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FWS 121 Politics of Personhood Mackin: Library Session

Research Worksheet

FWS G. Mackin                                                                                              Fall 2022

Librarian: Eileen Daly-Boas

Guide to Research at UR Libraries

Guide to research using UR Libraries

1. Brainstorm

Brainstorm terms and concepts related to your subject. A 5-minute free-writing exercise can help.  One set of question that can help you organize your ideas is asking questions that journalists ask:

  • Who?  Population/demographics. Are you interested in a particular population? Kids, men, women, elderly, transgender people,students, etc
  • What? (discipline) Philosophy, Ethics, Political Philosophy, Political Science
  • Where? Cities, country, suburbs, USA, Italy, China, schools, colleges, workplace
  • Why? Equality, freedom, personhood
  • How?  Justifications, laws, instruction, arguments.

2. Creating an Advanced Search

Start with advanced search in DiscoverUR - start at homepage, then click Advanced Search:

  • On one line of the advanced search, connect similar terms with capitalized “OR”. For example, all the terms that you brainstormed around the term “freedom”
  •  On the next line, connect similar terms with “OR” for another concept, like those about disabilities.
  • On the third line, connect similar terms around a third concept, like Frederick Douglass or abolitionists.

Why: freedom OR “human rights” OR equality

Who:  disab* OR blind OR deaf OR “hard of hearing” OR “deaf and dumb” OR amputee (note: disab*l* to capture disabled, disability, disabilities)

What: philosophy OR ethics (we can skip this for now)

Where: (skip)

How: Douglass OR abolitionists

3. Our first results:

 First search, remembering it’s a first try, looks like this.

Any field contains: freedom OR “human rights” OR equality


Any field contains: disab* OR  blind OR deaf OR “hard of hearing” OR “deaf and dumb” OR amputee


Any field contains: Douglass OR abolitionists

4. Filtering Results:

First search: 22,000. Let’s filter the results so we only see results that are articles and peer-reviewed. The filters are in the column on the left “Refine Your Results”

When we use these two filters, and then click “remember filters” so we can keep them even when we edit our search, the results are here, there are 6,700 results.

This isn’t too bad, there are 3 or 4 articles that look promising. (1, 4, and 9 on the list seem close)

5. Subject filters

We can use the subject filters on the left-hand column to limit further - choosing articles that have “slavery” as a subject heading seems to look a little better, here.

6. Limit one set of search terms to “Abstract/Description”

If we want Douglass and abolitionists to be more prominent in the search, we can pull the dropdown next to that line to limit results to the Abstract/Description, like this.

7. Look at the abstract before committing to the article:

Pick one that sounds good - click on the title to look at the abstract:

  Forret, Jeff. “‘Deaf & Dumb, Blind, Insane, or Idiotic’: The Census, Slaves, and Disability in the Late Antebellum South.” The Journal of southern history 82.3 (2016): 503–548. Web.

Here’s the abstract:

“With the exception of a small number of cultural studies of the domestic slave trade, the enslaved body, and slave health, practically all the historical scholarship on slavery presumes that bondpeople were sound.4 Only two recent dissertations by Dea H. Boster and Jenifer L. Barclay, of which the former's has been published, have been devoted exclusively to the study of slaves with disabilities. Using disability as a distinct category of analysis, these works have shed light on the lives of slaves with a range of physical and mental impairments and explored the ways that race and disability entered antebellum discourses of law, medicine, abolitionism, and proslavery thought. By the late 1830s, proslavery intellectuals had begun to embrace paternalism as an ideological antidote to radical abolitionists' condemnations of slavery's horrors.”

This might be a good beginning, even though it doesn’t focus on Douglass, it is about race and disability in Douglass’ time.

8. Finding more terms, or articles like this one

Sometimes, the article will show us more terms that will help us edit our search to make it better. And sometimes, the article will cite others and they can be helpful.

9. Encyclopedias and subject databases can help, too.

If your topic is one that is more general, there’s a good chance that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy will be a good place to start. It is like a Wikipedia, except it’s written by and for people studying philosophy. Each entry has a full bibliography, and explains the theory or argument or philosopher’s work, and can be a great way to jumpstart your search.

A subject-specific database can help search for articles that are only in the discipline/subject you’re interested in.

For Philosophy, PhilPapers online is a good place to start.

Citation Tracking: Finding articles by citation

Once you have one (or more) useful article on a topic, use the references at the end of article to find more sources on your topic using our Citation Search tool.  This helps you see what was written previous to your current article, often called citing backward.


Use Google Scholar to see who has cited your article after it was published.  This helps you see what has been written after your article was published, citing forward.



 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License by Justina Elmore, University of Rochester