ICSM Communicating like The Simpsons: Understanding Springfield, Ithaca and the World

ICSM Course Description

This guide supports the following seminar:

This course investigates the rhetorical dimensions of the longest-running sitcom in America, The Simpsons. Specifically, in this course students learn the ways in which signs and symbols influence us through a process called rhetoric. To this end, students or ‘Simpsonologists’ examine various episodes of the show to better understand the rhetorical processes by which the writers of the show seek to shape human thought and behavior. Consequently, the writers of The Simpsons aim to create alternative communicative practices in our society. Moreover, we pay special attention to the rhetoric of Simpsonology, that is, the way the Simpsons functions as both rhetoric and satire i.e., how it serves as corrective comedy to issues such as consumerism, nationality, sexuality, inequality, difference and political dysfunction.

Recommended Databases

     General OneFile : is the most user-friendly of our comprehensive databases, covering almost any topic from a wide range of disciplinary angles and offering lots of full text.  Use the default Subject search to find the best subject heading for your topic (and when you find a good one be sure to look at the "Related Subjects" to see if there's something even better).
     When you settle on a subject heading, open the "Subdivisions" link below it.  Most General OneFile subject searchs produce very large retrievals and the "subdivisions" help you narrow your search to a particular aspect: "Ethical aspects," "Forecasts and Trends," "History," "Political aspects," "Psychological aspects,"  and "Social aspects,"  to name only a few.
      If the best available subdivision is still too broad, open it and add your own Keywords in the "Search within these results" slot at the upper left.
     User Advisory: When first viewing your retrievals in General OneFile, note that you are seeing only the "Magazines" (popular articles) and must click on the tabs for "Academic Journals" (scholarly articles) or "News" (newspaper articles) to see those results

      Academic Search Premier
Comprehensive subject coverage with considerable full text.  Note that there is a “Subject Terms” link just above the search boxes, allowing you to search the index of Subject Headings--often a good first stop for more efficient Subject searching whereby you are guaranteed that your topic is indeed a main subject of the articles retrieved.
     A good initial strategy in this database is to search a likely topic in the Subject Terms and when you find it “explode” the term by double clicking it--this brings up a list of related Subject terms.  You can check as many terms as you like before "adding" them to your search by AND-ing or OR-ing them together.
     User Advisory: For any retrieved set of articles, there will be a box displayed on the left that will limit the articles to “Scholarly” journals—just check the box and click the “Update Results” button below.
    Also from EBSCO, try the more discipline-specific databases--
    And from Sage Journals try-- 

     ProQuest Research Library  is another comprehensive database with substantial full text.  Use the "Thesaurus" (above the search slots) to preview what Subject Headings are available.  
     Note that to the right of your search results you can limit your retrieval by "Source Type" (including Magazines, Newspapers, Scholarly Journals), "Document Type," (including Cover Story, Editorial, or Interview), and "Location."
     Above each set of articles you retrieve ProQuest will display related Subject searches to help either broaden or narrow your focus.

    PsycINFOThe American Psychological Association use their own Subject vocabulary (called "Descriptors"), so a visit to the "Thesaurus" above the search slots is usually a good idea--but unfortunately there is no Subject Heading for "conspiracy" or "conspiracy theories" here. Both will work as keywords, however, and retrieve dozens of articles.
     PsycINFO deals only with scholarly literature, much of it assuming a graduate-level understanding of the discipline.  But among these you may find interesting, accessible articles on your topic.  
     User Advisory: If what you're searching for are "journals" in "English," it's a good idea to check those boxes below the search slots. 

      JSTOR : covers a wide range of scholarly journals in most disciiplines, always beginning with the first issue of each one.  This provides 100% full text access to articles from not only the first half of the 20th century but even the second half of the 19th.  Be aware, however, that at the other end of the date range articles don't appear in JSTOR until at least 1-2 years after publication. 
     JSTOR offers only a Keyword search of its complete full text, so retrievals are large, but the relevancy ranking does a good job of putting the strongest matches on the first few pages.  This relevancy ranking does not weigh date, however, and will display a mix of articles written decades apart.  So if your topic is time sensitive, be alert to publication dates.
     User Advisory: The academic journals covered here feature numerous book reviews, so it's a good idea to tic the "Article" limit below the search slots so you won't be overwhelmed by book reviews on your topic.  

     Project Muse : provides 100% full text of mostly scholarly journals, but its coverage is entirely current--mainly spanning the only last 10-15 years.  Muse uses a "black box" search approach--you enter your search terms in one slot with no designated field options.  This broad approach to searching tends to generate large retrievals--almost 500 for "conspiracy theories"--so it's best to be as specific as possible.  And note--once you have a retrieval set, you can add more search terms by clicking "Modify Search" at the top.

