top ten theses in Economics have all been downloaded more than 1,000 times.

Honors Thesis Readership Distribution for the Past 90 Days
(Jul. 1, 2020 – Sept. 29, 2020)

Honors Theses are not only popular on the internet, at Connecticut College they represent outstanding undergraduate achievement. In a recent article, Director of Institutional Research and Planning, John Nugent wrote, “The honors thesis is a signature capstone research opportunity that requires substantial work from students and their faculty advisors—it is a two-semester commitment to conceptualizing and bringing a project to fruition.”

So what is the library doing with these important papers other than disseminating their ideas, the names of their authors, advisors, and our hosting institution, Connecticut College? It is my belief that the collection of honors theses maintained in our Digital Commons is ripe for research.

It is my goal to analyze every citation in every undergraduate Honors Thesis at Connecticut College in the hopes of discovering and quantifying the kinds of sources our senior honors students are using in their research to inform collection development and library instruction. Some typical questions that are asked every year include the following:

  • How long are theses and how many citations do they contain?
  • What percentage of sources cited are available in the library’s collections?
  • What can be said in general about senior honors students’ citation behavior, and what opportunities does this behavior create for instruction and collaboration?

Because the work of coding each thesis is so laborious, Director of Research Support & Curricular Technology, Jessica McCullough, encouraged me to focus on individual departments. So I began to concentrate on the department of Economics, since it is one of the most common majors at the College, according to the Academic Fact Sheet 2019-20, and the largest department in my liaison areas (Anthropology, Economics, Government/International Relations, Philosophy). Ultimately, I hope to work through the theses in each of these departments.

Honors Theses in Economics

At the time of this writing, there are 34 Honors Theses in Economics in the Digital Commons. Combined, they amount to 2,771 pages and 1,903 references, which I analyze below.

On average, there are about 3 theses done per year in the department.

The average economics thesis is 81.5 pages in length. The shortest was 29 pages, and the longest was 153 pages.

The average economics thesis contains 55.97 references in its bibliography. The smallest number of references was 13, while the largest number was 168.

The length of the theses in pages appears to be correlated with the total number of references, so that the longer the thesis, the more references it contains, and vice versa.

The overall prevalence of sources by type shows us what kinds of sources students in Economics are citing. Not surprisingly, academic journals were the most popular kind of source cited. Academic journals were closely followed by websites. The website category is broad, however, and includes many academic documents and presentations, including research that was accessed on popular and freely available online databases, such as EconPapers, IDEAS, NBER, RePEc, and SSRN.

When we look at the average frequency of source types by year, it is pretty clear that academic journals and websites appear to follow a similar citation pattern, while the citation of books appears to follow a different trend downward over time.

When we look at the the average number of citations to academic journal articles compared to the average number of references per year, they appear to be correlated. The average economics thesis cites 22.59 academic journal articles, with 2 being the smallest number of articles cited, and 87 being the maximum.

Quite pleasantly for our librarians, the vast majority of journal articles cited were available through our library’s databases and journal subscriptions.

Websites followed academic journals closely in frequency of citations. The average economics honors thesis cited websites 20.24 times, with 0 websites representing the minimum, and 88 websites standing in for the maximum.

The overall pattern of websites relative to the average number of references again looks similar to academic journals.

Despite an apparent downward trend in book usage, which, given societal and technological transformations over the past 15 years, is not surprising, books were still an important source of information for a good number of honors theses in economics.

The average thesis cites books 8.74 times, with a minimum of 0, and a maximum of 38. Overall, books accounted for 15.61% of all sources cited. There were 4 theses that cite no books at all, and 6 theses that cite books for at least 30% of their sources.

The percentage of books accessed in-house, meaning through the library’s consortium with Trinity College and Wesleyan University (CTW), was a bit lower than the percentage of journal articles. This could be due to the frequency of citations to textbooks, which the library does not attempt to collect.

Some other kinds of sources that were tracked include US government publications and foreign language sources. Government publications were cited 79 times, representing about 4.15% of all sources. They were more important for some theses than others. Significantly, gov docs accounted for at least 15% of all references in at least 4 theses.

Foreign language, or non-English language sources were cited 53 times, accounting for 2.79% of all references. Significantly, foreign-language sources made up at least 15% of all references in 4 theses, and they accounted for 45% of all sources in 2 theses that relied heavily on them.

The Average Economics Honors Thesis

  • 81 pages in length
  • 55 references in its bibliography
  • 22 academic journal articles
  • 20 websites
  • 8 books
  • 2 gov docs
  • 1.5 foreign language sources

Citation Issues

The most common citation problems had to do with consistency, or inconsistency. They can be summarized with the following list:

  • Alphabetization was not always evident.
  • Authors’ names were treated inconsistently in terms of spelling, order (Last name, First name), and priority (the order in which they appear on the publication).
  • Book chapters and other sources cited in other sources posed problems. For example, multiple chapters from the same book were cited inconsistently within the same paper.
  • National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) papers were popular in the economics honors theses, though they were rarely cited consistently, whether within a single paper or across the collection.
  • Pagination was rarely offered consistently, so some sources would have pagination, others wouldn’t, and many contained an inconsistent mix, even within the category of journal articles and book chapters, where one would expect pagination to be relatively consistent.
  • URLs were listed inconsistently even when it was clear sources were accessed online.
  • Volume and Issue numbers for journal articles were cited inconsistently.
  • Year of publication was an attribute that jumped around quite a bit within the citations themselves (from the front of the citation to the back of it), and which was sometimes not given at all, even when it was available on the source cited.

Further Consideration

Honors theses at Connecticut College are popular documents in our Digital Commons, as they are downloaded often around the world. Because they bear the names of their authors, the faculty advisors who worked to bring them to life, and the name of Connecticut College, it is important to think twice about what we are sharing on the internet.

Each year, new honors students struggle with the lack of overarching standards and/or guidelines in place for the creation of new theses. Each department handles their honors theses differently, and sometimes the faculty within a department will handle them differently. This level of customization is certainly a strength in some regards, but in others it lets some students slip between the cracks and they may fail to get the structure or attention they seek.

If we compare the results of this citation analysis of economics honors theses at Connecticut College with the field at large and the substantial body of literature on citation analysis that already exists, what will we find? How do these results in Economics compare with the honors theses of other departments at Connecticut College, or our peer institutions, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, and others?

How are our students taught to create citations? Are they graded? Are there guidelines in place on course syllabi and individual assignments? Why do citations seem to take longer than ever before for students to create? Can librarians help?

These are all questions I hope to explore further. If you are interested in discussing them with me, please get in touch!

Postcards: Pictures of Our Places and of Ourselves

It is easy to dismiss the value of ephemera like picture postcards. All of us have found old collections in the attics of our parents and grandparents. Antique stores often have large collections available for sale. EBay has become a terrific boon for the sellers of postcards, giving them access to a national, and sometimes international, market. We know that looking through them are fun, but do they have real research value? Or are these bits of visual flotsam and jetsam simply fodder for people who obsessively collect anything historical? Perhaps. But historians of human events, society, and architecture are turning to them more and more frequently as an interesting, sometimes important, primary source.

Picture postcards, either photographic or art cards, represent how someone has chosen to show and define a place, and further, how someone else has chosen to define their experience with that place. They show us interpretations of history, as well as history’s record.

