Last night, I posted an email someone wrote me about the possibility of citing my work for an assignment. I suggested she look elsewhere. So she asked the obvious question: "Where?"
It was a tough question:
Of course, the snotty English Student reply would be that my reader should have begun writing earlier. This is true. But then I wondered...could I actually find some good resources online? Here's my reply:
You may be out of luck, but I hope this email provides some useful suggestions.
The scholarly system usually "produces knowledge" via books and journals. When print technology was the best around, this system ensured the free flow of information. In theory, new ideas would get published in journals, passed around to all those interested, and discussed in further articles. Then, ideas which stood the test of time (or those whose authors had enough social capital) would often be published in book form, then reviewed again, etc... This system ensures that ideas are looked over by specialists in thte field before given too much respect in print. Critics say that this method is job security for drivel-drivers, and that peer review can be totally inadequate, but I think that there's a significant percentage of good thought to be found through this process.
Now we have the Internet. More people want access to this information, and they want it now. Unfortunately, copyright laws and the The Process of Academic Thought(tm) make online publishing quite difficult. The classic books on the topic are all on paper, with the publishing companies rather unwilling to make them available for free. Furthermore, the demand to digitize old works of literary criticism is rather low.
However, there is some hope. Try the following strategy:
- Electronic Journals: Check with the school with which you are taking the online course. They may provide you with access to electronic journals through their library website. If this is the case, that is your best chance. If you are normally a student at a different institution, check with their library to see if you can do so. Elizabethtown College, my alma mater, provides this service to current students.
- Nearby University Libraries: This is your second best option. If you can reach a university with an open stacks library, you should be able to use their resources, which will definitely include books and journals on medieval literature.
- Online resources: This is very touchy. Good, reliable online sources are hard to find. Since you're writing about medieval literature, I suggest you start by looking at the following resources:
- Marginalia's Resources for Medievalists: Marginalia is the website of the Cambridge University medieval literature society.
- Rhodes College publishes the ORB, an Online Reference Book for Medieval studies.
- For online texts, you can find no better than the University of Virginia's etext library of Middle-English literature.
- Fordham's Paul Halsall has done a marvelous job of collecting hundreds of sources at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
- Georgetown's Labyrinth should also provide some useful sources.
Most of these online sources will not be suitable to cite, since they will not be quality scholarship. They will probably contain summary material written by scholars who want to get the basic information online. Before you cite anything, make sure it has been published in print. If it has only been published online, make sure it has been part of a peer review process. Since you're writing a paper based very much on online sources, you will want to submit an annotated bibliography, which contains your reasons for trusting the sources you cite online.
I hope this helps!