Annotated Bibliography: Research project on dystopic novels
In this project, your second paper for the class, you will be doing some about the novel you read, choosing some of the key phrases from the book, or one of the concepts explore in the book, and discovering how the ideas behind the book are a part of our conversation as a culture.
These novels are all dystopias, which means the authors took events from the time period when the book was written and projected them into the future (this type of book is sometimes called “speculative fiction”, as it speculates on what happens if current trends keep going the direction they have been going). I would like for you to explore which of these ideas seem to be “true” today, or perhaps how they developed differently than how the writer suggested.
The task will then be to create an annotated bibliography where you list all of the various sources you’ve discovered in correct MLA or APA style. For five sources, you will simply write a correct MLA (or APA) citation for each. For another five sources, you will write the citation AND write an abstract/descriptive summary of the sources. For another five sources, you will write a descriptive summary and will ALSO write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book and ASSESSES (evaluates, comments on, compares, explains, reflects on) the sources. (15 sources total).
Part One: Discussion and research ideas:
Using the ideas you brainstorm in your discussion groups, each of you will choose the approach you want to take. Some ideas:
- You could choose a key concept or idea from the book (for example, “Big Brother is Watching You” from 1984; the role of literacy in a future society in Feed; the shifting of sexual mores in Brave New World, etc.) and explore whether or not the author “got it right”
- You could explore how often the book, or famous phrases from it, is mentioned in our national conversations. (This would be more likely for the three older novels, as Feed, for example, probably hasn’t been out long enough to be part of our dialogue). For example, if you follow politics, it won’t be long until you can hear people muttering about this “Brave New World”, or how “Big Brother” is always watching. You might find references to the “memory hole” or to “soma” or to “”, etc.
- You could focus on the author, him or herself, exploring the historical, sociological and/or psychological aspects of the writing of the book.
- You could concentrate on the book itself and discover what has been written about the book. You could explore literary criticism, book reviews, and changing attitudes to this book over time, etc. You could examine the texts that influenced the writing of the book. You could read other works by the author and compare them to this novel (for example: Huxley wrote some fascinating essays, collected in Brave New World Revisited, which outline some of the ideas that influenced his novel. Margaret Atwood has written two sequels to Oryx and Crake. George Orwell is considered one of the great essayists of the 20th century.)
- You could compare your book with other visions of dystopia (there are a TON of books and films with a dystopic edge to them!). If you’ve read more than one of these four books, you could compare them with each other. You could watch the film versions of these books and compare them to the book. (BTW: The Handmaid’s Tale was even made into an opera!). You could explore the influence of one of the books (esp. 1984 and Brave New World) on other works of literature; etc.
- While you are researching, you may discover certain topics, events, ideas or opinions that keep coming up when you are looking for how these ideas, concepts, terms and phrases are used in our current culture (for example, “mass surveillance” or “torture” or “invasive technology” or “fundamentalism”, etc.). You may decide to concentrate your research on these issues, rather than on the book itself.
Whatever the focus of your research, I am wanting you to use your critical thinking skills to assess the sources you find. A major purpose for this assignment is to get you comfortable documenting sources, and also to be in the scholarly habit of constantly thinking about the validity, reliability, bias and value of the sources of information that you find.
Another purpose for this assignment is that you may use this research as the basis for your . While I am not going to insist you write your research paper on ideas stemming from the book you read, it is my hope that you will discover possible directions for your paper by diving into the research process.
Part Two: Library research
On your own or with the help of the librarians, I want you to find a large number of sources in a wide variety of formats. Your main portal for this research will be the Century Library webpage, but you will also be doing some internet searching. Be SURE you have the handouts (“Critically Analyzing Information Sources” and “Evaluating Web Pages”) handy as you go through the research and writing process.
One of the goals is to introduce you to a variety of different sources, and to get you to assess these sources. When you are researching, I want you to try using different types of searches (internet, book, magazine, journal, etc.). When you search for some of these concepts and terms from the novel, you will find sources that use these words or phrases, but these sources really aren’t at all connected to the book. (For example, a search on the phrase “Big Brother” might get you to sources about 1984, or it might take you to the webpage for a TV show or a mentoring program for children.) Be sure to scan through the articles and abstracts in order to focus on ones that reference the book or its ideas in some way:
1. Internet search: use several different search engines. Try using some of the “moderated” search engines. Don’t just look at the first ten or so that show up in a search…scroll down the pages to examine the variety of sources. Note the number of commercial sites come up as “hits” (do they have anything to do with the book, or do they just happen to use similar language?) Which sites seem more substantial than others? What sorts of links and references do these sites have? Be sure that you approach your online research with a number of different ways to . Be creative in thinking of what research terms to use, and how to narrow your results.
2. Library Catalog search: try first with just Century’s collection, then try an “All MnPALS libraries” search. Some search terms will bring up lots of books, films, etc. Other search terms will not find many books, if any. Try researching the public library system, too. This search is a little harder, since you can’t find specific phrases within books. Check out the online books as well. Don’t forget to look at the various encyclopedias and other reference books the library holds.
3. Database searches: Try your search term in a variety of the databases. Note what kinds of articles come up. Which ones are scholarly, and which ones are more popular? Which kind of article comes up more: newspaper, journal or magazine?
Part Three: Assessing your sources and writing your Annotated Bibliography
Use the handout What Is An Annotated Bibliography? and the other handouts (Critically Analyzing Information Sources, and Evaluating Web Sites: Parts One and Two) to guide you through the process of writing an annotated bibliography.
You will turn in a bibliography of fifteen (15) sources. For five sources, you will simply write a correct MLA (or APA) citation for each. For another five sources, you will write the citation AND write an abstract/descriptive summary of the sources. For another five sources, you will write a descriptive summary and will ALSO write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book and ASSESSES (evaluates, comments on, compares, explains, reflects on) the sources. These longer annotations should be somewhere in the ball-park of 150 words each.
You may choose to document your sources using EITHER MLA or APA formats. (If you would like the challenge and practice, you could write half your sources in MLA and the other half in APA, as long as you indicate where you make the distinctions).
Not every source you cite needs to be a “good” source. Indeed, I’d like to see you using your powers of critical thinking to assess sources that have a strong bias. Simply because of the recent you will find many sources from the left-end or the right-end of the political spectrum. I encourage you to seek out sources from both sides of the political spectrum, as well as sources that are more moderate, to compare the material. Often, you will find online authors linking to news articles. I encourage you to examine these news articles, as well, to see if the interpretation the web-author is making is valid.
Part Four: Exploring the results
When you turn in your annotated bibliography, I will also want you to include a short paper (2-5 pages) where you discuss the sorts of information you found in your searching. While you are looking through the sources you found, start taking notes about what kinds of information comes up. Are there a number of issues that are frequently raised? (For example, if you research the term “Big Brother”, you will probably run across a lot of information about surveillance, and the Patriot Act). Keep notes about the types and frequency of the information that come up in your research.
This section of the project is a great place for you to start exploring ideas that might become topics for your final research paper. While I’m not going to INSIST that your research paper be about the novel you read, my idea was that you might find some topics during this annotated bibliography project that interest you, and that you might want to use for your research paper. I also thought you could have a head-start on some of your research from doing this !