Like any photograph, we are seeing an event or a place through the eyes and the mind of a photographer. But then we also frequently see the place through the mind of the person who purchased and sent the card. The picture postcard is really, in so many ways, a precursor to our modern habits of creating selfies and spreading them via social media platforms. Turn old postcards over, and frequently you will find a “I WAS HERE!” note.

So their value lies in the choices made: the choice to take or draw a picture or event, AND the choice to purchase and spread a reaction.

Some Examples of the use of Postcards in Research

In History:

Sometimes the historical value of a card is small; a point of time or interest in some local history. Here’s one from a major educational institution:


In the absence of other photographs, photographic postcards can be used in historic and architectural preservation studies. In this example, there were no written or photographic records in the Harvard University Archives of the original location of the now famous statue of John Harvard, currently situated in Harvard Yard. Only with postcards could the statue’s original location be established, some 500 feet away outside of the Yard.

Sometimes picture postcards can give us visual insight into a local event and its effects. Here’s one recording the effect of the 1938 hurricane on downtown Providence RI:


Or postcards may help bolster a narrative on a national or international event:

So, a picture of White Star’s Titanic:

…and a picture from the Carpathia, which was one of the rescue ships that arrived at the Titanic’s sinking. Here is a picture of some survivors on deck:


Those examples appear to be relatively noncontroversial. But collecting a wealth of cards on a particular era or event can actually help to look deeper into contemporary interpretation of an event. Postcards can be visual facts about how contemporary people and countries were interpreting major events.

So, from the Vietnam War era, we have multiple photographers’ lenses to look through:

A postcard of American and South Vietnamese allies in combat:


…and a picture of North Vietnamese troups:

…and finally, unrest at home in 1965 outside the United Nations:


Going one step further in the presentation of contemporary history are the art or comic postcards that people create. Sometimes these were sold as political statements, but they were often simple contemporary interpretation of events or people, reflecting attitudes and biases.

From World War I:

And from World War II:

A good published example of how both photographic and drawn postcards can reflect an entire national identity can be found in Tim Semmerling’s book Israeli and Palestinian Postcards: Presentations of National Self.

By searching OneSearch using the subject heading Postcards, any number of books on subjects such as postcards representing colonial attitudes, postcards as political propaganda, etc. can be found.

Researching Social Attitudes

Equally interesting, but often very uncomfortable, are art postcards that inadvertently clearly illustrate social attitudes, perhaps unattractive attitudes. Good examples of this are the depiction of women, or of the Japanese in political postcards of WWII, or the depiction of African Americans (I should note of the picture below, I selected the LEAST offensive card I could find):

“Yass uh, of course I’se happy down south”

And modern America? We became so enraptured with our modern selves starting in the 1940s. Did you know, for instance, that there was a huge market for postcards of highways and highway rest stops starting around World War 2 and into the 1970s?! “We are modern! We are mobile!”

Sunrise Over One of Florida’s Modern Highways

Finding Postcards

The open web, as well as sale sites such as EBay, are excellent places to find examples. Be aware, however, that there may be copyright restrictions on an image’s use. For large national and international collections go to The Digital Library of America. Search the term “postcards”, and you will find more than you could ever want!

Some Local Resources

At Connecticut College, our Linda Lear Special Collections and Archives does not have an enormous collection of postcards, but it does have several hundred depicting Connecticut College, New London, and other Southeastern Connecticut Locations. There is also an online exhibit of some of the New London cards entitled New London Postcards Online:


A postcard of New London’s oldest cemetery.

If you are doing local history in any location, do not forget to contact local historical societies, which are usually incredible collections of…well, everything! For instance, the New London County Historical Society also has a collection of approximately 1000 postcards. Their collection features images of both New London, and New London Country.

Book Exhibit in Shain Library Captures the Attention of Human Rights Advocate

There is a small rotating exhibit of books on display in Shain Library related to a current event or theme on campus. One recent exhibit on Guns in America caught the attention of the international human rights and peace advocate, Binalakshmi “Bina” Nepram, who is a visiting scholar in residence at Connecticut College.

Nepram — who was recently awarded the prestigious Anna Politkovskaya Award, established in 2006 to remember the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed for her reporting on the Russian conflict in Chechnya — has been researching arms proliferation around the India-Burma border for the past 15 years. Her work is all over the internet and a quick scan of Google Scholar indicates that she’s been publishing for at least that long. So I was surprised at her 2nd campus-wide dialogue series on global gun violence (October 26, 2018) to learn that the guns exhibit in Shain Library actually caught her attention.

Local New London peace advocate and author Frida Berrigan joined Bina Nepram in the Walter Commons for a discussion on gun violence (26 Oct. 2018).

Local New London peace advocate and author Frida Berrigan joined Bina Nepram in the Walter Commons for a discussion on gun violence (October 26, 2018).

Nepram told me that she “loved those books,” that she “devoured them,” and that they were “stunning!” To understand why, let’s consider where she is coming from.

I first saw Bina Nepram speak on June 26, 2018, at the Eastern Connecticut One Book, One Region kickoff event for this year’s selection, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. She took a very simple approach to introducing the book by placing it in the real world context of the global migration crisis currently underway. Within the first few minutes of her talk, I estimate that about half of the approximately 100 people in attendance burst into tears, myself included. Of the talk, Bina later told me that she was very nervous, because she had “never commented on another author’s work in that way before.”

Because Nepram is an established international scholar, who has given a Ted Talk no less, I think she means she was nervous because she was not used to commenting on novels. But she handled Exit West with an incredible attention to detail as she read the real world trauma of migrants into select passages from the book. “I love books,” she says. And more importantly for the sake of this blog, she considers libraries the living rooms of America; a place where one can be oneself and feel safe and secure. She knows, because when she first arrived in the US for reasons of personal safety, she was able to get her bearings at the New York Public Library.

Faculty, staff, and students at the 2nd dialogue on gun violence.

Faculty, staff, and students at the 2nd dialogue on gun violence.

Her transition to mostly-rural southeastern Connecticut at the beginning of the year was more complicated. Let’s just say American hospitality wasn’t the welcome party she was expecting. In India, she says everyone would invite you over for tea or whatever. Even the King, she says, sometimes disguises himself in order to test the hospitality of his subjects. During her first few months in Connecticut, she says it felt like no one said anything to her. She was isolated and alone, she felt imprisoned, and she wondered what she was doing here.

Then she was in Shain Library, her big American living room on campus, and she noticed the display of books on guns in America, and she had a Eureka moment. Look at all of these books organized according to a theme, she thought! Then she checked the majority of them out and began reading about the history of guns and violence in the United States. At her 2nd campus-wide dialogue series on global gun violence, she mentioned that she researches guns and violence in part because they are very scary to her and they represent a real threat to her and her family.  Importantly, she reads about guns in order to understand them and overcome her fear.

Binalakshmi Nepram checking out the New Books display in Shain Library.

Binalakshmi Nepram checking out the New Books display in Shain Library. The current exhibit on the AIDS Quilt is visible in the background.

Her discovery of books about guns in Shain Library happened in the summer of 2018, a time riddled with multiple mass shootings in the United States. To name only several, there was the Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, Florida (Feb. 14), the Santa Fe High School shooting in New Mexico (May 18), and the Thousand Oaks, California shooting (Nov. 7). The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Oct. 27) happened within 24 hours of the 2nd campus-wide dialogue series on global gun violence that Bina led with the support of Frida Berrigan.

