Scholarly Communication in HSSE Library: A Self-Guided Walkthrough

Welcome to a self-guided tutorial introducing key concepts in your pursuit of information and knowledge while using the resources and services of HSSE Library.  Whether you are interested in data, information, or knowledge, you will become acquainted with the general contours of scholarly communication in the social sciences and humanities at the HSSE Library.  This Website can be effectively used to remind you of the nature of scholarly communication while pursing Websites, journal articles, or books for your research.

Before starting, several important definitions need to be understood, so that you have an awareness and appreciation for how knowledge is created, and published in the social sciences and humanities.

Knowledge is best characterized as amorphous until it is given form by scholars--in the social sciences and humanities, this is accomplished through their respective disciplines, i.e. history, philosophy, political science, etc.

The easiest way to demonstrate this is graphically: The social sciences and humanities constitute domains of knowledge, that is, they are large groupings of phenomena.  To make sense and be useful, they are broken up into various groupings called disciplines, i.e. sociology, anthropology, or economics, etc.  Courses and research are often based in such disciplines.


When an area of human phenomena is demarcated and conforms to rules of consensus governing, methods, approaches, and techniques.  Generally, individuals engaged in disciplinary activity conform to the discipline's culture of viewing information and knowledge as agrees to general principles characterizing a discipline, i.e. history, political science, or sociology.

Domains of Knowledge

Each of these examples has specializations, better known as subdisciplines, i.e. economic history, or political history under the discipline of history, or ethics, or logic, or social philosophy under philosophy.  All disciplines have subdisciplines, reflecting the nature of specializations in the university.  That is why it is important to understand their different approaches to information and knowledge in your academic studies.  Sociologists approach their research differently from anthropologists, and historians differ from literary scholars, in how they discover knowledge and in how they write about their findings, which later become published scholarship, the very books, journals, and vetted websites you use for researching and writing your own papers and assignments.

When reading journals and books, often known as monographs, one soon discovers articles, books, and websites are with the specialized reader in mind.  The language and the nomenclature, i.e. specialized vocabulary reflects the nature of the discipline being read.  Sociology, anthropology, political science, or philosophy, possess their own sets of vocabulary and communication habits and traditions.  Specialists from sociology, economics, or history, or philosophy may be addressing the same topic, and read and sound so differently.    They may speak and write the way they do as they conform to their respective disciplines, even as they may be dealing with the very same set of research problems.

Different Kinds of Scholarly Activities


When a discipline has a highly specialized approach and methods for examining specific areas of interest, i.e. economic history or social philosophy.

History - Economic History:  Subdisciplin


When two disciplines or more come to together to examine a topic or set of topics and meld into a permanent relationship, i.e. bioethics or political communication.                             

Political Scienece + Communicaiton = Political Communication: Interdisciplinary


When several disciplines come to together to share approaches and methodologies on a specific topic, or set of topics, from different disciplinary perspectives without ever becoming permanently involved, i.e. national health care policy or international arms negotiations.

Sociology, Law, Nursing, Business: Health Care - Multidisciplinary

Complexity of Information and Knowledge

As the nature of knowledge becomes more and more complex, so do the ways in which we attempt to understand human phenomena.  Often, it is simply very difficult to perform necessary research without considering interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to your studies and research--all of which can be effectively applied to your own particular research and writing. 

Whether you are studying political communication and presidential elections or politics, or trying to explore symbolism in film and novel in Latin America, you may discover that you have to examine different materials from different disciplines.  This may lead you to consult different electronic and paper databases and indexes to find useful and pertinent articles or books on your particular topic. 

To effectively pursue the rise of the newspaper in 19th century America, you may have to consult reference tools that lead to specialized journal articles and monographs in political science, journalism history, American Studies, economics, media studies, United States history, and even literary studies, among other possibilities.  The newspaper is so crucial to American cultural practice and life that many different disciplines could be consulted for their valuable perspective.  This approach could entail a very multidisciplinary activity looking like this:

19th Century Newspapers

Tutorial Exercise:

Two historical periods reflecting similar conditions offer a good example of just how different disciplines and, their respective approaches, may have to be pursued when searching for pertinent research materials.   If one wishes to compare two human medical conditions, with wide social implications, the nature of how knowledge appears becomes clearer.


