Research Guide to Popular Culture

Kalle Covert 12/1/10 LIS-652-01 Subject Bibliography

Introduction The topic of this subject bibliography is popular culture. Although the origins of the term “popular culture” are indeterminate, it is often credited to Raymond B. Browne, a scholar and educator who created the first academic program of study for popular culture at Bowling Green University in 1973. Although his efforts faced criticism from other scholars early on, the study of the shared cultural experiences of a society began to be accepted in academic circles. There is no one standard definition of popular culture, but it is generally understood to be the shared ideas, experiences and preferences of a given society, including but not limited to art, music, fashion, film, literature and sports, usually sharing a link with some form of mass media. In more recent times, popular culture has taken the form of Internet memes and viral videos, which can be disseminated rapidly. This reference guide is not a comprehensive list of pop culture resources; instead the focus is to give the student with an interest in beginning research in popular culture a starting point from which to branch out. For the purposes of this essay I have selected both general resources and those that are representative of several of the most important facets of popular culture, including film, music, literature, language, history/culture and sports. Although a few of the provided resources reach back to the early 20th century, I have limited the selected resource to focus most clearly the popular culture of the United States between 1980 and the present. The selected resources are appropriate for advanced high school or college undergraduates conducting basic research.

The included retail pricing for several of the items are based on prices listed on

General Hall, Dennis R. The Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture. Connecticut; Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. This reference book provides authoritative essays written by authors across a variety of disciplines on 58 different topics pertaining to American pop culture and life. Topics include television, fashion, books and computers. This is a comprehensive reference tool providing users with appropriate bibliographies, important research and locations for primary source materials on the given subject. With 4 volumes, this guide retails for nearly $500.00, but it is an absolute necessity for serious pop culture scholars. The subject articles are comprehensive and the abundant research tools provided make this an invaluable guide.

Hoffman, Frank W. Arts and Entertainment Fads. New York; Haworth Press, 1990. This fun and informative guide provides a brief history and overview of some of the greatest fads in American history, including dance crazes, films, TV, art movements and other cultural phenomena. This book focuses on many facets of Americana often left out of history books, providing unique insights into the shaping of American tastes and how fads are created and perpetuated by mass media channels. This book is appropriate for trivia buffs seeking to brush up on their knowledge of American pop culture as well as students conducting research.

Hoffman, Frank W. American popular culture: a guide to the reference literature. Englewood, Colo; Libraries Unlimited, 1995. This resource is a guide to reference works covering pop culture and other related fields. The book divides popular culture into 4 main subject areas: popular arts, mass media, oral/folk tradition, and

fads, events, trends and other phenomena. Within these subject heading are numerous other divisions, including sports, folklore, UFOs and collecting. For each subject, Hoffman provides a list of pertinent reference materials to aid with research or to give a starting point to begin serious scholarship. The reference works listed fall into many different categories and include biographies, handbooks, encyclopedia and indexes. The included articles are short and concise. The book is comprehensive, yet easily browseable. The hardcover edition retails for $52.00 making this a highly affordable companion to research in popular culture as well as American studies and the social sciences.

Library of Congress American Memory This online archive run by the Library of Congress provides images, audio and video clips and other documents and ephemera related to the U.S. and U.S. culture. It is an open access resource designed as a “digital record of American history and creativity.” The site includes digitized versions of many important historical documents retained by the LOC including maps, manuscripts, books and sheet music. American memory is the result of a 20-year collaborative project to digitize many of the LOC’s holdings, and a goal of 5 million items was surpassed in 2000. The site is organized by topic, which users can browse. Subject headings include presidents, war, advertising and women’s history. Users also have the option of browsing by time period (1400-present), type of document (map, manuscript, etc.) or by geographical location of the collection. This website is free and accessible to anyone without a subscription. This site is ideal for locating a brief snapshot of American life and culture throughout history, or for serious scholars.

National Newspaper Index This online index provides citations and abstracts for The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post from 1980 until the present. Also included in the coverage are the New York Times Book Review and Blogs and the Eastern and Western editions of the Wall Street Journal. Users can search for articles or opinion pieces by keyword and searches can easily be limited by date. Users can also search by using the subject guides or conduct a relevance search for author, title or subject. The index contains over 6 million entries and is current and up to date. Gale, a respected name in academic indexes and databases, runs this index. This resource is a valuable tool for general news questions and more specific items such as stock market tables, weather reports and letters to the editor. This index is a citation and abstracting tool and does not provide the full text of the articles it indexes.

Sports Infoplease Sports Almanac (accessed Dec. 1, 2010) A comprehensive online resource performing the functions of an encyclopedia, almanac and atlas all of which are searchable from a single search engine. The Sports Almanac documents results and standings from most professional and college sports including football, basketball, baseball and golf. There are also summaries of past Olympic Games as well as biographies of notable players or other sports figures, as well as facts and figures regarding important stadiums and arenas. The scores and standings are current and up to date. Data is organized by sport and within each sport it is

organized by year, starting with the most recent. Frequently sought data, like records and championship titles are included at the beginning of each search. The layout and interface are very user-friendly, and sport scores and statistics can be readily accessed. This is a free Internet resource that can be accessed from any location.