Bina and I met recently to talk about her experiences. She is a wonderful and powerful speaker, but she is also really enthusiastic and incredibly humble. She told me the books about guns exhibit in Shain library helped her understand why she is here in Connecticut. “Why is America the world’s leading international arms dealer,” she asked me rhetorically. Gun making started right here in Norwich, Connecticut, she said, as an artisanal craft industry to fight against the British. Nepram began speaking about the life of Sarah Winchester, heiress of The Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which was one of the biggest gun makers in the world. A lot of their rifles were used in the US Civil War, and they were established in nearby New Haven.

“Books!” Bina says. “They are like strange animals.” Whoever created that exhibit, she told me, must really understand these issues. Nepram really liked the variety of sub-topics, with books on women and guns, for example. But one thing that really stood out to her was the inclusion of children’s books. She says there are always children’s books in the exhibits and she loves that. Her daughter visited recently, and of course they read children’s books together in Shain Library.



Original Publications by James Baldwin in Shain Library

To mark the occasion of what would have been James Baldwin’s 94th birthday, we’re going fairly deep into library collections, back to the source of Baldwin’s early works in their original published form in magazines, before they were collected in the books we know today. What follows is a brief introduction to Baldwin’s recent popularity, which no doubt echoes his celebrity in the 1960s, followed by selected images of original Baldwin publications in Shain Library—it’s amazing to think they’ve been here at Connecticut College all along.

The popularity of the work of James Baldwin seems to have grown substantially around the time of the release of the film I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2017) and likely contributed to its success. In August 2017, I went to take a look at a couple of Baldwin’s former apartments in New York City, and one of the current residents told me , “ever since that movie came out, people have been coming by to have a look at the building.” It is not all about the movie, however, as Douglas Field documents a renewed interest in Baldwin starting in the late 1990s, when some of his later and overlooked works began to be reconsidered (Field, James Baldwin 86). Now hardly a week goes by without Baldwin’s name being mentioned in The New York Times newspaper or The New Yorker magazine; an ironic outcome for the author of Nobody Knows My Name (1961). In May,  former President Bill Clinton told the New York Times that James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is one of the books that “made me want to become a writer.”

James Baldwin lived in an apartment in this building on Horatio Street in Greenwich Village.

James Baldwin lived in an apartment in this building on Horatio Street in Greenwich Village. The building has since been completely gutted and renovated.

In November 2017, Hilton Als of The New Yorker introduced the re-release of Nothing Personal (1964), Baldwin’s collaborative project with photographer and former DeWitt Clinton High School mate Richard Avedon. Two of the latest developments of the Baldwin buzz include the 2018 publication of Magdalena Zaborowska’s Me and My House: James Baldwin’s Last Decade in France, and Michael Eric Dyson’s What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation about Race in America. Before these, in 2015 we saw the publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s best-selling, Baldwin-inspired book, Between the World and Me

In his 2017 best-seller, We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates again explicitly states his intention “to try” to write in the vein of James Baldwin (218). It has become customary for those writing about race in America to invoke Baldwin’s legacy, as we see in the example of the powerful collection of essays brought together by Jesmyn Ward, The  Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016). While The Fire Next Time is the go-to starting place for an introduction to Baldwin, there is disagreement about how best to engage his work. Joseph Vogel argues that “no single work by Baldwin is as connected to the issues animating Black Lives Matter as his final nonfiction book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985)”, which was written at a time says Vogel when Baldwin had “lost the public’s affection”.

As part of the recent resurgence, in the fall of 2017 I participated in a reading group at Connecticut College for James Baldwin’s first collection of early essays, Notes of A Native Son (1955). The group was organized by Rose Oliveira, Erin Duran, and Visiting Assistant Professor of French, Benjamin Williams (they also organized a subsequent reading of We Were Eight Years in Power, mentioned above). I was immediately excited to discover in the acknowledgments section of the book that most of the essays in Notes had been previously published in the 1940s and 1950s in magazines that are still available in Shain Library. To be sure, a number of Baldwin’s books, like those of many authors, are indeed collections of previously published work. Curious to see them in their original form, I began tracking them down.

Just as I am Not Your Negro played a part in exposing a new generation to the life and work of James Baldwin, extending it to a wider audience, so too I think it has had the unintended effect of adding another layer between the reader/viewer and the work itself (if such a thing exists), concealing it in a way that is not immediately obvious. There is a world of context — what was happening at the time, where was it published, who were the editors, who were the other contributors, who were the readers, etc. — that is hidden in the form of the original publication that may not be apparent to the reader of a reprint.


“The Harlem Ghetto,” Baldwin’s first published essay, originally appeared in the February 1948 issue of Commentary. Baldwin-biographer David Leeming calls it Baldwin’s first essay publication, distinguishing it from his book reviews and other early works (Leeming 51). Between 1947 and 1949, when Baldwin was just 22-25 years old (born August 2, 1924), he published an astounding 16 reviews in The Nation and The New Leader (Field, “James Baldwin’s Life” 833). These publications earned him the beginnings of a transatlantic reputation even before he first set foot in France in November 1948.

Commentary, February 1948

[Click to enlarge] Commentary, February 1948. Notice the Palmer Library embossment in the upper-left corner, and the corrected typo for the date of publication.

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Commentary, February 1948 – table of contents. Notice that then 23-year old Baldwin is already published in the company of New York’s leading intellectuals.

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“The Harlem Ghetto” by James Baldwin. Notice the 1948 biographical statement (bottom-left).

Notice the slight annotations in pencil (right column).

When “Everybody’s Protest Novel” appeared in the June 1949 issue of Partisan Review — an attack on “the most famous African American writer [Richard Wright] of his time” and an early mentor (Field, James Baldwin 15) — the young Baldwin was already a “seriously recognized presence on the literary scene” (Leeming 73). Moreover, it was one of the first significant essays by an African American to be published in Partisan Review, impinging directly on the established relation between race and writing at the time (Field, “James Baldwin’s Life” 847).

[Click to enlarge] Partisan Review, June 1949. Unfortunately, the cover was removed in binding so we are left only with the title page.  The essay was originally published in Zero magazine (Spring 1949), before appearing in Partisan Review.

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Partisan Review, June 1949 – table of contents.

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“Everybody’s Protest Novel” by James Baldwin.

“The Negro in Paris” appeared in the June 6, 1950 issue of The Reporter:

The Reporter, June 6, 1950.

[Click to enlarge] The Reporter, June 6, 1950.

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The Reporter, June 6, 1950 – table of contents.

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“The Negro in Paris” by James Baldwin. Notice the illustrations.

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“A Question of Identity” was published in the July-August 1954 issue of Partisan Review:

[Click to enlarge] Partisan Review, July-August 1954.

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“A Question of Identity” by James Baldwin.

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[Click to enlarge] Checkout cards in the back of this binding could indicate interest in the issue or in Baldwin in particular.

“Life Straight in De Eye” was published in Commentary in January 1955:

Commentary, January 1955.

Commentary, January 1955.

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Commentary, January 1955 – table of contents.

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“Life Straight in De Eye” by James Baldwin. Notice the development of his biographical statement (bottom-left) from the earlier 1948 issue (pictured above).

Beyond the sources listed above that were collected in Notes of a Native Son, there are a number of other compelling, original publications by Baldwin in Shain Library, a few of which are featured below.


The Nation, April 12, 1947. Baldwin's first published book review.