Your assignment is to write a paper for a class comparing and contrasting two
plagues, the Black Death and the Aids epidemic.  To accomplish this, you must examine available HSSE Library resources, i.e. Thor, paper indexes, or websites.  But to grasp your topic, you must get a sense of your approach.  Often, this means consulting handbooks, or specialized encyclopedias where current and useful information is condensed for ready reference.  Through these reference tools, you can establish a convenient entrée into your research.

As you are dealing with two very different time periods, you must think in terms of what kinds of scholarship exist that examine similar and disparate characteristics of both plagues, including politics, global aspects, economic, religious, societal, medical, as well as others.  An example of such a search strategy follows, but, many others could suffice, as different researchers may consider different disciplines. 

Search Strategy:

  • Establish two historical periods - MKedieval and contemporary period.
  • Look for specialized reference materials for both in The Catalog.

I.  Reference Sources

Consulting specialized reference works permits a greater sense of the topic at hand.   The two examples cited offer you a good synopsis of the general knowledge surrounding the Black Death and AIDS.  Both provide useful and established information in context, something that will enable you to pursue more specialized books and articles.

Catalog Search

Here, you would look up Black Death, and find it in Volume 2 under "Black Death" pp. 257-267.


Catalog Search

II.  Searching for Books and Other Materials on The Catalog

It should be understood that since knowledge can be distributed anywhere on campus, all Purdue Libraries may contain pertinent materials for research in the humanities and social sciences, depending upon one's topic.  Thor can be easily navigated for searching books in the Purdue collections in the broad and specific areas of the Black Death and AIDS.

For example, Pharmacy Library and Management Library, or Life Sciences may have relevant research materials.  Pharmacy will possess journals and technical material on AIDS, while socio-economic aspects of AIDS will be found in Management Library.  At all times you should keep in mind that knowledge is distributed in and among many venues.

Especially useful is WorldCat, found in Indexes on Thor.  When using WorldCat, please keep in mind that Interlibrary Loan must be used to obtain these materials.   This service is gratis to Purdue affiliated users.

Keeping your topics' interdisciplinary nature in mind, government publications can be extremely useful.  The catalog yielded this critical study:

Catalog Search

III. Using Indexes for Research Articles

Thor provides a wealth of electronic indexes, some of which can be used for the present exercise. 

Scholarship published in articles provides a large portion of research publication; consequently, indexes provide a gateway to those articles.

Keeping in mind your original topic, these indexes are worth using:

Historical Abstracts - Although not covering the medieval period, this index does treat plagues and the history of medicine and pharmacy.  There are articles dealing with these subjects.

America: History & Life - Specific U.S. and Canadian contexts offer articles and books covering such aspects as recent historical and political events of issues pertaining to AIDS and multidisciplinary research dealing with the cultural aspects of AIDS.

Sociological Abstracts - By utilizing this database, articles covering various political, social, economic, and health policy issues, can be retrieved. (This database requires you use your Purdue University ID to login)

Academic Search Premier is vital for full text versions of selected scholarly journals.  Proquest Research Library fulfills a similar function, providing journals not necessarily covered in Academic Search Fulltext Elite.  

Primary materials are more difficult to gather, but for the contemporary period, Government Documents page opens onto U.S., European, and world wide research in the form of reports, position and policy papers, and research studies dealing with economic, social, and political aspects of AIDS.

IV. Web-based Resources

There is a wealth of information on the Web, replete with databases and many reports and papers treating the Black Death and AIDS. Using HSSE Subject Links under Medieval Studies and under Government Publications will yield a massive amount of material.  It is always important to use those sources that are vetted [peer-reviewed, and/or sponsored by a recognized scholarly, professional, or research society]. In using the Web, always consult your instructor or a librarian.

Useful Observations

Researching and writing papers and presenting reports in class require a creative use of various resources, both print and electronic.  It is critical to understand that different approaches to any topic yield different results.  No two disciplines treat any phenomena exactly the same; therefore, you should always bear in mind that whatever topic you choose to pursue, there may be more than one path to useful and pertinent research materials.  Whether book, article, or Web-based, research materials appear in many formats and will conform to the discipline they represent.


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