3 Developing Research Questions in Book History
What questions will you explore as you begin research on the history of the book?
Week Three Preview
Week 3 is all about defining some research questions that will guide your work on Project 1, a case study in the making of print culture. Before you start research, you need to decide what questions you want to answer. The inquiry and research methods we will cover in the next three weeks will be useful in many academic and workplace writing situations as well.
Getting Started with the Case Study Project
Project 1 template
Sample case study 1 (on the origins of copyright law)
Sample case study 2 (on women's letter writing and its effect on print culture)
Sample case study 3 (the role of newspapers in American history)
You will be working on one major project all the way through Unit 1. This project will be a case study, focused on a particular event, person, publication, or technology that is important in some way to the history of print culture. You will have a wide range of topics to choose from, and you will develop and build your case study in steps over the course of the unit.
Academic research in history (and the humanities in general) is often described as "inquiry-driven." Before you decide on a specific topic, you need to consider what you want to learn. What are the key questions you want to explore further in your case study?
Think back to the reading and writing you have done so far. Re-read the writing you did for Assignments 1 and 2 and look for key themes and ideas. What are the questions and ideas you want to pursue in Unit 1? Reading some of your classmates' work can help, too; you will see that each of you has a particular focus or perspective.
You can't expect to develop a comprehensive knowledge of book history since 1450 in three weeks. But you can explore a particular question (or group of questions), and use that question to research and write a case study that contributes some detailed new knowledge to our understanding of what print culture is and how it has been made, built, and evolved over time.
Video: Defining Research Questions
Readings and Resources
These resources will help you get started with the case study project.
1. Read through the Project 1 template and sample case studies (linked on this page)
2. Study the timelines in our course texts (Howard pp. xi-xiv, and Broadview Introduction pp. 171-177). Just about any single item on either timeline could be a good topic for a research project and case study.
3. Watch the video, Defining Research Questions (posted on this page). The video introduces the Broadview Introduction to Book History and identifies the five key concepts for the course (technology, culture, commerce, reading, and authorship).
Video: Project 1
(Length: 17 minutes)
Instructions and examples to help you get started on Project 1 and Assignment 3.
Video: Defining Research Questions (16:32)
This video suggests some ways to begin generating research questions that you can develop into a case study. We are at the beginning of a creative research process--brainstorming a lot of questions and ideas is the best place to start!
This video will help you get started on Assignment 3.
Assignment 3: Brainstorming Research Questions
This forum is a starting point for your work on the case study project.
The first step in any research project is to define some key questions that you want to explore and learn about.
Forum 3 is a brainstorming space—your goal is to generate a series of possible research questions that you might follow through the case study project. Just questions—you don’t need to answer them yet!
Review the writing you have done so far, and be sure to read the background materials for week 3. Compose a post in which you identify a set of related research questions that you can use to guide your work in the case study project. What do you want to learn more about? Why? How do your questions connect to the key concepts and themes from the course readings so far?
Identify a short list of three or four key questions, and describe each one in a few sentences as you understand it now. Why is each question interesting to you? How does it relate to the topics in the readings and course videos?