[Click to enlarge] The Nation, April 12, 1947. Baldwin’s first published book review.

Baldwin in Nation_Page_07

The Nation, April 12, 1947 – table of contents. Notice Kay Boyle is a contributor. She is the one who invited Baldwin to speak at Wesleyan University on May 22, 1963.

Kay Boyl's piece in the same issue as Baldwin's.

Kay Boyle’s piece in the same issue as Baldwin’s.

Baldwin in Nation_Page_08

“Maxim Gorki as Artist” by James Baldwin.

Baldwin in Nation_Page_09

“Maxim Gorki as Artist” by James Baldwin.

Baldwin in Nation_Page_10

The ad next to Baldwin’s article.

[Click to enlarge] “Letter From a Region in My Mind” was published in The New Yorker, November 17, 1962, causing the magazine’s sales to soar, before it would become the major portion of The Fire Next Time in 1963. At the time, Baldwin was between continents, between visits to the White House, and a rising star on the international literary scene.

"Letter From a Region in My Mind" by Baldwin in The New Yorker, November 17, 1962.

“Letter From a Region in My Mind” by Baldwin in The New Yorker, November 17, 1962.

"Letter to My Nephew" is the other essay that would be collected in The Fire Next Time (1963). Before that, however, it was published in The Progressive, December 1962.

“Letter to My Nephew” is the other essay that would be collected in The Fire Next Time (1963). Before that, however, it was published in The Progressive, December 1962.

The December, 1962 issue of The Progressive marked the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it included a letter from president John F. Kennedy addressing the occasion.

The December 1962 issue of The Progressive marked the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it included a letter from president John F. Kennedy addressing the occasion.

The Progressive, December 1962 - table of contents.

The Progressive, December 1962 – table of contents.

“Letter to My Nephew” by James Baldwin in The Progressive, December 1962.

In March 1963, Baldwin testified before the House of Representatives with Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X. In his testimony, Baldwin argued that whitewashing American history would deny the black American a sense of identity.

In March 1963, Baldwin testified before the House of Representatives with Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X. In his testimony, Baldwin argued that whitewashing American history would deny the black American a sense of identity.

Baldwin in Nation_Page_05

Notice Betty Shabazz’s name is misspelled “Shadazz”.

James Baldwin interview in the Paris Review no. 91 (1984)

James Baldwin interview in the Paris Review no. 91 (1984). In the interview Baldwin talks about his early book reviews from the late 1940s.

Beginning of James Baldwin interview in Paris Review (1984)

Beginning of James Baldwin interview in Paris Review (1984).

Architectural Digest, August 1987.

Architectural Digest ran this photographic profile of James Baldwin's French home in 1987 shortly before his death.

Architectural Digest ran this photographic profile of James Baldwin’s French home alongside a short piece by Baldwin in 1987 shortly before his death. It was his last published work.

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Notice here Baldwin uses the now-famous term “transatlantic commuter” to describe his itinerant path.

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Architectural Digest, August 1987.

In 1989, artist, printer, and book maker Leonard Baskin made a posthumous illustrated limited edition of a few Baldwin poems published by his Gehenna Press. The Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives maintains a Leonard Baskin Collection that includes Baldwin's Gypsy & Other Poems.

In 1989, artist, printer, and book maker Leonard Baskin made a posthumous illustrated limited edition of selected Baldwin poetry published by his Gehenna Press. The Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives maintains a Leonard Baskin Collection that includes Baldwin’s Gypsy & Other Poems.

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Gypsy & Other Poems by James Baldwin.

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Gypsy poem by Baldwin.

Checkout card for James Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man

Checkout card for James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man. Obviously the book was pretty popular at Connecticut College.

Checkout card for James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain

Checkout card for James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. The book clearly circulated widely on the Connecticut College campus.


Field, Douglas. James Baldwin. Tavistock, Devon, UK: Northcote House, 2011.

Field, Douglas. “James Baldwin’s Life on the Left: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young New York Intellectual.” ELH 78.4 (2011): 833-862.

Leeming, David. James Baldwin: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Accessing Our Local Newspaper, The Day: Challenges and Opportunities

“Digitizing The Day’s back issues is a dream I haven’t given up on.”

-John Ruddy, Copy Desk Chief at The Day

Connecticut College appears on page four of the 450-page history of our local newspaper, The Day Paper: The Story of One of America’s Last Independent Newspapers. This is because in 1911 the newspaper’s early and prominent publisher, Theodore Bodenwein, championed the cause of establishing Connecticut College for Women in New London at a time when other Connecticut towns were vying for the opportunity to host the new college.

Unfortunately for anyone who wants to fact-check the newspaper’s coverage at the time (i.e. October 19, 1911), or any other historical issue, your best bet is to make a trip down to the Public Library of New London (PLNL), where they maintain a complete run of The Day back to 1881 on microfilm.  The PLNL website even claims they are “the only repository in the world with a complete record of the paper.” While that seems mostly true, it is also the case that the Waterford Public Library, the Groton Public Library, the Connecticut State Library, and The Day itself combined have pieces of what amounts to a second or third microfilm copy of the newspaper’s back issues. Not to mention the film negatives allegedly stored at ProQuest that are used in the creation of the microfilm in the first place. All of these copies combined, however, still amount to a rather precarious legacy for our local paper.

Day index by Groton Public Library

Day on microfilm at PLNL  Day index 1881-1890
The Day on microfilm along with a few incomplete print indexes at the Public Library of New London.

The date of October 19, 1911, cited in The Day Paper makes for an interesting example, because it is not covered by the pieces of The Day that were digitized by Google when the company aspired to scan everything in every library; a project that was abandoned in haste without explanation some years ago. At least that’s how The Day‘s Copy Desk Chief John Ruddy recalls the relationship when he described it to me in recent communications. Ruddy estimates that Google scanned about a third of the paper, “but the gaps are random and unpredictable.”

It was only when I asked Ruddy how anyone can make an authoritative claim about what is, or is not, printed in The Day without systematic access to all of its contents, that he explained how he uses the microfilm in conjunction with several incomplete indexes in existence:

  • a card file maintained from 1929 to 1977 by librarians at The Day
  • a system of story clippings from 1977 to around 2000 also at The Day
  • incomplete print indexes available in local public libraries covering the years 1881-1890, with a partial index to one or two decades later in the 1900s

card file at The Day

Conn College entry in the card file at The Day.

Most of the cabinets that makeup The Day’s card and clipping files.









Budding researchers may be surprised to learn The Day is not free and it is not all online.  It has been cut up with scissors over the years into little pieces of paper folded into envelopes and documented by hand on index cards that are organized  in the drawers of some filing cabinets in an office almost no one still uses, while other components were bound between book covers, photographed, microfilmed, and/or digitized in haste and incompletely, some of it available on the internet for you to puzzle over.  The rest of it is buried until someone comes along to sort it all out, assuming the various scattered pieces will last that long. Besides, who would do such a thing? How long would it take? How much would it cost? How come no one does it?

We have to ask these questions as a starting place in the hope that someday something will happen. Hopefully someone will find a grant or a benefactor and connect with the right people to help advance a project like realizing the complete digitization of The Day.

As part of the National Digital Newspaper Program, the Connecticut Digital Newspaper Project has been working in this direction, to be sure, but each NEH grant received only provides for the digitization of a small portion of one or several papers in a state that has seen the publication of some 1,600 newspapers since the 1700s. One outstanding example is the Hartford Courant which has been well-digitized from 1764-1991, albeit by ProQuest rather than the public, and is available through a database via the CT State Library.

