Pop Culture Research

Marylin Monroe
: Andy Warhol, 1961       

IC Library Print & Media Resources

Scope Note

     I've tried to take a very broad approach to popular culture here, but you will undoubtedly notice omissions and asymmetries, due either to my oversights or the limits of the collection. And extensive as is the representative sample of Subject Headings below, it indicates the types of searches you can try--not the full range of particular possibilities. 

IC Library Databases (Articles)

Recommended Databases

General OneFile
     The most user friendly of our comprehensive databases--covering virtually any topic from a wide range of disciplinary angles. Use the default Subject search to find an appropriate Subject Heading for your topic and then open the "Subdivisions" link underneath. Especially useful for popular culture will be "Forecasts and Trends," "Influence," "Media Coverage," Public Opinion," "Psychological Aspects," and "Social Aspects." If you search on individuals or groups of individuals--African Americans, Women, Athletes, Gays, Muslims--there will be a Subdivision "Portrayals" that collects articles on how that group is portrayed in various media: television, films, literature.
     If the best available Subdivision is still too broad, open the set of articles and add Keywords in the "Search within these Results" slot at the upper left.
     For lists of available Subject Headings for types of movies, television, or music, run a Subject search on ""Movie genres," "Television programs," or "Popular music" and then open the "Related Subjects" link.
       Criticism of particular movies, tv shows, music recordings, or video games is best retrieved using the “Advanced Search” option. For movies, tv, and video games, enter the medium first as a Subject search in the first slot: “Movies,” “Television programs,” or “Video games.” In the next slot enter the particular title—in quotation marks—as a Keyword search. After looking at these results go back and change the Keyword search to an “Entire Document” search. This will increase your retrieval set, although the new articles may not discuss the particular film, show, or game at length.
     For music criticism, enter the composer/performer as the Subject and the name of the work or recording in the Keyword slot—in quotation marks if more than one word. Again, after you’ve looked at these results, try changing the Keyword part of the search to “Entire Document.”
     User Advisory: When viewing any retrieval set in General OneFile, note that you are viewing only the Magazines and must click on the "Academic Journals" or "News" tabs to see those resources.

ProQuest Research Library :
     Criticism of particular movies, tv shows, or video games is best retrieved by entering the appropriate medium as a Subject search--“Motion pictures,” “Television programs,” or “Computer and video games”--and then adding the title of the film, program, or game in the “Citation and abstract” field (if the title is more than one word put it in quotation marks).  
      If you're not getting enough hits, try changing the search field of the title to “Document text.” In both cases, look at the articles in the “Scholarly Journals” tab for the most substantial criticism.
     For individual composers/performers, put the name, last name first, in the “Person field” and the title of the work/recording in the “Citation and abstract” field. In the case of a music group, put the group’s name in the “Company/org” field and the work/recording title in “Citation and abstract.” Titles of more than one word should be put in quotation marks. Try changing “Citation and abstract” to “Document text” for broader results.
Academic Search PremierCommunication Source :
     These two Ebsco databases give the best results if you enter the name of a film, tv program, or recording in the “Reviews & Products” field, followed by the appropriate medium designation: Pulp Fiction film, Lost tv program, OK Computer music. BUT—if the title begins with “The” you must transpose it to the end: Matrix The film, Wire The tv program, Basement Tapes The music. To target the most scholarly articles, check the “Scholarly journals” box under “limit your results” on the right and click “Update results.”
     For video games, enter the name of the game (and put it in quotation marks if it’s more than one word) in the default “Select a field” and combine it with “Video games” in “Subject Terms.” Since criticism of video games may be scarce, be sure to try the same search but with the game title in the “All Text” field.
     If you wish more generally to search a writer, director, musical performer or musical group, search them in the “People” field.

SocINDEX with Full Text ;
     An excellent database for social issues.  Click on the "Subject Terms" link above the search slots to find which Subject Headings will work here (it's worth searching "Popular Culture" and then "exploding" (double clicking) the term for a list of  broader, narrower, and related Subject Terms).

PsycINFO :  
     The American Psychological Association use their own Subject vocabulary (called "Descriptors"), so a visit to the "Thesaurus" above the search slots is a good idea. For instance "Computer games" also covers video games and "Films" is to be used instead of movies or motion pictures).  PsycINFO is a good source for research on the psychology of "Popular Culture," "Films," "Television," "Advertising," and "Consumer Behavior"-- to name only a few of the Descriptors available here.  
     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 "journal articles" in "English," it's a good idea to check those boxes below the search slots ("journal articles" is a menu choice under "Document Type"). 

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.

ERIC (Ebsco interface)PsycINFO :
     Eric is an Education database, and here you can find a large literature on the significance of books, movies, television, music, and video or computer games for children and for young people between 13 and 25 (high school and college age).  Education has its own vocabulary of Subject Headings--called Descriptors--so be sure to preview the appropriate media designations in the Eric "Thesaurus" located above the search slots.

