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AMST/ARTH 307N: American Art and Society (Dr. Alicia Bott)

This guide is for students in Penn State Harrisburg's AMST/ARTH 307N taught by Dr. Alicia Bott. It includes numerous research sources about American art history, including information about the J. Randall Plummer Photography Collection.

The "5Ws" of Research

After determining your research topic or question, and before you search for any resources, it is worthwhile to identify several keywords that concisely capture what you want to find.  In order to narrow down your topic and select the most appropriate keywords, ask yourself the following questions:

Using Keywords

The "5 Ws" or
Questions to Ask Yourself
Sample Research Topics and
Keyword Examples

Who?  (Main Concepts - Person, Group, etc.)

Amish AND youth OR "Amish teenagers" AND religion
What?  (Synonyms for Main Concepts) Anabaptists AND "social life and customs" AND Rumspringa
Where?  (City, State, Country, etc.) "Lancaster County" AND Pennsylvania 
When?  (Year, Decade, Century, etc.) 1989 OR 1960-2020 OR "19th century" OR 1800s
Why? or How?  (Answers Your research Question) This is the end product of your research, such as a presentation or paper.


Getting Started: Keyword Worksheet, Library Catalog, and LionSearch

Step 1:  Use the Keyword Worksheet

Please use the keyword worksheets below to get started with your course assignments.  Note: There is a BLANK worksheet, as well as a SAMPLE one, that illustrate how to use the worksheet.


Step 2:  Find Books via the Library Catalog (CAT) 


Why search for books first? For humanities research, books serve as excellent starting points of information, often include helpful bibliographies with references to more sources, and provide an in-depth discussion of a topic.

Step 3:  Find Journal Articles, Books, and More via LionSearch

Essential Search Tips and Tricks

Use the RIGHT database for your topic.  (See the Sources listed in this guide.)  You're not typically going to find music information in a database about American politics or supply chain management.  When in doubt, consult with your liaison librarian, Heidi Abbey Moyer, for more assistance. 

Use the RIGHT keywords in strategic ways.  Some examples of this include:

  • Brainstorm synonyms for your topic.  If you don't have good search results, change your keywords!
  • Select key terms that reflect your main concepts (i.e., the "5Ws") mentioned above.
  • Do not use initial articles like "a, an, the" as they are unnecessary.
  • Case sensitivity usually does not matter!  Use all lower case letters.
  • Spelling matters!  Some databases will not correct spelling errors or prompt you for related terms.
  • Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms unless very common, such as "USA" and "NASA."
  • Spell out the names of authors, or use a surname only  (e.g., Smith is preferable to J. Smith).
  • You are not alone!  Consult with your liaison librarian, Heidi Abbey Moyer, for more assistance. 

Use BOOLEAN LOGIC to construct an effective search strategy.  This includes the terms "AND, OR, NOT," which are usually capitalized.  Some examples are below:

  • AND narrows down a search; both terms must be present (e.g., Amish AND Rumspringa)
  • OR broadens a search with synonyms or related terms; either term will be present (e.g., Amish OR Mennonite OR Anabaptists)
  • NOT eliminates items; one term is not present (e.g., Amish NOT Mennonite)
  • Avoid using too many Boolean terms in one search as this may result in too few or too many results.
  • For more information, consult the Library of Congress' guide to using Boolean terms.

Use more ADVANCED search features such as truncation, phrase searching, and limits, which are database-specific search options (e.g., type of publication, date, age groups, etc.) and will allow you to limit your results in many different ways:

  • Truncation: In many research databases, you can use an asterisk (*) to retrieve items with the same root word.  For example, searching for "America*" with an asterisk will find the occurrence of the term "America" as well as "American" and "Americanist."  Or, searching for "child*" will find "child, children, or even childish." Other frequently used truncation symbols include a question mark (?) or a dollar sign ($).  Caution:  Databases do not always use the same truncation symbols, so check the Help or Search Hints section of any given database.
  • Phrase Searching: Most databases require quotation marks (" ") to force an exact phrase search for TWO OR MORE words.  A phrase search locates only records containing the words in the particular order in which they appear.  For example, "American Civil War" not American Civil War, requires that the words are next to each other and maintains the context of your search.
  • Search Limits or Options: Nearly all databases offer an "advance search" option that will enable you to more effectively find what you need.  These limits could include content type (archival materials, dissertation, journal article, map, music score, streaming video, etc.); date of publication (day, month, year, historical period); peer-reviewed or scholarly content; language; and even image types (chart, graph, black-and-white photograph).