For my part, I have talked with stakeholders at area public libraries and now The Day itself about possibly getting a group together to return to the massive project of indexing the entire paper. At least then we would have a means of making efficient use of the microfilm available at PLNL. Ruddy at The Day told me that if I do resume work on the index, then I should focus on the period from 1890 to 1929, which given the tools available is the hardest portion of the paper to search, in his view.

As for access today, in addition to the abovementioned, here’s what we have:

—Andrew Lopez

Researching Towards Fictional Reality

I thought I’d take a moment and write about a kind of research that many people have not engaged in, that is, doing research for fictional writing.

Now, I am not going to write about the research that must occur for real historical fiction. That genre not only requires knowledge of the rules for writing fiction, but also of the rules for writing history. Sometimes it is done well, sometimes it can read as if you are passing through one notecard to another.

Rather, I’m talking about doing the research that is needed to help pull the reader into the mind of the writer’s characters. Scents, sounds, sights, the feel of the physical world, language and accents – all can help create a deeper sense of involvement and realism. Young writers are often taught that they should only write about what they know. But most of us have lives that intersect with many different types of people and locations, all of which must be presented carefully.

For those who are reading this who do not write fiction, you should understand that the struggle, at times a BATTLE, to pull the readers into a character’s reality is central to the success of fiction. For ultimately, writing exists in the minds of readers, not writers.

Sometimes, the task is simple. If you are writing about a culture you are not intimately familiar with, a little research on another culture’s cuisine can launch the reader into a dinner party in…Riyadh. Or Nairobi. Or Stockholm. The research task can be as simple as finding an appropriate, authentic restaurant. Or talking to someone from the culture, or reading a cookbook. Shain Library has some food-related sources that can also be extremely useful, such as:

Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, New York: Scribner, 2003. 3v. Shain Reference GT 2850.E53 2003.

One of the trickiest areas to deal with is different forms of speech and colloquialism. Again, if you are only writing about people you know, this can be easy. But don’t we all know people from other cultures and places, regions of this country? And if your characters are lodged in an historical era different from your own, how do you handle that? It doesn’t have to be a matter of centuries; what about characters in the 1960s, for instance?

For characters representing different cultures, different areas of the United States, different ethnic groups – speech and dialect can add to honest and realistic portrayals. There are many published works on all languages and dialects that can assist a writer with this. For instance, if you search OneSearch, using a subject heading like:

English language – Dialects – United States

you can find books such as:


American Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers, Lewis Herman and Marguerite Shalett Herman, New York: Routledge, 1997. Shain PN2071.F6 H39 1997

You can find a wide variety of books across the CTW collections. For more specialized linguistic areas, try searching WorldCat, or asking a reference librarian for help.

A cautionary note: When you are trying to represent language differences in your writing, you must consciously balance honest representation against the readers’ expectations (and possible biases.) People may think that everyone in Boston pahks their cah in Hahvahd Yahd. But, in reality, most people park their car in Harvard Yard (…if in fact they could park there at all, which they cannot!) There can be real tensions between readers’ beliefs and biases, and how people really behave and want to be represented, and these tensions must be presented sensitively.

The internet has also opened up great possibilities for this kind of research. As with any kind of research on the open internet, be careful about the validity of sites and their “facts.” Caution is called for when you are using information that builds characters and their attitudes and experiences.

The internet can be particularly useful when you are searching for information about geographic settings. Open searching on Google, and restricting the search to images, can turn up many usable images – images that can be useful to get a feel for settings that you might not be able to visit, or that you have visited but not lived in. Geographic locations, types of buildings, historic locations, etc., are all easily searched and will turn up a multitude of mood-creating photos. Venice, for instance: if you’ve never experienced that city, or that city beyond its most famous locations, consider this photo and the feeling it generates:

Photo by Wenni Zhou on Unsplash

Pursuing images of this sort can assist a writer in turning their vision into the written word.

Google maps is also a rich location to mine for local geographic information. In years past, hunting through atlases was a common activity for some people writing fiction. Most of that can now be done easily on Google maps.

Finally, can too much research get in the way?

More appropriately, this question should be: Can a writer overuse the results of extensive research? The answer to that question can always be yes, whether the project is a fiction-based work, or a traditional academic work. If an academic writer is writing a review article on a subject, extensive presentation of research is warranted. But when you are using research to answer and support
positions, careful selection of the most relevant and appropriate sources is important.

The same is even truer when integrating research into fictional writing. What effect are you hoping for? How does research support that effect, or that development of a particular character? Simple facts, with a single evocative adjective can often be the solution. One example: He sipped the strong coffee, and the sharp sweet taste spread through his mouth. The careful, unobtrusive presentation of a fact that strikes sensory or emotional notes has much greater effect that a large presentation on Turkish coffee.

Always remember the questions you are seeking to answer, the effect you are reaching for. Use the facts and knowledge you achieve through research to address those things as simply and honestly as possible.

Conversation About Research and Teaching with Marc Zimmer, Jean C. Tempel ’65 Professor of Chemistry January 18, 2018



CK: First of all, a little bit of background about you. I know you are from South Africa, I know from all the stories on your website that you were going to be a game warden. Is that really true?

MZ: Yes. I went to college and wanted to be a game warden.

CK: And is it really true that you didn’t do it because you flunked a botany course?

MZ: Indeed.

CK: Really. How could you flunk a botany course?

MZ: Two ways. One, this was South Africa in the early 80s, height of apartheid. I went to a university that was quite liberal. And there were demonstrations at lunch, and botany was the period before lunch. I was involved in a lot of protests, and as a result I missed a lot of classes.

CK: So, your politics got in the way..

MZ: So my politics got in the way of botany. And then also, the professor was pretty boring. That didn’t help.

CK: Now some people would see a move from life sciences, because when you are talking about big organism life science to chemistry, some people would see that as odd. I don’t, but I understand why some people would. How did that happen?

MZ: I did well in chemistry. And in South Africa, it’s the English system, so you come in with a major, and you have to take a set of courses for that major. Every chemist would take chemistry, biology, physics, and math. You had no option. As someone who wanted to do conservation, I took biology, chemistry for biologists, math, and physics. I already had the core chemistry courses. So it wasn’t that difficult to switch. The only thing was that the chemistry I took was a half a chemistry, not a whole chemistry course, because it was for biologists. I had to catch up a bit on the chemistry. But I did well in it, and thought it was pretty interesting.

CK: So, your university education wasn’t a liberal arts education.

MZ: Not at all. In my whole career, I’ve taken one course on international politics. Six months of classes not related to chemistry. Nothing else.

CK: From my perspective, as somebody who has been immersed in the liberal arts since from the time I was little, I sort of automatically understood the value of the liberal arts as being something that allows people to learn to analyze and ask questions in different disciplines. How has it been for you to now be immersed in a liberal arts organization, since I know you are very involved with the new curriculum here at Connecticut College. How did it feel?

