Research guide and resources for new authors
This Research Guide and Resources for New Authors is intended to offer suggestions and advice for how to perform research on a Columbia-related topic to new WikiCU contributors. It's also meant to be an introduction to some of the resources that some of the experienced contributors to WikiCU have found helpful and informative, as well as tips on the limitations of some sources. Many sources have online archives - click through on individual sources in this article to find links to online editions and archives where available.
Since WikiCU got off the ground in the spring of 2007, a wealth of historic material has become available online. Most notably this includes 1) a number of 19th-century through early 20th-century Columbia-related volumes and periodicals searchable and viewable through Google Books, and 2) the digitized archives of the Columbia Daily Spectator (currently covering 1877-2012).
This has made a great deal of 'armchair research', so to speak, possible - you can now engage with Columbia history in a way that was previously only possible by visiting the University Archives or major libraries, and painstakingly going through materials by hand without the aid of powerful search engines. The last decade has also seen a fantastic output of Columbia-related scholarship. While the frontiers of digitally driven scholarship are expanding by the day, there are still a lot of gaps in what you can do from home. For example, Google is limited by copyright law from displaying anything more than snippets from most items printed from 1923 or later.
Using Google and the internet to your advantage
Google is an incredibly powerful search tool, but to really harness its capabilities you need to be able to filter your results.
Using quotation marks with search terms
The appropriate use of quotation marks to bracket together phrases is critical to finding on-point material and filtering out false positive results. For example searching for columbia university will return hits for any page with those two words anywhere on the page as in "Columbia, Missouri has an excellent university." However, searching for "columbia university" with quotation marks narrows the results to pages with that exact phrase only.
Using quotation marks is also useful for finding sources of texts. For example, if you want to find out instances where a certain phrase appears (or originally appeared), put it in quotes and dump it in Google and see what it turns up (since Google will return results showing only where that exact phrase appears.)
Be careful, however. Quotation marked search terms may also return false negatives - i.e. if a source misspelled a word, or used a slightly different phrasing, etc., those results will be excluded from your results. Therefore, it's a good practice to try running searches with and without quotation marks to see if anything useful turns up in the broader search. It's also a good practice to brainstorm different sets of potential search terms for the same thing. For example, in looking for material on Columbia's crown logo, you might try "columbia crown", "king's crown", "kings crown", "university crown", "college crown", etc. Be creative!
Using "site:" searches
Another powerful search filter is Google's ability to search only within a specific site. This is particularly useful for searching online resources that lack a dedicated search function or have a lousy one. For example, if you find the Spectator's search function a pain to use, you can use regular Google to search the Spec website by including site:columbiaspectator.com in your search query. For example, to find Spec articles mentioning Jordi Reyes-Montblanc you would enter the following into a Google search box:
jordi reyes montblanc site:columbiaspectator.com
Similarly, this method is useful for searching resources that are limited to a particular directory, or don't have their own search function. For example, The Record 1994-2008 archives live at columbia.edu/cu/record, and don't have a dedicated search function. However, by adding the term site:columbia.edu/cu/record to your search, it's as good as having a dedicated search for The Record archives. Similarly, site:senate.columbia.edu is a good search term to use for querying materials that might be located somewhere on the University Senate's web presence.
Finally, running searches on site:columbia.edu can be illuminating, as you never know where something might be stashed across the vast Columbia web-o-sphere.
With targeted searches like this, you will increase your odds of finding relevant material.
Using Google Books effectively
Google Books is amazing. Among the archives of the institutions whose collections Google has scanned and made available is an incredible amount of Columbia material. These include both student and administration publications, histories of the school, and various collections of the founding documents of the school. Many of these materials are described in greater detail in the "Sources" sections below, and direct links to scanned volumes of the described materials are included in their respective WikiCU articles where available. Throw search terms, combined with judicious use of quotation marks, at the Google Books search engine, and prepare to be surprised.
Google Books is frustrating. Among the materials scanned by Google is material published after 1923 and therefore still possibly under Copyright protection. In these cases, Google may return results, and even some context-providing snippets, but won't provide access to the material itself. But even that much information is a huge help. Given that much of the copyrighted material can be accessed by a visit to Butler Library (where you'll find the University Archives and the Microform Reading Room), it's one of the most powerful research tools at your disposal. Armed with a list of resources and (potentially) page numbers, Google Books can make research trips to Butler far more efficient and productive than ever before.
