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rheya19

Choosing publications for comps bibliography

13 posts in this topic

Hello!

I was accepted into a PhD program this year (yay!) studying early Christian social history and material culture, and in our first face-to-face meeting, my adviser told me to come up with 7-8 publications this summer that could go on my comps list. Now that I'm searching, there are a ton of books and articles that are relevant to my research area. How do I choose? What should I be looking for? 

I've also heard that I should choose pieces that are essential to my field, but how do I judge that? All the books and things I read seem valuable. I'm just not sure how to judge. 

Thank you!!

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This seems like a good early conversation to have with your advisor. You want to have a relationship where you can ask them these questions instead of being secretly stuck and asking internet strangers (great as we are!). I've never done comps so I don't have advice on that, but I do want to flag that this is precisely the kind of question you have an advisor for. So once you've spent some time digging around, I think the right next step is to go back to them and ask the very good questions that you asked here. Since you're just starting, it might be very hard for you to identify essential pieces from less essential ones. Part of the process is simply being exposed to literature through classes and assignments, but you haven't started doing that yet so it's perfectly reasonable that you're not sure. So, I would take this opportunity to establish a healthy communication channel with your advisor where you can admit to not knowing things and asking for help figuring them out (which is precisely what you have an advisor for anyway!).

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26 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

This seems like a good early conversation to have with your advisor. You want to have a relationship where you can ask them these questions instead of being secretly stuck and asking internet strangers (great as we are!). I've never done comps so I don't have advice on that, but I do want to flag that this is precisely the kind of question you have an advisor for. So once you've spent some time digging around, I think the right next step is to go back to them and ask the very good questions that you asked here. Since you're just starting, it might be very hard for you to identify essential pieces from less essential ones. Part of the process is simply being exposed to literature through classes and assignments, but you haven't started doing that yet so it's perfectly reasonable that you're not sure. So, I would take this opportunity to establish a healthy communication channel with your advisor where you can admit to not knowing things and asking for help figuring them out (which is precisely what you have an advisor for anyway!).

Thank you, Fuzzy. I know what you mean. I have emailed him with these questions, but I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to hear from some other people and see how they approach the literature in their fields and forming comps lists. Plus other people here might be going through the same learning process as I am, so a thread like this could be useful. ;) 

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Yep, I've never done this and can't help, but agreed that a thread could be useful. I just want to make sure you don't rely solely on this thread (happens occasionally on this board and doesn't seem healthy). It's important to make use of all resources :) 

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Here's how I'd look at it:

Essential = those that everyone always cites. The go-tos. They may not be the oldest piece but, they are the starting point for dozens of other pieces of scholarship. 

Does that help? Alternately, find a review paper or historiography of your area and see which texts they identify as most important and go from there. A lot of building a comps list is following the bibliography from one piece to the next, then looking at who has cited the new piece and doing that again.

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On ‎6‎/‎21‎/‎2017 at 11:39 AM, rheya19 said:

I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to hear from some other people and see how they approach the literature in their fields and forming comps lists. Plus other people here might be going through the same learning process as I am, so a thread like this could be useful. ;) 

Think your adviser is the most logical to discuss this with, but it doesn't hurt to discuss with other grad students, in addition to your adviser, as to various ideas and how to pursue those ideas. I am actually a literature person. Just finished my M.A. and starting Ph.D. program in the fall. I looked at the guidelines for comps in my department and it states that a student should have about 100 primary texts, plus some secondary texts. It has been my understanding in the past, that comps are designed to test your knowledge in the field you will be teaching in. In my case, that's 20th/21st C contemporary American literature with a subgenre of Southern lit. However, because comps are given as soon as you finish class work and before starting dissertation, it could also refer to and have some basis within your own specialization area in your dissertation. I intend to discuss this with my adviser as soon as I settle on one and meet with them.

 

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On 6/21/2017 at 11:55 PM, rising_star said:

Here's how I'd look at it:

Essential = those that everyone always cites. The go-tos. They may not be the oldest piece but, they are the starting point for dozens of other pieces of scholarship. 

Does that help? Alternately, find a review paper or historiography of your area and see which texts they identify as most important and go from there. A lot of building a comps list is following the bibliography from one piece to the next, then looking at who has cited the new piece and doing that again.

Thank you! That's very helpful!

I've never heard of a review paper/historiography of a research area before. Where do you find them?

Also, what do you all think about publications that were not well-reviewed but show up in everyone's citations? The controversial pieces that got people talking? Could one of those go on a comps list?

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You've never heard of a review paper? This is a site full of them, though there may not be any for your specific area. Journals often publish review papers though, so do some searches for them. Some databases will even let you search for reviews specifically.

For more on historiography, see here. Ultimately, if you're doing a historical topic, you're going to be asked to write one of these at some point. Here's some other sources that may help (source 1; source 2).