MZ: Yes, so, I came to America. I went to an engineering school and then, Ivy League. I really had no experience about liberal arts. I applied to this position at Conn College, and then I looked up on the website and saw what it was about, and to be frank, I think the only reason they interviewed me was because I was an hour away. And the only reason I came here was because it was an hour away. And so I came to the interview, and learned all about it in my interview. But I really enjoyed it. In my past, I had taught for a year in a high school, and I like teaching and I like interacting with students. It’s always been a passion of mine. I realized I liked the idea of something that wasn’t totally research driven, where students were important as well. I can speak three languages, so language was important to me. Even though I’d never seen a liberal arts college, I was intrigued and liked the idea. And it’s worked out perfectly.

CK: Now for some people, and it’s true in any discipline but sometimes it is particularly true in the sciences, there’s teaching, and then there’s research. Most academics do both but there’s usually a passion that falls one side of that fence or the other even though they may really enjoy and like the other activity. My sense about you has always been that it’s much more equal. Is that correct, or not?

MZ: I think I go through phases. There are phases when I’m more enamored by the research and pulled in, depending on how well it’s going, depending on what I’m doing. But after a while, then I want to do something else. At the moment, the last three years I’ve written three books, and that’s been taking me away from my research a little bit. And Science Leaders has also been taking time away. Since I’ve taken over Science Leaders, there’s been a definite drop in my productivity research-wise. For a talk I drew a graph once, that showed my number of publications, and when Science Leaders start, you can actually just see it drop. So, yeah, you can’t do everything.

CK: Right. But in general, you successfully moving back and forth.

MZ: Yes.

CK: When you were an undergraduate, when was there a point that you felt the research bug, that it really grabbed you.

MZ: As a child, I grew up in a small mining industrial town, and we were close to the border of town. I would go into the veldt and the fields, and we’d trap animals, so there was that interest. But that was always more of a biological zoological interest. In chemistry, I worked in a lab, but it never really grabbed me much. The only reason I did a PhD was to avoid the South African army, which was designed to defend apartheid. I felt that the only option I had was to leave the country, and the only way I could leave the country was to go to graduate school. And that’s the only reason I continued studying. I would never have gone to graduate school otherwise.

CK: Funny, how life kind of leads you in directions and then something happens. When did you know suddenly that it was the right thing?

MZ: At graduate school, my advisor was very hands-off, he’d say “This is what I want you to do. Find yourself a project.” And I really enjoyed that I had a lot of freedom, and TAing students as well, I enjoyed that. I saw he travelled a lot, which really appealed to me.

CK: It appealed to you because you thought travel could be part of what you did, not that he was gone?

MZ: That I wanted to lead that life, yes. Before that, I saw doing chemistry as a route to a job, while being a game warden was going to be a passion. I still have friends that went that way, who are game wardens.

CK: Do you regret that?

MZ: Their children have grown up in boarding schools, and have been away from a very young age, and, well, It’s a young person’s job. At this point, they either become administrators or they lead a tough life. So things worked out for me. I’m quite happy…

CK: Raising your kids and doing your job?

MZ: Yeah.

Teaching and Research

CK: A Nobel laureate in chemistry once said to me, undergraduates cannot do real research because they don’t know enough. Where are you on a scale either agreeing or disagreeing with that? I know that all of the sciences have a more vertical aspect in the acquisition of knowledge, which means, that unless you come enormously well-prepared, there’s a certain level of accumulation of information that you’ve got to get in order to be able to think about new ideas.

MZ: I think a common misconception about science research at liberal arts colleges is that the students come up with their own projects. So all the students who have worked with me, I’ve had over a hundred students and over 60 have published papers with me, have worked on projects that I thought of. They come, they do computational chemistry on fluorescent proteins, or on some molecule, and within that project if they are really good students they can then see what the next step would be. That’s probably been 10-20 students over time, that have been able to do the project, and then come up with an idea or what the next logical step would be.

As students then go to graduate school, the same thing happens. They then work with a professor who has got a certain expertise in a certain project, they work on that project, and only once they’ve worked, typically do they then find their own project and secondary offshoot, but it is really closely aligned with what that professor does.

CK: You can find unusual professors in the humanities, who would say to an undergraduate “you don’t know enough to write an essay.” So in any discipline area you can get people like that, but I think that it is true in general in a liberal arts college the students begin to be able to ask the questions in the humanities much earlier than in the sciences. Do you ever get students who want to ask questions where you have to say “You can’t answer that question?”

MZ: Oh, a lot, yeah. Definitely, I think there is no border between the two. Teaching can be research-based, Tanya Schneider, in her biochemistry lab, actually has students doing things for my research, we collaborate, they make mutations and see what happens. So that, in that case, teaching is doing research. And my research is probably more than 50% teaching, actually. It’s teaching the students how to do things. At least for the first year or two, in my lab, it would be more efficient if I did the work myself. I’ve had many students who worked with me as summer or two, then it starts getting to the point where it’s more efficient.

CK: What characteristics do you see in the best researchers in your field?

MZ: Sometimes undefinable qualities. Some of the best students in the class, are certainly not always the best researchers. And some of the best researchers I’ve had haven’t been great in class. They’ve been good, but not great. So the two aren’t necessarily linked. Confidence has something to do with it. And at the same time, being meticulous and thoughtful is important. You have to think about what you do and why you aim to do it. Being self-analytical is really important. And creativity, to be able to take things apart, put them back together, and maybe to think away from the norm. If you think about researchers putting puzzle pieces together, trying to actually design a new part of the puzzle, rather than just looking for a piece.

CK: A friend of mine once talked about finding a way to ask the beautiful question. Which I think is part of that, it’s that creative aspect. And some people go there easily, perhaps before they are even prepared to do it. And other people don’t ever go there.

MZ: That’s why I think a combination is really important. Definitely.

CK: When you gave your book talk at Shain, and you brought your little creature, and I made some slightly disparaging remarks his looks. You clearly disapproved of my attitude. But what I saw, in that whole thing, was how much you loved everything about what this creature represented, and perhaps the creature itself. Now, that wouldn’t be true of every chemist, because they are not working with organisms. But you do have this background in organismal thinking.


The maligned Edgar the Mexican GFP axolotl – photo by Marc Zimmer
Click here for a video of Edgar

MZ: I think it is not an accident that the first big project I took and then stayed with a lot has been a jellyfish that give off light. I’m a theoretical chemist, my lab is a bunch of computers. Not very exciting. The output I get is just numbers. Nothing but numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. I have to look at something exciting. So, the projects that I have looked at have been an anti-cancer drug, a protein that’s found in cows that’s used to digest cellulose and make methane so cow farts, flatulence, fluorescent proteins…things like that.

So the actual calculations aren’t always very interesting, but the results are interesting, I think.

CK: Your books are certainly interesting. You’ve done a lot of popularlized science, which those of us who aren’t chemists love to read. But how do people in your field react to that? Do they think this is a great thing that you are able to express complex science to laypeople? Or not?

MZ: I think, more and more, there is a need for that. There are more scientists on twitter now. I’d be interested if I came up for tenure now, with fewer publications, and more books, what would happen? I don’t know, I think at a liberal arts college they’d probably be okay. But, I don’t know. I mean, that’s an interesting question.

It might vary from department to department, I suspect, how people feel about it. I mean, I think that a person’s ability to expand a knowledgeable audience is an important thing, but some people would say that it would have to hard and fast research.

