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Thread: Getting the most out of using sources

  1. #21
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Quote Originally Posted by Shahaku View Post
    One thing I can add as a current college student, at least here in the US is how strict some teacher are getting about what counts as a reliable source. For instance, in a paper that requires 4 sources, on average only one can be online. All of our sources are supposed to come for scholarly works, like journals or books/papers/websites from reliable authors. This means that we have to look into each source deeply before even deciding if it's usable. We need to have an idea or the journal's, editor's, and author's reputation and reliablitly before we even really look into the source information itself. At least, that's been my experience in classes with writing assignments. I usually spend as much time finding scholarly and reliable sources as I do reading the sources and garnering the information from them that I need. Of course, since I started looking more deeply into my sources, my grades have gone up as well.
    You're absolutely right - not all sources are of equal value. This was something we were discussing over on the Heathen boards just before the new forum came in. Generally speaking, internet sources that are part of the open access of Universities tend to be acceptable, and it can be a good way of finding ancient texts online in good translations.


    There are sources and sources - once you learn to distinguish between them, you can spot hidden agendas and bias a mile off (well, much of the time )

    ---------- Post added at 08:12 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:07 AM ----------

    To the Mods In advance - I apologise for double posting. If anyone knows how to avoid this please tell me!

    Quote Originally Posted by Gwen View Post
    Great thread!

    I'd like to add a word about using secondary sources. They're good for a number of reasons: giving historical/social/religious context to primary sources; exploring and commenting on the biases and motivations of primary sources (Tylluan, for example, just wrote us some nice secondary-source material on Tacitus); drawing connections among primary sources and discussing their interpretation with other secondary-source authors; etc. I'll have to expand this list later, but in brief it's important to

    -consider the author's agenda. This is always the case! Why is je writing?
    -consider the author's context--historical, social, political, geographical.
    -consider the author's academic context. What intellectual movements is je part of, and what theoretical structures and lenses does je base jer work within? A postcolonial writer is going to interpret something very differently than one who uses Jung as jer primary frame of reference.
    Hi Gwen - your list above is very helpful especially with its references to postcolonialism. For those who haven't come across this before, this is most commonly encountered when a modern writer discusses ancient empires but does so from the point of view of modern empires. So a British writer might writer about the Romans in Britain, saying what a wonderful civilising influence they were when in fact what he is really saying is that the British Empire was a wonderful civilising influence in the 19th century. You get it a lot in older sources and this is one reason why tutors encourage students to pick more recent ones.

    Of course, these attitudes are being challenged more and more, but it's still important to realise they exist within scholarship. There is a tendency to feel that mere mortals cannot challenge academics. Bunkum. We're as entitled to form our own opinions as anyone else, and the better we understand sources and how to use them, the more challenging our opinions will become.

  2. #22
    Sr. Member Gwen's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Thanks, Tylluan! I tend to find something of value in most secondary sources that do sufficient primary research, even if the author worked within a framework that is now discredited (or simply out of fashion in academia--because yes, different lenses do rise and fall in popularity and not always as much based in reason as we'd like to believe). If I can identify the framework(s) in use I know what to filter out, what to question closely, and what is likely to be considered valid information today. A few examples of persistent ideas and frameworks, and what I watch out for if I notice them in use:

    -Social evolution theories of the Enlightenment era (1600s-1800s or thereabouts) are some of the most pervasive and most personally obnoxious ideas around. The basic idea is that in ancient times you have primitive peoples doing magic. As social orders begin to develop they begin to relate to spirits in a systematic way that becomes a codified polytheistic cult with a priesthood. Then at some point of further growth (especially the growth of rationality) monotheism develops. Depending on the scholar, the pinnacle of humanity and society is reached with the valorization of reason, science, and the mind, and either
    a) Christianity, or
    b) atheism.

    Forms of these ideas are really common in sources as late as the 1960s, and are linked with colonial doctrines. I see them lingering today in Western discomfort with polytheism and the carnal/bodily, as well as tendencies toward racism, sexism, exploitation of the earth. They were so pervasive in their day that they had children that tend to travel together, though they also appear on their own:

    ---the Noble Savage. Some colonial thinkers reacted against the idea that primitive man was the opposite of what modern man should be striving for. Instead they romanticized, well, anyone who they thought was more primitive than they. Colonized cultures became a mirror for the nobility, closeness to nature, and innocent goodness that colonizers felt their own cultures had lost. In its own way this idea is as demeaning and devaluing of the stereotyped people as the idea that primitive = bad. However, this one is more politically correct today, and still shows up all over the place. (I'm thinking about the recent American movie Avatar, which is pretty much based on the idea of the Noble Savage.)

