Due Date = self scheduled
Category = lit review
A “literature review” is a review of the existing scholarship and criticism on your topic. It tells a story about how your most important sources come together to form a conversation, debate, or consensus. Literature reviews are required in scholarship in every field. Scientific papers always begin with review of related previous research, and humanities articles include them at the beginning and/or other strategic points in the argument. The literature review is essential to the production of knowledge, because it insures that new research responds to and builds on existing expertise.
In literary criticism, literature reviews take many forms, ranging from a full-fledged essay, to a paragraph, to a few sentences. Scholarly journal have a review section of recent books, which often includes a “review essay” that discuses several related books in detail, showing how they form a critical conversation. An excellent example of the review essay is David Chinitz’s “The New Harlem Renaissance Studies,” Modernism/Modernity vol. 12, no. 2: 374-382, which you can access through Project Muse via the library website.
Almost every book or article begins with a literature review. It can take the form of a paragraph, as in Suzanne Churchill’s article, “Outing T. S. Eliot” [Criticism 47:1 (Winter 2005): 7-30]:
The argument that Eliot might have been gay was first put forth by John Peter in a 1952 reading of “The Waste Land,” which, without mentioning homosexuality, interpreted the poem as an elegy for a dead male lover.[i] Eliot had his solicitors suppress the article, which was reprinted in 1969 after Eliot’s death, with an additional postscript by Peter.[ii] It is in this postscript that Peter associates the speaker with Eliot, identifying his beloved as Jean Verdenal, a young Frenchman whom Eliot befriended while living in Paris in 1910. In a 1978 book, T. S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons, James E. Miller, Jr. pursues Peter’s argument further, arguing that the poem (and just about everything else Eliot wrote) is a grief-stricken response to Verdenal’s death on the shores of Gallipoli in WWI.[iii] Seymour-Jones’ biography incorporates both Peter’s and Miller’s arguments, attempting to bolster their theory using newly available material from the Letters of T. S. Eliot (1988) and The Inventions of the March Hare (1996).
A literature review may be distilled to a few sentences, as in this article on racial silencing in Contempo magazine, co-authored by Davidson students:
No one asks or explains why Contempo dropped the subject of Scottsboro. Instead the tendency… has been to turn attention to the next “controversy,” “big scoop,” or “publishing coup.”1 Contempo has been commemorated as “a small but brilliant literary gold mine,” as a “somewhat daring southern literary magazine . . . determined to involve black writers” and “become a southern outlet for literature of the Harlem Renaissance,” and most recently as a publication “not explicitly edited by African Americans” that explored race issues.2 But while the magazine’s literary coups and political courage have attracted scholarly interest, the subsequent silencing of racial protest in the magazine has gone unnoticed.
Your literature review (750-1250 words) should survey 3-4 of the most important scholarly sources related to your topic. Remember that scholars need not have dealt extensively—or even explicitly—with your topic to merit inclusion in your essay. They also might not be talking directly to each other. Analyze the most important ways in which particular scholars have researched and written about a question or issue related to your topic. Show how they form a conversation, engage in an ongoing debate, build on each other’s findings, and/or lead to a consensus. You may group your sources under certain “schools,” “camps,” or approaches, or you may proceed chronologically, explaining how the debate has evolved over time.
As in your annotated bibliographies, do not just describe your sources in the literature review (e.g., “Vogel makes an argument about queer poetics in Langston Hughes’s poetry”); instead, summarize the argument (e.g. “Vogel argues that Langston Hughes’s blues poems depict the after hours club in ways that animate forms of queer subjectivity made possible through this unregulated time-space complex.”
The biggest mistake students make when composing lit reviews is that they simply line up a series of annotations of sources, framing them with an introduction and conclusion. Such a “line up” doesn’t adequately explain commonalities and differences between the sources. The work of the lit review is to synthesize and frame your sources in conversation with one another.
At the end of your lit review, briefly explain how your project might contribute to the ongoing scholarly conversation.
Your 750-1250 word literature review should include:
- An introduction identifying currents or developments in the specific field or fields you are assessing. Your thesis should be a statement about the key current(s).
- Cogent summaries of the arguments made by 3-4 scholarly sources on your topic or subtopic
- Meta-commentary and analysis that explains how your sources form a conversation
- A conclusion reflecting on how your project might intervene in the conversation.
- Works Cited
- A map of the ballroom or auditorium
- Secondary source reports (SSRs) on each of the works you discuss
- Careful proofreading
Upload your drawing and copy your SSRs and into the same post as your literature review (category = lit review). Notify Sundi and Suzanne when you’ve published the post.