CK: One of the complicated things, since I work on the other end of this where students come in confused, not so much in chemistry, we don’t see that many students from chemistry. But in any field you are going to see some kids, they very often don’t understand the difference between starting their research with a position, and starting it with a question. Now, I think your field may drive them towards the question side, I think it’s more often that people feel they can have a position on anything in politics, or literature… So you may not see that much of that in your field. But I wonder if that’s something you’ve seen, that students, it’s almost like they think they have the answer and they want to demonstrate the road to it. I’ve even had students that wrote papers and then came to look for sources. A little backwards.

MZ: So there have been studies in science that have also shown that scientists, unbeknownst to themselves, have preconceived ideas about what the answer should be going into a project. And then, when the data is not quite right, will have difficulty accepting that. So, psychologically, unbeknownst to themselves, they might ignore signs that are pointing in a different way, because it is not going the way they think it should be going. So that’s why I think having an open mind is really important. I think in science everybody goes into an experiment expecting a certain answer. You want to prove something, you want to show something. So it’s really hard.

CK: Have you ever found yourself in a position where you have thought about the direction of an idea, and you collect the evidence, but then you’ve ended up where you can’t proceed in any direction, and certainly not in the direction you thought you would go? Is that a frequent occurrence?

MZ: Yes. It happens. Then the difficulty really becomes: what do you do with it? The tendency in science is often to not publish that, because it is a negative result. But that negative result is really important. Otherwise, somebody else is going to do same thing. And everybody wastes their time trying to do it. So then, it becomes important to try and explain the negative result, why it’s not doing what you thought.

CK: Do people often publish negative results?

MZ: If it’s, a big enough question, yeah. More and more.

One interesting thing about doing research at a small liberal arts college. You are in a kind of competition. If you go for something that is really interesting, you are competing with big universities, where they have graduate students, post docs who full-time, every day, working on a project. Whereas I have undergraduates who can work 6-10 hours a week. It’s quite an art to choose the right project. So for example, I worked on this drug called bleomycin, and I was interested in how it wraps around a metal. It was important, it was interesting, and I was really the only one doing it. And then, a paper came out from a group at MIT, and that point I knew, this is it. Anything more I do is a waste, because they can get to it quicker and faster, and they are too close to what I’m doing. With the green fluorescent protein, I started right in the beginning of it, our paper was one of the first 10 papers. Now, there are over 100,000 papers that have been published about it. Using a surfing analogy, if you catch the wave, if you are first on the wave, that part of the wave is yours. So I had a sort of right to some of it, even though people would come really really close, and because I started really early, I knew all about the field, in sort of organic way. But even now, I’ve been squeezed out of most of the very interesting areas.

CK: Do you regret not being at a university?

MZ: I often think about, wouldn’t it be great to have a couple of grad students, to have somebody and have, maybe most importantly, continuity. With graduate students you have students for five years. If a new graduate student comes in, they are trained by the other graduate students. And that graduate students learn all the new methods, and so they learn how to use a new program, and bring it in. Whereas here, I have to go and keep up with the newest techniques. I have to teach myself what’s happening. And I have to teach the students. And then the students aren’t here long enough for there to be any continuity. I have to be very careful about what I do. And how I do it. So research here is a very different animal. If you look at a puzzle, and you think of research as making a puzzle, what you’ve got to be able to do at a liberal arts college, you can’t go for the central part where everybody is working the obvious things. You’ve either got to work with the sky which is boring as can be, or you’ve got to find something that’s hidden, that other people can’t see, and you can work on something like that, or you have to put pieces together that other people aren’t doing. You have to start trying to find low hanging fruit, things that people haven’t looked at yet. Quickly do the interesting things, and then when other people come in there with more resources, back off, and find something else. Or you have to go find a puzzle that many people aren’t interested in. Which means you aren’t going to get much funding, and your publications aren’t going to be that great. That’s part of the art of doing this.

So I’ve studied GFP and optogenetics, two things I’ve been in right early on, and so that’s always helped. So that’s a different picture of research, that one has to consider, coming to a liberal arts college.

CK: Which you didn’t know before you came.

MZ: No, because what I looked at first was difficult, it was something that took a long time, and also relied on students being to come into lab on a regular basis. And research students can do that, but undergraduates have tests, they have holidays, lacrosse. Their schedules aren’t as fixed. Very quickly, I had to realize that some projects wouldn’t work, and I had to refocus. I started off doing most of research in the lab, and then with computation chemistry, it is lot easier, because the computer can do it and come back, and work 10 hours in row, an hour the next week, and 15 the next. You can use your own schedule.

CK: It sounds like you found the right path for yourself, even if you think about other paths. But that’s usually true.

MZ: Right. I’m definitely not on one path.

Open Access

CK: To change direction here, can we talk about the whole open access thing? I know scientists have always been better at sharing what it is that they do with each other, because everyone stands on everyone else’s shoulders. But, I’m not sure that the places that publish your research feel the same way. So, what are your feelings about open access, and publishing, because there’s an increasing amount, of almost unedited stuff that goes out on the open web.

MZ: So, I read somewhere that there are 1.5 million peer-reviewed papers that come out. That’s a huge number, but only 25% of those are ever cited. And, probably 20% of the people who actually cite things read them (also from the study.) So, there’s a lot of stuff that’s getting published that probably shouldn’t be published. On the other hand, people publish in order to quantify the amount of research they’ve done – for promotion, for tenure – rather than trying to simply put out scientific research. I think that’s a problem. Funding agencies, they look at how much you’ve published before. So publishing for the sake of publishing rather than advancing knowledge is a problem. If I can, I always try and publish in a journal that has open access to it. So the PLOS journals is where I would go if I could. But you have to pay a $1000 – $2000. It’s still peer-reviewed, it’s not vanity publishing, but you are actually paying so everybody (in Africa or wherever) can access it. I think that’s really important. I start seeing it now as we at the College get less and less access to research materials how difficult it can be.

CK: Ben Panciera. who runs our institutional repository, can go in in real time and see where a popular article is being downloaded. With a popular article, it is astounding to watch the lights flash all over the world, and although quite often it is in English speaking countries, you can get a lot of people from India, and Sub-Saharan Africa and South America that might or might not have easy access to research, but because of institutional repositories, they do.

MZ: Exactly.
(click for more detailed information on Professor Zimmer and his research)

Disappearing Government Information and the Effort to Preserve It

[Updated 25 October 2017]

The group Government Publications Librarians of New England (GPLNE) has organized a fall webinar on disappearing government information and the effort to preserve it. We are fortunate to be joined by two leading government information advocates, James R. Jacobs (Stanford University) and James A. Jacobs (Emeritus, UC San Diego) who will lead the presentation after a brief introduction.

Disappearing Government Information poster

Link to poster as PDF

Presentation details:

Who: James R. Jacobs (Stanford Univ.) & James A. Jacobs (UC San Diego)
What: Disappearing Government Information and the Effort to Preserve it
When: Tuesday, October 24, at 2pm EST
Where: Live streaming via GPO:

A recording of the presentation is now available online at the following URL:

click on this link

James R. Jacobs provided a link to the slides for download here:

Please note the name of the presentation was changed to Government Information: Everywhere and Nowhere.

Some recent related articles include the following:

Please direct additional questions or concerns to Andrew Lopez, Research Support Librarian at Connecticut College: andrew.lopez [at]

Research and the Information Process

What is the “information creation process,” and what does it have to do with scholarly research? Short answer: a lot.