    ---the Cartesian (as in Descartes) mind/body split can be explained by two equations:
    1. Mind = spirit = sky = white/European = male = rational = good (=Christian or atheist, depending)
    2. body = temptation = earth = dark = female = irrational/unpredictable = bad (= non-Christian)
    Sound familiar? I'm at a really progressive seminary in Berkeley and I still run into subtle iterations of this one from my classmates. The idea that God is separate from (implicit: above) the world is quite related to Cartesian dualism, as is the idea that sex is bad.

    -Great Goddess Theory goes something like this: in ancient times there was a golden age of matriarchy and Goddess-focused religion in which everyone was equal, sexuality and the earth were valued, and peace reigned. It all ended when men took over with their patriarchal monotheism, warlike tendencies, and our dear friend from above, the Cartesian mind/body dualism. If you've done much reading into our religious history you'll recognize this one, as it was quite popular in feminist scholarship in the 1970s-80s and today remains an integral part of the stories many of our elders tell about our own history. Trouble is, it's appealing but historically dubious. Everyone likes a good Golden Age onto which we can project all that we wish we had more of now. For the colonial Brits, it was the rule of ancient Greece and Rome. For modern feminism, it's our peaceful matriarchal past. Look out for idealization; it says at least as much about the writer as about the subject under discussion.

    aaand time's gotten away from me. If this kind of overview of intellectual frameworks common in secondary literature is useful lemme know and I can do some more this weekend!
    “If it’s a good idea and it gets you excited, try it, and if it bursts into flames, that’s going to be exciting too. People always ask, ‘What is your greatest failure?’ I always have the same answer — We’re working on it right now, it’s gonna be awesome!”- Jim Coudal

  3. #23
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    It's extremelyl useful Gwen - thank you so much for posting it. Authorial bias is always a bit of a minefield, but whatever anyone chooses to believe it's helpful if they at least recognise some of the pitfalls that lay in wait for the unwary! Fashions change so much within scholarship - what is considered out on the fringe one decade may be mainstream scholarship during the next.

  4. #24
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Just a couple FYI's...I merged this thread, and another thread that is similarly on evaluating source materials so if you are having trouble with the *flow* of the thread, check the title of the post!

    Also, Tylluan, you are in luck--the software here auto-merges your posts for you! If you post in the same thread within 120 min or something like that, it will merge...more than that, and don't worry about it!


    And, on topic....

    Something to keep in mind along the lines of bias, in terms of primary literature and interpreting what people are really doing and saying means that you need to understand the context in which an event took place or a person lived. I spend alot of time reading 19th century material, particularly in the fields of natural history, but diaries, magazines from the time, deportment manuals, etc--even cookbooks and children's school books...when you read (no matter what you are reading) you have to factor in not only the difference in time period, but regional differences, the type of source, and their specific world view, etc... Its very easy to read that someone did X or thought Y or whatever and not understand its relevance because we lack the conditioning of having lived in that time--its also very easy to impart a meaning or importance to something that it would not have had, for that same reason.

    For example...in science today, the emphasis is on experimentation as a means to support theories which give us insight and predictability into how things work. 150-200 years ago, suggesting a theory would ruin one's reputation and standing. At that time (and part of the reason for the popularity of natural history) "science" was the collection of "facts"...which was pretty much something anyone could do, regardless of class, education, gender, etc. Most people today think of Darwin only in terms of evolution---but Darwin wasn't the only one to come up with the idea (even his specific idea of natural selection--not only did he share the "discovery" with the lesser known Wallace, but actually, their idea was preempted in a treatise on logging, published decades earlier, though virtually unknown and unread...and that is without including ideas suck as Lamarckian evolution). Really though, the greater significance of Darwin wasn't that he developed a theory of evolution, but that he backed that theory up with a huge body of evidence, and the purpose it gave to biology (leading to the death of natural history) as a whole.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  5. #25
    Supporter shadow1982's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Great thread, would have been very useful when studying for my History Degree. A couple of things to bear in mind when reading books written by historians, although I may be repeating what has already been said;

    What a historian is doing is putting forward his or her interpretation, based on scrupulous research in the sources. It is only a contribution to knowledge and will be subject to evaluation and criticisms by other historians. In order to know your history, it is important to also know your historian as they will all, to a greater or lesser degree, be taking up personal positions. Search engines are great for this, I will often google an author to get an idea of who they are and other writer/historians views on them.