Language Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. A concise and easy to use reference tool providing definitions and sample usages for over 12,000 slang words and expressions. There is also a thematic index, which cross references slang terms with more traditional dictionary entries. Pronunciation guides using the International Phonetic Alphabet aid users and users are also warned about potentially crude or offensive uses of words or expressions. This book is a necessary tool for parents or teachers or anyone who finds themselves working with young people on a regular basis. The paperback edition is available for the list price of $16.95, making it an affordable addition to any collection.

Urban Dictionary (accessed Dec. 1, 2010) Since its inception in 1999, Urban Dictionary now boasts over five million entries. The dictionary lists slang words, expressions, colloquialisms and other terms associated with subcultures or specific specialized groups. Terms and definitions are user generated and the site is governed by volunteer editors who choose to accept or reject the submissions. Any user can volunteer to be an editor and they are then able to propose new definitions or recommend words for removal. If other editors

agree, the appropriate action is taken. Although the site encourages users not to post words or phrases that represent inside jokes or other personal references, many of the terms listed are quite esoteric or just plain silly. There is a “Word of the Day” feature that can be linked to one’s Facebook page, or sent to an email account. Users can conduct a text search or browse terms alphabetically. While the words and definitions are not vetted, Urban Dictionary is an important resource as it is emblematic of Web 2.0 technologies allowing users to also function as creators and designers of the web experience.

Film and Television Film Literature Index (Accessed Dec. 1, 2010) This online index is managed by the University of Indiana Film and Television Documentation Center and provides coverage of 150 film and television periodicals and 200 general periodicals offering related articles. The subjects range from popular content to scholarly discussions of film and television theory. The user can select to search by keyword, production title or by an individual’s name. There are also options to browse by subject headings, names, production titles or by corporation names. Subject headings range from broad to very specific, including “earthquakes in films,” “science fiction,” and “lawyers.” There is a full-text version of this database that includes the full-text of articles from over 100 journals. This resource is appropriate for both serious scholars and those with a casual interest. The ability to browse by subject or conduct wildcard searches is helpful for users who may not be able to remember some or all of a film title.

IMDb. The Internet Movie Database. (accessed Dec. 1, 2010) Boasted as the “biggest, best, most award-winning movie site on the planet,” IMDb is the authoritative online source for film and television. The database is searchable by keyword, which can be limited to categories such as titles, episodes, characters and quotes. Entries related to movies include full cast and crew lists, plot summaries, detailed plot synopses (often containing spoilers), and various other background trivia and information pertaining to the film. TV listings include full cast and crew lists for individual episodes, which vastly increased the size of the database. IMDb also features latest movie news, box office standings and features trailers for upcoming films. IMDb is a fully interactive site and users participate actively in message boards and vote for the IMDb Top 250. While some users complain of inaccuracies, particularly among TV episodes, IMDb is a comprehensive and readily accessible site for both casual users and serious scholars.

Bianculli, David. Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television’s 500 Biggest Hits, Misses, and Events. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. Bianculli is the television reviewer for NPR and founder and editor of the online magazine, TV Worth Watching. This 1995 release represents his attempt to document the 500 most significant television programs or events of the post-WWII era. These programs include sitcoms, miniseries, foreign imports, classic game shows and even breaking news events such as the infamous O.J. Simpson low-speed chase. Original airdates and networks are listed for each entry, which are arranged alphabetically rather than chronologically. Bianculli’s commentary and insights are witty and well informed. The paperback edition retails for $38.99, making this book a great casual reference guide or argument settler.

Music Billboard Top 100 The Billboard Top 100 compiles the 100 most popular songs in the United States each week based on radio airplay, album and single sales, and digital downloads. The list is not limited by genre, but the list trends heavily towards pop and hip-hop/R&B styles. The archive is searchable all the way back to 1955. The Billboard site also includes music news, new releases as well as album reviews. The charts can be somewhat misleading as they track only singles sales as opposed to albums. Historically, many notable artists including Led Zeppelin have been almost entirely overlooked by the Billboard chart despite having enormous commercial and critical success. This site is free and easy to use. The charts are updated weekly, so this is a useful tool for determining the most popular songs in the country at any particular moment in recent history.

Clarke, Donald. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London; Puffin, 1999. This one volume reference tool ambitiously tackles popular music in the broadest possible terms, including jazz, Broadway, funk, punk and country music styles. This tome relies on the contributions from various authors to ensure that each entry is authoritative. The scope covers early blues musicians up to contemporary artists. Although the encyclopedia is heavily skewed towards the US and American artists, there is ample coverage of the British artists from the 1950s on. There is also coverage of non-U.S. styles such as reggae and Latin jazz. While a one-volume work may not be able to satisfy the tastes of the most demanding popular music scholars, this work provides a very thorough treatment of the subject of non-classical music. Although it is not the most current work,

this encyclopedia is a worthwhile addition to a collection for its historical treatment. Available in paperback, it is also an affordable option.

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