As for your other question, if it's in everyone's citations, then yes, you should include it. That's what I meant about the including the pieces that everyone is citing. It doesn't matter whether that piece is controversial because it's important. It's up to you to make sure that you understand how and why it's controversial and what others have written about it.

 

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On 6/26/2017 at 4:26 PM, rising_star said:

You've never heard of a review paper? This is a site full of them, though there may not be any for your specific area. Journals often publish review papers though, so do some searches for them. Some databases will even let you search for reviews specifically.

For more on historiography, see here. Ultimately, if you're doing a historical topic, you're going to be asked to write one of these at some point. Here's some other sources that may help (source 1; source 2).

As for your other question, if it's in everyone's citations, then yes, you should include it. That's what I meant about the including the pieces that everyone is citing. It doesn't matter whether that piece is controversial because it's important. It's up to you to make sure that you understand how and why it's controversial and what others have written about it.

 

Thank you for the information. I didn't know there were formal historiographic papers out there for scholars to use besides those that are included in all books and papers to set up the writers' arguments. I'm not finding any review papers for religious studies or Humanities, but I'll keep searching. ;)

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Just an update (in case anyone is in Humanities and was wondering): it seems that many Humanities fields, religious studies in particular, don't publish review papers, which is a shame but understandable. RS is so interdisciplinary in nature, it would be difficult to draw a line on what is relevant or not. I'll have to stick to skimming bibliographies and footnotes for now. ;) 

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@rheya19, good to know, thanks! If your interests cross into the social sciences (anthropology, geography, sociology), then you will likely be able to find review papers in journals like Annual Reviews in Anthropology or Progress in Human Geography.

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On 6/21/2017 at 6:47 AM, rheya19 said:

Hello!

I was accepted into a PhD program this year (yay!) studying early Christian social history and material culture, and in our first face-to-face meeting, my adviser told me to come up with 7-8 publications this summer that could go on my comps list. Now that I'm searching, there are a ton of books and articles that are relevant to my research area. How do I choose? What should I be looking for? 

I've also heard that I should choose pieces that are essential to my field, but how do I judge that? All the books and things I read seem valuable. I'm just not sure how to judge. 

Thank you!!

Dovetailing on FZ's recommendation, try to find syllabi that your adviser has distributed for previous questions as well as works he has written. When you're looking at candidates for your comps list, keep in mind that there are some works that will help you to see the forest and others that will help you find the tree with the branch with the leaf you want to split when it's time to pick a dissertation topic.

I recommend that you first find works that will help you to map the forest by defining terms ?and identifying the big picture questions in your field. From there, you can start to "reverse engineer" the notes and bibliographies. Having a good textbook on hand to use as a reference may be helpful as well.

What follow follow are examples of what I mean by big picture questions.

  • What is social history? (Why social history?)
  • What time frame constitutes early Christian history and why is that period important?
  • What is "material culture"? How does the study of it help (and hinder) scholars of early Christian social history better/differently than other methodologies and sources?
  • Who were the trailblazers in the field? Why did they transition from previous methods to newer ones?
  • How does the study of X  inform the scholarly understanding of early Christian social history and have broader implications for the field of religious studies (and other disciplines) as well?
  • What are the advantages, perils, and pitfalls of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of past? 

Just spit-balling here...have you had the opportunity to check out the Oxford Handbook of Material Culture or the Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity?

HTH.

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36 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

Dovetailing on FZ's recommendation, try to find syllabi that your adviser has distributed for previous questions as well as works he has written. When you're looking at candidates for your comps list, keep in mind that there are some works that will help you to see the forest and others that will help you find the tree with the branch with the leaf you want to split when it's time to pick a dissertation topic.

I recommend that you first find works that will help you to map the forest by defining terms ?and identifying the big picture questions in your field. From there, you can start to "reverse engineer" the notes and bibliographies. Having a good textbook on hand to use as a reference may be helpful as well.

What follow follow are examples of what I mean by big picture questions.

  • What is social history? (Why social history?)
  • What time frame constitutes early Christian history and why is that period important?
  • What is "material culture"? How does the study of it help (and hinder) scholars of early Christian social history better/differently than other methodologies and sources?
  • Who were the trailblazers in the field? Why did they transition from previous methods to newer ones?
  • How does the study of X  inform the scholarly understanding of early Christian social history and have broader implications for the field of religious studies (and other disciplines) as well?
  • What are the advantages, perils, and pitfalls of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of past? 

Just spit-balling here...have you had the opportunity to check out the Oxford Handbook of Material Culture or the Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity?

HTH.

This is very helpful. I have the Oxford Handbook of Christian History. I'll look for the other two, and start mulling over those "big picture" questions.

This is such daunting task. It's so strange to think that in 3 years, I'll have this whole bibliography filled out and be reading items from it day and night. 

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