Using Archive.org's Wayback Machine
Yet another powerful tool is Archive.org. If you find a dead link on WikiCU or would like to see how a web page evolved over time, the Wayback Machine is an incredible tool for doing so. You plug in a URL into the search field, and if Archive.org has backed up copies of the page, you will be presented with a tool for navigating through snapshots of the page on various dates. It's not always perfect - sometimes images embedded on the page are not archived and are broken, and pages that the original page links to are missing.
This tool is helpful for performing historical research on a modern phenomenon (like a website itself), or for finding things you knew existed but have since disappeared. For example, Columbia has stripped historical graduate school admission data from the Statistical Abstract website. But thanks to the Wayback Machine, it's possible to find an older version of the page that still has that data. Similarly, multiple re-launches of the CCSC website has resulted in the loss of policy archives, but the Wayback Machine makes finding those pages possible, even if many of the links are dead.
The possibility of being able to recover a lost link is why it's important to leave a link to your sources when writing. Even if the page dies, Archive.org may have it backed up.
Introduction to useful sources
Over the course of seven and a half years of contributing to WikiCU, the senior cadre of WikiCU editors have come across many useful sources in researching and developing articles. The following was originally meant to be an introduction to useful digital sources, but can also be read as an introduction to useful Columbia sources generally.
Institutional sources are those sources created by Columbia itself.
- The Record - Columbia's official periodic campus newspaper. It's the print organ of Columbia's Office of Communications and Public Affairs. The Record has been published since the fall of 1975, but you can find largely intact, though incomplete, archives from fall of 1993 to present online. These are great for researching bureaucratic and administrative developments, including fundraising, major campus news, etc. from the last 20 years.
- ColumbiaNews - Columbia has been printing direct-to-web news releases since March 1996. These are useful for similar purposes as The Record. Stories from June 2008 to present (with some overlap with The Record) can be found in the ColumbiaNews Archive (click a month and then scroll down to see stories), while stories from 1996 through February 2009 can be found in the Columbia News Archive. Yes, those are two different sites.
- Columbia University Bulletin and Columbia University Quarterly - Columbia news magazines, first started as a report of faculty activity in 1890 before developing into a quarterly news magazine. Absolutely stellar sources of news of Columbia at the turn of the 20th century, just as it was becoming a University, moving to Morningside, etc. You'll find articles describing in detail the new buildings to be built, as well as historical articles that attempt to piece together narratives about slices of Columbia life - e.g. on King's College, on the History of Student Publications, Student Theatre Productions, etc. The entirety of the Bulletin's 8 year run is available on Google Books, with only sporadic availability of the Quarterly, unfortunately. The Quarterly ceased publication in 1941.
- Columbia Alumni News - Another old time publication, printed weekly from 1909-1957. A number of early 20th century volumes are available in their entirety on Google Books. Overlaps a little with the Quarterly, but has more day to day news like athletics scores and administrative moves.
- Columbia College Today - Columbia College's alumni magazine, in publication since fall 1954. Website has back issues through Winter 1999, and a pdf of the controversial spring 1968 "Six Weeks That Shook Morningside" issue. The library is missing some back issues. Another source for administrative news, alumni stories, slice-of-campus-life stories, and tidbits of information.
- Columbia magazine - Quarterly university magazine that began publication in 1978. Probably a successor to the University Quarterly. Its online archives ostensibly go back to 2000, but they don't look comprehensive for the earlier issues. Generally made up of long-form pieces on interesting alumni or faculty, and filled out with campus/administrative news.
- Columbia.edu - Running a search from the Columbia homepage crawls the entire Columbia web-o-sphere. You never know what you might turn up or where information might be hidden on a Columbia server. This is actually a pretty good, though overlooked, resource. NB: in the early 2000s Columbia's homepage search wasn't powered by Google and sucked, so you would have to run searches from Google itself and include site:columbia.edu in your search terms. You can still do that if you want, but now you don't have to.
- Columbia University Statistical Abstract - Published by OPIR, this is the holy grail of data. Head counts in every division, admissions info, numbers of students in majors, faculty distribution, etc. The Statistical Abstract is a thing of joy. Unfortunately, the website seems to have been scrubbed graduate school admissions data. But as we just explained above, Archive.org is a wonderful thing. See what we mean? Similarly, the Abstract seems to include a rolling window of data, so looking up older editions (by calling up older versions of the page via Archive.org) can give you additional years of data.
- Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Columbia College - From its first publication in 1848 through 1857, the Annual Catalogue was actually a student publication, and was the forerunner of the The Columbian. Following its takeover by the administration after 1857, it was printed under various names as what we might now call a course catalog or school bulletin. It includes, at various times, lists of faculty and their titles, lists of enrolled students, information on campus, courses of instruction, and more. Publications from 1863-1864 through 1889-1890 (with only 7 years missing), and from 1893-1894 through 1944-1945 (in their entirety), are available online, making it one of the more complete sets available online, and providing a glimpse at how things changed over time.
- Annual Reports of the President to the Trustees - Since President Frederick A. P. Barnard's tenure, Presidents have delivered public reports to the Trustees, sometimes annually, sometimes not. Depending on the era, the reports range from highly granular to fluffy. Reports from the Barnard, Low, and Butler era have lots of raw information in them. More recent reports tend to be fluffier marketing pieces. Sporadic old volumes are online, as well as some material from the Rupp and Bollinger tenures.
- Resolutions of the Trustees - The Trustees pass resolutions. Compilations of bound volumes of the resolutions from the 19th century are online. There's lots to be learned from these about decisions taken, and not taken, by the trustees on a variety of issues, such as campus relocation, establishing Barnard College, etc.
- University Statutes - These are the body of rules and regulations promulgated by the Trustees that give life to Columbia. They also lay out some of the relationships between schools of the University, and the University and its affiliates.
- Founding Documents - Columbia's founding documents (charters, legislative acts, etc.) have been compiled at various times in publications. An incredibly detailed compilation from 1920 also includes lists of gifts and endowments to the University, real estate transactions, details regarding the funding of various buildings and features on campus, etc.
- Alumni Directories - Today Columbia publishes a directory of alumni online and in print. In the old days Columbia used to print a massive catalog of all officers and graduates of the University. Google books has 13 editions of this printed catalog from 1814-1916 online, and one edition of a catalog of all drop-outs through 1894.
Student sources are those written, prepared, or printed by students.
- Columbia Daily Spectator - The Spectator has been continuously in operation since 1877, making it the oldest continuously printed publication in existence on campus. Originally a bi-weekly publication, it subsequently went daily. The Spectator is probably the single source with the greatest breadth of coverage, including student life, administrative moves, sports, neighborhood news etc. There are two major trade-offs: 1) breadth may sometimes come at the expense of depth, which may be in part related to 2) the regular turnover of staff means a lack of institutional knowledge to fully inform the reporting with thorough context. Despite these limitations (and the limits to which you can rely on student reporting), the Spec is currently an incomparable resource for conducting research thanks to its recent digitization of its archives, which are currently available online covering all of 1877-2012. This is a huge breakthrough, as the Spectator website only had archives dating back to 2000, lacked graphics and photos, and was notoriously unreliable, with its near-annual website overhauls routinely killing links. In addition, a few 19th century volumes of Spectator editions are on Google Books. For recent articles, Spectator's website search function is pretty lousy. Use Google and prefix your search with site:columbiaspectator.com to save yourself the headache. For looking up Spectator issues that aren't digitized or on Google, you can do it the old fashioned way, by going to the Microform and Periodicals reading room on the 4th floor of Butler and learning to operate the microform reading machines, as the hoary WikiCU founders had to. Spectator's forerunner, Acta Columbiana (1868-1885), isn't available online at all, unfortunately. You'll have to hit the Archives to read them. The Spectator website also includes access to its weekly features insert, The Eye. NB: When you cite to a Spec article, PLEASE PLEASE include the full title and date in the citation in case the link breaks. You will find a number of broken spec links throughout this site. When you find them, please try to update them. If you cannot find the current link, LEAVE THE OLD ONE. We may be able to figure out the source at a later date.
- The Columbian - Columbia's student yearbooks. Originally published as the Annual Catalogue from 1848-1857 (see above under Institutional Sources), the yearbook was reborn as The Columbian in 1864, and has been printed largely under that title since then (excepting 1865-1889, when it was The Columbiad). Old volumes tended to have lots of photos and "class history" type details. If you look at some volumes from the 1950s and 1960s in the University Archives, you'll be envious of some of the production details. They're really gorgeous. A few old volumes of The Columbian (and The Columbiad) are available via Google Books. The University Archives has a full run for you to go and look at, but if you want to learn about late 19th century Columbia, the editions available on Google Books give you a good window into the past. It should be noted that at various times, engineering students published a separate yearbook, The Miner (1878-1889), and The Columbia Engineer (maybe 194?-1998?).