Longer answer (if you’re still with me!): In a previous post, I wrote about the first of the threshold concepts developed by the Association of College & Research Libraries’ (ACRL) in its “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.” Threshold concepts are key points that an information-literate student or researcher needs to be able to grasp and utilize. The ACRL’s first threshold concept, “authority is constructed and contextual,” seemed tailor made for a political moment rife with discussions and anxieties about fake news, post truth and alternative facts, and indeed we librarians engaged in several robust discussions with faculty about how to approach this topic in the curriculum.

At first glance, the second threshold concept, “Information creation as a process,” might not resonate quite as strongly. But perhaps it should. Because an understanding of the process of how information is created is necessary for discerning how various books, articles, etc., might be useful or not useful — or for figuring out how authoritative they might be.

First, what does that mean, “information creation as a process”? Information objects — resources that are in various containers, including books, newspaper articles, scholarly journal articles, magazine articles, websites, blog posts, tweets, scholarly proceedings and yes, Facebook posts of dubious origin — all are informed by, and in turn inform, other information objects. In other words, the information contained in these various objects is used to create other objects; in turn, as these objects are read and shared, they may themselves serve to generate tweets, news articles, scholarly articles and books. The process is not merely circular, but infinitely weblike in the way that new information shapes, and is shaped by, already existing sources.

What’s more, the kinds of information objects that are available on any given topic depend on several factors: how long the topic has been in discussion, the extent of the discourse surrounding that topic, and the information objects that have already been created on that topic.

Let’s take, for example a story that’s very much been in the news: Donald Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Although the news of the order hit newspaper websites very quickly following the announcement, even before those stories appeared there were innumerable tweets, Facebook posts and other social media commentary offering even quicker takes.

How useful are these quick takes on the issue? Certainly, they serve as a record of the issue’s explosiveness — its vast potential for altering domestic and global social affairs, politics and business. If one’s project is to document the proliferation of information objects about the issue, then gathering the tweets and quick news pieces would be essential. Similarly, a researcher who sought to document the speculation about the effects of the travel bans would need to look at these early sources.

But the usefulness of any particular information source depends very much on the nature of the project at hand — and that source’s place in the information cycle. What if, instead of looking at the speculation about the executive order, one’s project was about examining its effects? For that, one needs something more analytical — one that views the immigration orders at a distance. One might first look at any newspaper articles that appeared since Trump’s announcement — but again, depending on when the research was being conducted (six months after an event? a year? five years?), more detailed, rigorously conducted scholarly sources might be available.

Let’s look at how this plays out in various searches. Searching Google for “Donald Trump executive order immigration” in April — roughly three months after the initial announcement — yielded nearly 3 million results. Closer to home, entering the same keywords into the library’s CrossSearch tool (which searches books as well as numerous article databases) predictably yields fewer results. (Still quite a few at more than 2,000, but not quite the 3 million that Google unearths.)

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 11.35.12 AM

Of these results, most are news articles:

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Only a handful appeared in academic journals, and most of these are quick takes of only a page or two, certainly not the detailed, rigorous, analytical pieces one might expect to find in a scholarly publication. To find such an article, it would be necessary to wait until more time had passed — until scholars had been able to perform studies that involved gathering and interpreting survey data, and that carefully surveyed the available literature on the subject.

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Note, too, that the search doesn’t yield any books at all. That’s because books take even more time than scholarly journal articles to put together. Books need to be proposed, written, edited, rewritten and then published before they can arrive on the scene. The advantage of books, whether they appear in print or electronic form, is that they typically represent some of the most considered, most rigorous thinking on a particular topic. But they take time, and usually depend on the fact that previous news articles, scholarly articles and other materials have already appeared on the topic.

And so a hypothetical researcher seeking to examine the effects of immigration bans would certainly want to look at detailed scholarly journals and books, if they were available. But to determine the kind of questions that are even possible, it’s necessary to understand what materials might be in the information-creation process, and thus how helpful or authoritative they might be in answering the question one poses.

So when you ask a research question, it’s a good idea to think about where a topic might be in the overall information-creation process. The answers will help not only in guiding you to the best possible sources to answer your question, but also in figuring out what might be available in the first place.

— Fred Folmer

Schedule a Research Consultation to Get Help Finding Sources

The fall semester is well underway at Connecticut College and the reference desk in Shain Library is abuzz with questions and consultations about finding, evaluating, and citing scholarly sources on a wide variety of topics.

What follows is an overview of a recent transaction in which an undergraduate student wanted to find works by two renowned anthropologists. The takeaway is that sometimes when it seems like the library doesn’t have a book you’re looking for, be persistent (e.g. ask us); it could be just a few searches away.

An anthropology student contacted the library by using the Schedule a Research Consultation link on the library website. One can schedule a research consultation using the library mobile app as well, so it’s super easy to schedule an appointment with a librarian.  In her message, the researcher told us about her project and the kinds of sources she was hoping to find:

I would like help finding works by Franz Boas such as his 1907 essay “Anthropology”, or his 1911 book “The Mind of Primitive Man”, or his 1920 essay, “The Methods of Ethnology”. And such works by Lewis Henry Morgan as “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” or “Ancient Society” (1877)

We scheduled an appointment and met in person to work on this together. Some of the sources can be found using the library catalog online, but some of them are trickier and require a more advanced search technique.

Here’s a look at how we found them:

Franz Boas’ work called “Anthropology”:

  • Do an Advanced Search in the library catalog

    Screenshot of an Advanced Search in the library catalog.

    Screenshot of an Advanced Search in the library catalog.

  • Search for franz boas in the first search box (case doesn’t matter), and set the drop-down option to search Author Name
  • In the second search box, search for anthropology, and set the drop-down to search Title
  • This search produced 5 results, including one for the book Anthropology and Modern Life, which is what it turned out we wanted

Because we were not sure at first if “anthropology” is the title of a whole book or perhaps just an article or chapter, we started with an advanced search to see how the catalog would handle this information. The advanced search technique helped in this case, because we found what we wanted and quickly.

The next item of interest, The Methods of Ethnology, sounds more like a book title, so we thought we would find it with a basic title search:

  • Do a Basic Search in the library catalog

    Screenshot of a Basic Search in the library catalog.

    Screenshot of a Basic Search in the library catalog.

  • Search for the title (without the initial article, because library catalogs and databases do not search initial articles such as “a” and “the”)
  • Limit the search to within the Title field
  • Unfortunately there are no results for this title, so it is either something we do not have in our library, something that’s contained in another item or classified under another title, or maybe it’s not a book, but a journal article or conference presentation instead

Assuming the work in question is at least part of a book, we can redo the search in WorldCat, the catalog of library catalogs, where we can hope to find out for sure if it is in a book somewhere:

  • Under the Catalog search box on the library website, click on WorldCat

    Screenshot of search results in WorldCat.

    Screenshot of search results in WorldCat.

  • Do a keyword search like this: “Methods of Ethnology” Boaz
  • This search contains a unique phrase (“in quotes”) and a unique name (Boaz); all as keywords
  • We still get a lot of results, but notice the first few. They happen to be titles available at Connecticut College, because the name Connecticut College appears highlighted in green
  • Click on those records to find out more about them
  • When viewing the full record in WorldCat, one can see these various titles contain the chapter we’re after – The Methods of Ethnology / Franz Boas
  • Pick any of the titles that appear to contain the essay of interest, and return to the Connecticut College Library Catalog to find out where the book is located in our library

With the search techniques listed above, we found everything we needed in about 15 minutes. It was all available only a few steps away.

— Andrew Lopez


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