    Also, try to read as many different things about one subject as you can get your hands on. This will help you form an idea of where many different writers agree and where someone may be way of the mark as far as others are concerned.

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    Apprentice of Doom Shahaku's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Currently taking Intro to Islam and writing a paper on zakat. The main source I've found is over 50 years old. It's a first addition of the book. I'm almost afraid to touch it. And it's one of the few sources I've been able to get my hands on so I have to use it. At least my instructor okayed it. I'm not allowed to use any online sources.
    We are what we are. Nothing more, nothing less. There is good and evil among every kind of people. It's the evil among us who rule now. -Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood

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    It could be complicated; of course it could be complicated. And it opened one up to the possibility of more pain and loss.
    Still, it was a blessing I would never relinquish. Love, genuine love, was always a cause for joy.
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  7. #27
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    @Thalassa- and it wasn't just the death of natural history,. but also the beginning of the end for regarding theology as a science. I seem to remember that Darwin actually studied theology at University. Wallace (born in Wales - had to get that in somewhere! ) tried to meld together his belief in Spiritualism with his scientific interests which put something of a strain on both!

  8. #28
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Quote Originally Posted by Tylluan Penry View Post
    @Thalassa- and it wasn't just the death of natural history,. but also the beginning of the end for regarding theology as a science. I seem to remember that Darwin actually studied theology at University. Wallace (born in Wales - had to get that in somewhere! ) tried to meld together his belief in Spiritualism with his scientific interests which put something of a strain on both!
    (Thankfully) the natural theology aspect of natural history did take quite a drubbing with the publication of the Origin of Species...not as much from Darwin himself, but those such as T. H. Huxley (who had the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog), Asa Gray (an American botanist...I'm a big fan of Mr. Gray, when I reenact, his text is my essential tome of botanical wisdom) and his other supporters...Huxley himself is attributed with the creation of the term agnosticism (I've seen it referenced in a few texts, but I've never looked into it beyond that). But the attachment of religion to science...I honestly think it was moving in the direction of disconnection already, Darwin was just the big shove it needed to get over the top of the hill.

    I will say this though...I've started reading up on the Spiritualist movement (because it was somewhat popular--as popular as any alternative among the upper/middle classes in the North during the latter half of the 1800's), particularly its connection to the early Feminist movement...and its really quite interesting...which in a round-about way can get me back on topic (I could seriously talk about natural history and early biology forever, I was born in the wrong century!).

    Sometimes its hard to find sources. Seriously. Unless its a journal article, my university doesn't have it. Hell, they don't even have JSTOR anyhow. And after I graduate in May, I won't have access to their computer library system to find articles anyhow...and most people are probably somewhere where they don't have university access. When I was younger, I could go to the library at the uni where my mom was getting her masters degree (this was in the early days of the internet), look something up, and go find it in the stacks. Today, you have to have a password for their computer system to even look something up, and they probably don't carry it any longer, because it can be had online.

    And books--I actually prefer secondary sources, since they've sort of done their work for me, and then I can (try to) track down the primary sources for them...but its hard to know if its good or not when you can't flip thru it (sure Google books can help there), but a lot of what I read up on has not been the biggest area of research, much less book publication. Most books are university publications, and that can be expensive. For example, I recently paid $50.00 for an e-book (the hard copy would have ran me $70 either used or from the publisher directly), and no library in the state had a copy, so I couldn't get it on loan...it was extremely useful, but was it really *worth* $50?
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  9. #29
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Academic books can be horribly expensive - and as you say, it's not always easy to get hold of good sources. I hadn't realised that some Universities didn't offer JSTOR - that must be awful. Depending on what you're after, there are a lot of good ancient sources available free online though. If it's anything specific, Thal, do let me know and I'll try and help.

  10. #30
    Sr. Member Gwen's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    My seminary library doesn't have JSTOR, much to my dismay. I bum articles from my sis sometimes as she's at a university that does.

    Another note on secondaries: glance over the footnotes/endnotes. Sometimes these are simply lists of sources, which lets you know and evaluate what the author was reading and basing jer opinions on. However, often they contain additional information that the author didn't think was important or relevant enough to put in the body of jer text. Often they also contain arguments with other scholars on the topic, which (besides occasionally being snarky and amusing) tells you a lot about other perspectives and how your author is situation jerself within the wider field.
    “If it’s a good idea and it gets you excited, try it, and if it bursts into flames, that’s going to be exciting too. People always ask, ‘What is your greatest failure?’ I always have the same answer — We’re working on it right now, it’s gonna be awesome!”- Jim Coudal

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