- The Barnard Bulletin - Founded in 1901 as a newsweekly at Barnard College, it ended weekly publication in 2002, and has since evolved into a glossy monthly magazine. As Barnard's counter-part to the Spec, it offers news and perspectives from the women's college across Broadway, something not always covered by Spec. The Barnard Archives host a complete digital archive covering the Bulletin's run from 1901-2002. The current incarnation is also online but with limited archives going back to fall 2011.
- Bwog - Launched in January 2006 by the Blue and White, Bwog (located at bwog.com is to Columbia and the Spec what Gothamist is to New York City, and the NYTimes. The site's been re-designed many times, resulting in broken links across WikiCU, broken image links in Bwog posts, and probably some lost comments too. You'll want to use site:bwog.com in your Google searches, especially if your target is pre-2008, when the URL naming conventions changed. Nonetheless, Bwog is an excellent source for both contemporary reporting of (recent) historical events, and some interesting and off-beat reporting about student life. Like any comments section on the internet, Bwog's is a cross between a cess-pool and fascinating information, and has been the source of national embarrassment for the school.
- The Blue and White - A sometimes irreverent, sometimes serious student literary, satirical, and feature-length reporting magazine re-founded in 1998. Perhaps it is the New Yorker to the Spec's Gray Lady. Issues back to 2005 can sporadically be found online, and articles are occasionally cross-published on Bwog as teasers of forthcoming issues. Earlier issues, all the way back to 1998, are in the University Archives. Note that the magazine traces its roots back to a student magazine of the same name that was published for three years beginning in 1891. B&W issues are useful for both their long-form reporting, and the view into student life offered by their more cheeky recurring features.
Books about Columbia
There are plenty of Books about Columbia, and a number of the older history books are in the public domain and available on Google Books. We try to keep track of them on their own page as a bibliography of sorts. The page doesn't have a section for periodicals yet, so there isn't an overlap with most of the stuff mentioned here. Go check it out.
In particular though we want to focus your attention on a few recent works that are considered 'canonical' among some of the "older" WikiCU writers.
- Stand, Columbia, by Prof. Robert McCaughey - A number of history books have been written about Columbia in its 250 year history. You can read some of the turn of the century volumes for an interesting trip back in time. But McCaughey's work is a must-read primer. It's an interpretive history, and McCaughey thus has a narrative and thesis that he weaves. Nevertheless, the work covers a lot of ground and sheds light on a number of aspects of Columbia's history that might get overlooked by focusing just on recent history or early history alone. A number of WikiCU writers are products of McCaughey's old "Social History of Columbia University" class, and a number of research projects for that class have found there way onto this site in one form or another. It is safe to say that much of the "historical" work on this archive was inspired by his class. Be sure to also check out the online appendices , and the website for McCaughey's University Seminar on Columbia's History  which has wonderful presentation notes and outlines on different subjects. The key benefit of reading this work is to provide a framework and same basic context for diving deeper into other subjects.
- Morningside Heights, by Prof. Andrew Dolkart - The authority on architecture in and around Columbia, from the neighborhood's beginning, to recent times. While McCaughey's work by necessity touches on the topic of buildings and land, he doesn't go into the loving detail that Dolkart, an architectual historian, does. The book also contains a rich appendix with details about all of the buildings in the neighborhood.
- Mastering McKim's Plan, by Prof. Barry Bergdoll - An absolutely gorgeous work that focuses solely on the development of the master plan for Columbia's campus executed by architect Charles McKim, rather than the broader neighborhood history that Dolkart delves into. Check out this book for the stunning artwork if nothing else.
Besides their books, these Professors are persons you can direct questions to in person, as they're all current Columbia faculty.
- The New York Times - The Gray Lady wasn't always the paper of record in New York, but it has often covered happenings at the premier institution of higher education in its home town. Searching through its online archives can be useful.
The Columbia and Barnard Archives
There is a lot to be said for the ease of conducting research with electronic resources. However, there are at least three drawbacks to relying solely on electronic sources: 1) somethings just aren't available on line; 2) some things just need to be seen in person; 3) you're depriving yourself of access to some of the most experienced and knowledgeable people about this stuff: the Columbia and Barnard archivists.
