*Caveat: This is not meant to be a definitive analysis of the digital sources/database use for the Journal of Mormon History. This was a preliminary study to fulfill an assignment for a class and to get a feeling for the fields use of databases.
My Practicum assignment for this week was to search through a scholarly journal in my field (Journal of Mormon History) for citations to databases. I was to search through the most recent three years of publications. The Journal of Mormon History publishes quarterly, so I searched through 12 issues. Through those 12 issues, I looked at 86 articles spanning roughly 3,000 pages. With each article I scanned the footnotes for URLs, the word “database”, or any other identifier of the type of source. I will list the most common sites/databases and then discuss my reactions.
My first reaction was that of surprise. I was expecting to find much less use of digital sources than I found. Out of the 86 articles I reviewed, 60 articles had at least one citation to a digital source or more. I found myself excited about my field’s use of digital sources and I was even a bit proud. Mixed into these citations were various source. Beyond what I already listed as the major databases used, I found the Oxford English Dictionary, various blogs, a handful of government websites, and even a citation to colbertnation.com (Bradley Kime’s essay “Exhibiting Theology: James E. Talmage and Mormon Public Relations , 1915-1920”). Overall, Mormon History’s use of digital sources, including databases, is fairly rich but it still has room to improve.
The way these citations are handled needs attention. Most of the digital sources were cited using a full URL. This means that the reader can navigate directly to the digital source used by the author. This is a valuable function that is not being utilized fully. I accessed the Journal of Mormon History through the Utah State’s digital commons. This allowed me to navigate to each of the 12 issues quickly and then download them as PDFs. However, scrolling through the PDF, I found that not a single hyperlink was available, including the URLs within the citations. The Journal is losing one of the major benefits of digital resources by not hyper-linking.
At various points during my assignment, I felt the author used a database but did not indicate that. While I cannot actual state whether the author used the digital but cited the physical, some red flags appeared. One such red flag is the citing of multiple issues of multiple newspapers. While it is possible for the author to scroll through the microfilm for the newspaper it is less likely that she or he will do it for multiple papers. This becomes an even bigger issue when those newspapers are digitized and available online. This is the second red flag. Major newspapers, like the New York Times, have been digitized and made available online. Even more local papers, like the Salt Lake Tribune, are available online (Utah Digital Newspapers) or through their own website (sltribe.com.) This is also true for books that are available through such databases as Google Books or Gutenburg.org.
In conclusion, I want to outline some interesting things that I found. The first is the use of Wikipedia. I had always been taught that using Wikipedia in your research is fine. It is a great launching platform to find other sources as well as a place to help flesh out your research question. However, I was told never to cite Wikipedia as a source. Instead I was to trace the fact/information back to its original source, which often was a more “reputable” source. I was surprised to find multiple articles using Wikipedia in their citations (some as many as five or six times.) Another thing I found interesting was a citation in Father Daniel Dwyer’s article “Evil in the Family: Mormons and Catholics struggling with the dark side of Their Histories.” When he cited the source, he listed the book as “Kindle edition.” I was surprised by this specificity but excited at his thoroughness. This type of documentation is greatly needed in the field. Only then can we begin to understand the degree to which digital resources are being utilized by the field.
Once again, if you have any questions, concerns comments, or jokes please leave a Reply below.