Category Archives: Research Methods Assignment

Not getting lost in databases

For me, database searching is like quicksand. I start out with good intentions and a research area in mind. I know, in general, what I’m looking for and what I’m hoping to find. Then, at some point, I enter the vortex and follow lead after lead until I can barely remember what database I started with and I have found a mountain of resources that threatens to overwhelm Zotero and crash my hard drive. With this in mind, I entered into this exercise with caution and with a renewed discipline; I needed to make the most of my time in an effective way.

Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I used World Cat. It was amazing. I found so many sources right in the VT library that my Addison and Summon searches hadn’t turned up. I focused on a few search terms: food history, food community, food identity, and combinations of those terms. It turned up quite a few books that I wish I had read last semester before trying to sketch out a historiography of food history! I enjoyed how World Cat simplified the act of searching, while still offering the ability for more advanced options.

Thinking that I perhaps underappreciate the oldies-but-goodies, I then turned to EBSCO Host. This experience wasn’t as awe-inspiring as that with World Cat. I wound up searching for food history, food culture, food studies, food + community, food community, food identity, cookbook, and cookbook history. None of these turned up more than 15 or so hits, which made me conclude that I was searching wrong. World Cat had offered pages of potentially related options, though it was never an overwhelming pile to sort through.

In both instances, I stuck to discipline—I refused to be sucked into the vortex. While it was a bit less exhilarating and exciting, it was a fruitful search. I think there’s a time and a place for both types of exploration, but I can certainly see a value in disciplined searching. It was also very interesting to see how topics are intertwined. It has been challenging to find sources on this topic because it frequently falls in either a more scientific or more cultural zone. These searches have helped me to see where these fields intersect and overlap, and where there is more potential for this to happen. All told, it was a useful exercise in both production of sources and as a learning experience!

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