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature
    In RILM limit your search to "articles only" and "English only" (if that's all you read).  Then either check the Thesaurus at the bottom of the screen to see what Subject headings--called Descriptors here--are available for your searches or "Browse Topics" to the right of the Topics search slot.  These provide a good anchor for your search, to which you can add Keywords for greater focus. 

MLA International Bibliography :
     MLAIB 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

     You'll find a great deal of literary criticism and a fair amount of film and television criticism in this 100% full-text database of scholarly literature.  JSTOR offers only Keyword search of its full text, so put full names and Keyword phrases in quotation marks. And be sure to check the "Article" limit below the search slots to weed out book reviews. Also be aware that for 100% full text you must change the setting from "include links to external content" to "include only content I can access."
     JSTOR access to journal articles begins 3 years prior to the present--so don't look for any criticism from the last couple of years--but coverage always extends back to the first issue of each journal--in some cases into the 19th century and beyond.   This allows you, for instance, to compare views about the morality of young people dancing to jazz in the 1920s with views about the morality of young people dancing to hip hop in the 1990s and early 2000s.  And if you want to target a time period, just set a “Date Range.”

Project Muse ,
     Although a smaller database, Project Muse complements JSTOR.  LIke JSTOR it provides 100% full text of mostly scholarly journals, but its coverage is entirely current--mainly spanning the last 10-15 years.  Muse offers a basic keyword search (be sure to put the titles of literary works in quotation marks).  Once you've retrieved a set of articles you can sort them into broad categories using the Research Area options on the left.  

    Note: Checking the "Articles" box under Content Type before you run a search will eliminate reviews of books about your topic and leave you with just the articles on your topic.

New York Times (1851-2009) :
     If the film or television program or recording you wish to write about dates from before 1980, most of our databases cannot supply contemporary reviews and commentary. But this database offers the full text of the New York Times from 1851 up to 2005, so you can access contemporary reviews of Gone with the Wind, I Love Lucy, or Meet the Beatles. Enter a Keyword search, putting phrases in quotation marks. You might begin by searching in the “Citation and Abstract” field, then, if this doesn’t yield enough results, expand to the default “Citation and document text” field.

Where's the Full Text for this Article??

     Few databases offer 100% full text.  Most retrieve a mix of full text articles and article "citations"--article title, author(s), publication info, and usually an "abstract" or one-prargraph summary of the content.  When a citation makes you want the full text, look below it for this icon: 
     Clicking "GETIT" checks (almost all) the IC Library's other databases to see if any offers the full text of the article--or if the Library has a print subscription to the journal in which the article appeared. 

  • "GETIT" will usually find the full text in another database and open it in a new window.  
  • If none of our databases can access the full text but we have a print subsciption to the journal, "GETIT" will retrieve the Library catalog record for the journal so that you can see if the date of the article falls within the date range we have on hand.
  • If full text is not available from any database or from a print subsciption, "GETIT" will provide a link to the IC Library's Interlibrary Loan.  Log in (same as your IC e-mail)--and set up your account if you've never used it before.  "GETIT" will have populated the article request form with all the necessary information and you simply submit the request elecrtonically.  Most articles are supplied as digital files and will be sent to you via e-mail when they arrive.

Contact Us

picture of Dr. Brian Saunders

Dr. Brian Saunders

Humanities Librarian
(607) 274-1198

Search Argos

And Don't Just Take My Word For It . . .

 Jennifer Strickland (Fine Arts Librarian) offers a research guide for Film, Cathy Michael (Communications Librarian) offers research guides for Communication & Culture and Television, and Kristina Shanton (Music Librarian) offers a research guide for Music.

Web Resources


The most relevant Web sites will depend on the focus of your research, but below are some recommended directory and gateway sites.

Open Directory Project

     Web Directories differ from search engines like Google in that all the online resources have been selected and annotated by editors, thereby promising a much higher degree of quality control.  

Selected Web Sites

  • Voice of the Shuttle: A wide ranging through no longer well maintained gateway for culture and media studies. Note the guide links on the left for Literature, Music, Media Studies (including film and television), and Cyberculture.
  • Popular Culture: Resources for Critical Analysis: An excellent gateway to critical readings of movies, television, music, and cyberculture.
  • Popular Culture Resources: A good collection of links from the University of Iowa Communication Studies department.
  • PopMatters: A wide range of pop culture news and commentary.
  • In Media Res: A forum for a wide range of pop culture commentary.  This links you to the "Recent Posts" page, from the bottom of which you can page backwards.  Or use the site search slot at the top right.
  • Culture Machine: Interesting open-access full text journal.  Open the Arcives to browse the content.

Citation Help

MLA Citation

MLA is the citation style used by most disciplines in the Humanities. Here is my guide to the latest (2016) update of the MLA style.