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Women's and Gender Studies

A research guide for Women's and Gender Studies from West Chester University Libraries.

Picking an artist/work

Step 1:  Coming up with ideas

Starting with an artist:

A lot of you may already have an artist in mind who has inspired you and meets the assignment requirements (work creates self-representation).  If not, here are some tips.

1) Talk to classmates and your professor to help brainstorm ideas!

2) If you really feel stuck start by thinking of a genre or two you are particularly interested in.  Visual arts?  Music?  Dance?  Literature?  Then maybe even try to narrow it down to a sub-genre.  Are you more interested in painting or sculpture?  Pop, rap, rock, etc.?  Poetry, short fiction, novels?  You can always generate some ideas by Googling (e.g., feminist dancers/choreographers, empowered women rappers, empowering women's songs), but if you do pay special attention to Step 2 below!

Starting with a particular work of art

A lot of you will have good luck finding what you need online, but there are also some library databases that might be useful.


For the texts of novels, poetry, short stories, and other literary genres search the library catalog.


Step 2:  Confirm there are scholarly or other forms of reputable sources out there on your artist/work!

The amount of research done on artists of all types varies greatly.  Generally, there will be more scholarly/reputable sources available on artists who are well-known in their field, have been around for a while, and have an established body of work, but there are exceptions to this rule! 

For this step, you are not doing full-on research, but need to establish there are scholarly and/or other reputalbe sources out there and find one good citation to start with. 
  • Scholarly sources take the form of journal articles, books, book chapters, and conference presentations.  They are written by academic experts in a specific subject areas (often college professors) and always go through some sort of a review process--most often peer review.
  • Reputable sources are a bit harder to define.  Often, they are be written by people who have a more general type of expertise through the professional work they do.  Many also go through an editorial review process.  Reputable sources found through the library include newspaper and magazine articles, trade/professional publication articles, documentary films, and government documents/reports.  General websites can be considered reputable, if you can find evidence that they are written by experts and/or undergo editorial review.
I suggest using the Library Search tool (search box on the library home page) for this step.  Limiting your results to either "Scholarly/Peer-reviewed Journals" or books on the left will narrow your focus to scholarly sources.

Approaches for your research

There are two main approaches you can take for your research:

  1.  Your artist or her work specifically
  2.  Issues of self-representation/empowerment either generally or within your artist's genre

        (see the box below for suggested databases for each!)

How much you find for each category will vary greatly.   Some of you may have an easy time finding substantial scholarship on your artist and her art.  Others may find very little.   If you don't find much on your artist, shift toward researching self-representation in the genre or in art more broadly.

Search term suggestions

Self-representation is going to be an obvious search term for both general and artist/genre specific searches.  Also consider using feminist, empower/empowered/empowering, intersectional/intersectionality, and maybe even just representation as terms that might bring up articles that are on topic, but don't use the term self-representation in the title.  For your particular artist, adding search terms like race, gender, class,  politics, or sexuality  may also bring back useful articles.

For example,  here are some searches I did in the Library Search tool and the number of results for each:

Beyonce self-representation-- 37 scholarly journal articles. 

Beyonce feminist -- 450 scholarly journal articles. 

Beyonce race -- 750 scholarly journal articles!

Databases for scholarly journal articles and other reputable sources.

General/theoretical articles on self-representation

Beyond the Gender Studies Database, the Library Search tool would be the next step in finding this type of article, as well as books and book chapters.  Many of the sources found here will be from different disciplines, so be aware that some may present a very different theoretical perspective from what you are studying in class!

Here is a box to access Library Search:

Specific artists/genres:

For some types of artists we have specialized databases that will make a good starting point.  For all types of artists, Library Search is the place to go if you still need more sources after using the specialized databases.

Note on Library Search:  Library Search brings back both scholarly and popular sources.  While your professor welcomes sources that are popular but reputable (magazine or news articles, websites, documentary videos), do check to see if there are scholarly sources available by limiting to academic journals, books, and ebooks under the Limit Source Type heading in the left-hand column.

For theater and dance, there is no specialized scholarly database for research on dancers, actors, directors, choreographers, set designers, etc.  So for those types of artists  you need to go straight to Library Search for scholarly sources.

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