The University Archives and the Columbiana Collection are located within the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library on the 6th floor of Butler Library. If they aren't your first stop (seriously, they have wi-fi, you can do concurrent electronic research while you're there!), the Archives should be your second stop after scouring the internet for clues because there's so much material that's simply not on the internet. Either it's under copyright, or it's in the form of clippings in subject files, personal notes and correspondences, photographs, etc. There is an amazing amount of material for perusal here, including full runs of some of the periodicals mentioned here, and much material that has been sorted into subject files to make research easier. To top it all off, the archivists are really nice people.
Best practices and suggestions for citations and footnotes
Citing to sources is tricky business. We're not demanding that you follow The MLA Style Manual, the The Chicago Manual of Style, or, heaven forfend, The Bluebook. Sometimes the goal of good citation guidelines gets lost amid the forest of technical requirements: making sure that a reader can find the (precise) source you're referring to. For websites, a URL and an appropriately descriptive page title generally does the trick. For an online periodical (The Spec, the NYTimes, etc.) a URL, plus article title, and the date make a big difference. For published materials, the title, author, year of publication, and pages are a good starting point. Add additional details if it's helpful!
Similarly, sometimes it's best to explain where you heard something or why you're stating something as fact (or why you're qualifying a statement) in a footnote. It's better to provide more information rather than letting a reader reach an unsupported conclusion.
Use footnotes for any of a number of purposes: citing to a source, adding an explanatory note, or adding additional information that, while interesting, would be out of place in the main body of the article. Footnotes are created in a two step process: 1) inserting the footnote in the text, and 2) adding a references tag at the end of the article if there isn't one already.
To cite text:
- 1. Use <ref> tags to insert a footnote after information you want to provide a citation for, for example:
The team scored only 4 points that day.<ref>"Basketball Team Suffers Anticipated Loss", Columbia Spectator, 2/5/07</ref>
- 2. At the bottom of the wikicu article, add the following text to generate the list of references (if it isn't already there):
== References == <references />
To include a link to a webpage in a footnote, use brackets around the URL to generate an external link:
<ref>[http://www.somewebsite.com Title of the Webpage or Article], The Spectator, 1 Jan 2010</ref>
If you're still not sure how to do footnotes or are uncomfortable, at the very least please stick whatever links or notes you have in an "External links" section. For example:
== External links == *[http://www.columbiaspectator.com/somestory Description of First Source] *[http://www.columbia.edu/news/anotherstory Description of Second Source] *[http://www.bwog.com/herewegoagain Description of Third Source] *It was mentioned at a CCSC meeting that bwog wrote about
For additional guidance on using Wiki markup, see the Editing help page.
We cannot stress the importance of leaving a trail enough. So much of what we think we know about Columbia is hearsay, inferential, or even conflicting. Unless it's coming from one of the few canonical works we have (e.g. McCaughey and Dolkart's books, and even those are not gospel), having links to the sources makes sorting things out easier as we learn more.
In the course of researching one topic, if you find some tangential reference intriguing, bookmark it. Maybe create a page without content on the wiki but leave a note about what you found and where. Either you'll come back to it later, or someone else will. See this page as an example of a stub length article with a link dump to guide future writing on the topic.
Check multiple sources
A good practice to develop when researching and contributing to WikiCU is finding corroborating and supporting references. For example, let's say you read a Spectator article about an event, or some development. Search for other articles about that event or development; you might find conflicting reporting. Perhaps one of the articles is wrong. Or perhaps both are correct and some additional information that clarifies the discrepancy is missing. Either way, don't take what you find in one report, in any source (whether the Spec or an Institutional source), as the gospel truth. Especially with the Spectator, always be on the lookout for 'Letters to the Editor' in subsequent issues that may clarify, contradict, or offer another perspective on an article.
Always looking for additional sources has the added benefit of fleshing out a story. Let's say you want to know about an older building on campus. You can find comments on plans for it in the Columbia University Quarterly, news about its groundbreaking in Columbia Alumni News, and notes on how it was funded in John Pine's 1920 compilation of founding documents and records of gifts to the University. A Spectator search may yield later stories about how rooms in the building have been changed from their use. Think broadly!
- ↑ Amusingly (ironically?), most of these works are scanned from the archives of other schools
- ↑ If you're still confused, just find an article with footnotes, hit "Edit" and look at how it's been done, and try to copy the format. This is the fastest way to learn to do anything on a wiki. Check out the editing help page for more wiki formatting help. Also, see what I did there?