     MLA International Bibliography  provides the most complete and fully indexed coverage of articles and books on modern literatures, linguistics, folklore, rhetoric, and composition from 1925 to the present. There is ample full text provided by ProQuest, as well as links to full-text articles in JSTOR and Project Muse. Full text from other IC databases is also readily available via the "GetIt" links below article citations.
     Because books, book chapters/essays, and dissertations will usually not be available full text, you may wish to limit your search to "Journal article" under "Source type."
     "Author's Work" and "Author as Subject" will be especially helpful search fields at finding literary criticism. And for additional search field options either click on "Show more fields," or, for the complete list, open the drop-down menus to the right of the "Anywhere" default for the top three rows of search slots. This list includes both "Literary Influence"--who influenced a particular author you have entered--and "Literary Source"--who was influenced by that particular author.
     If you set up a free "My Research" account with Proquest (top right), you can save all the articles you check, all the searches you want to remember, and set up e-mail or RSS notification for any new articles that match your search terms.

     LexisNexis Academic  News:  Offering a keyword search of 100% full text from a vast number of national and international newspapers, this is an easy database to use poorly and a bit tricky to use well. In order not to be overwhelmed with articles in which your search terms are mentioned anywhere—first or last paragraph—or any number of times—once or ten times—use commands to target articles in which your topic words are mentioned early or mentioned often.
     Use the hlead command (headline and lead paragraphs) to target articles in which your topic words occur in the prime news-story position of headline or first paragraphs. For example: hlead(fracking and pollution) will retrieve just the articles in which the words “fracking” and “pollution” are used in the headline or first paragraphs. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses after hlead, with no space between.
     Use the altleast command to target articles in which your topic words occur a set number of times. For example: atleast5(“gay marriage”) will retrieve only the articles where this phrase is used at least 5 times—indicating that it must be a main topic. You can plug in any number after atleast—atleast3 or atleast7. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses with no space between the number you choose and the first parenthesis.
     Use the date range offered under Advanced Options. Because this is a large database of 100% full text, one of the most effective ways to retrieve fewer than 1000 hits is to set up a time frame. Note: if you use the calendar icons to set beginning and end dates, you need to choose a year, a month, and a day for each. Without the day, the date won’t register.

     CQ Researcher : A weekly publication from Congressional Quarterly. Each report (approx. 30 pages) examines a single issue relevant to American public policy. The non-partisan analysis always includes a "Background," "Current Situation," "Outlook," and "Pro/Con" section, as well as numerous charts and graphs of statistical data, maps, and a bibliography for further reading.

     Opposing Viewpoints in Context : Go fishing in the search slot at the top and hope the autofill function steers you toward the right subject heading--or open the "Browse Issues" page and pick your topic from the extensive alphabetical list.  Once you've connected with an issue you'll be offered resources from a range of categories, including Viewpoints, Academic Journals, Magazines, News, Reference, Statistics, and Websites.

Selected Subject Searches

Simpsons (Television program)

Oral Communication
Discourse analysis
Speech acts (Linguistics)
Figures of speech
English language--Rhetoric
English language--United States--Rhetoric
Persuasion (Rhetoric)
Rhetorical criticism
Persuasion (Psychology)
Influence (Psychology)​

Body language
Nonverbal communication

​Communication--Psychological aspects
Interpersonal communication
Conversation analysis
Communication--Sex differences
Language and languages--Sex differences
English language--Sex differences
English language--Gender
Sexism in language
Nonsexist language

Communication--Social aspects
Oral communication--Social aspects
Discourse analysis--Social aspects
Rhetoric--Social aspects
English language--Social aspects
English language--Social aspects--United States

Communication in families
Communication in small groups
Communication in organizations
Communication in management
Business communication
Business presentations
Communication in education
Communication in science
Communication in medicine

Oratory, Ancient
Rhetoric, Ancient
Speeches, addresses, etc., Greek--History and criticism
Speeches, addresses, etc., Latin--History and criticism

Public speaking
Political oratory
Political oratory--United States
Oratory--United States--History
Communication in politics--United States
Communication in politics--United States--History--20th century
Mass media--Political aspects
Mass media--Political aspects--United States
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States--20th century
Speeches, addresses, etc., American
Speeches, addresses, etc., American--History and criticism
Presidents--United States--Inaugural addresses
Political campaigns--United States
Public relations and politics
Propaganda, American
Hate speech
Hate speech--United States
Radio talk shows--United States​

Forensics (Public Speaking)
Forensic orations
Debates and debating
Forums (Discussion and debate)
Conflict management
Verbal self-defense
Sermons, American
Lectures and lecturing
Storytelling--Psychological aspects

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picture of Cathy Michael

Cathy Michael

Communications Librarian
(607) 274-1293

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Guide credit

This guide was created by Dr. Brian Saunders, Humanties Librarian (retired 2017).