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  1. #1
    Bronze Member LiadanWillows's Avatar
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    Getting the most out of using sources

    Being some what of a n00b and doing a lot of research I thought I would bring up the topic of sources.

    How do you know you have a good source of information or a bad one?
    Some signs that will point me to the validity of the information?
    Good sites/books/authors you recommend?

    (sorry this is such a broad subject, but I know it would help me and all the other n00bs too!)
    http://www.paganforum.com/image.php?type=sigpic&userid=87&dateline=133754480  9

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    [quote author=LiadanWillows link=topic=989.msg18164#msg18164 date=1290997430]
    Being some what of a n00b and doing a lot of research I thought I would bring up the topic of sources.

    How do you know you have a good source of information or a bad one?[/quote]

    Well, there are a couple things...and a lot of them are fairly similar to the same way you would tell a good source from a bad source if you were writing a paper or something. All of them have their pros and cons...

    1) Experience...really, nothing beats this. If you are well and widely read, you have a wider well of knowledge to draw upon. The downside, of course, is that to *get* that knowledge and experience, you are still going to have to read some "crap" and sometimes you will make mistakes and get suckered in to an idea that isn't so great. BUT...generally, thats be best way to learn.

    2) Check out reviews. Reviews are not foolproof...but they can (particularly if they are well written) give you some idea as to the general reception of a work, as well as the specific strengths and weaknesses of a work or an author. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, reviews are just someone else's opinion...and there is a saying about opinions being like a**holes, "everybody has one, and most of the time they stink".

    3.) Consider the source...and the subject itself. If you are reading a history of the development of Wicca, I'd dare say that a referenced, peer-reviewed work by a historian is probably the way to go (Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon FTW!)...whereas, you might be more lenient in whom read for something that is more UPG oriented... Also, just because someone is a controversial figure (tries very hard to not point fingers) does not mean that they can't have good ideas (oh, I give up...some of my best "mommy magic" ideas for teaching my kids have come indirectly from Silver Ravenwolf)


    Some signs that will point me to the validity of the information?
    this article has some of the better advice I've seen on the subject

    ...there used to be another article that I would recommend, that I thought was better...but I can't find it anymore

    ETA: This is another good article on the subject, but its still not my fave one


    Good sites/books/authors you recommend?
    Really...that depends on your specific interests. I have tons of sites, authors and books I would recommend, but not without qualifying which topics I would recommend them for. There really is no Encyclopedia of Paganism that I can point you to as the end all, be all reference work.

    Once the semester is over, provided I remember, I will go thru my stuff and find the darn file that was my big giant list of credible websites and books (seriously, its like 4 or 5 pages as a word document on just about ever topic I have ever been halfway interested in).


    ETA: I really like this recommended reading list as a starting point. About a fourth of my reading list overlaps with it, if I remember correctly.

    Also...the book of books... (wait for the used copies to be cheap...I got my (now stolen) copy for like $3.00)
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

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    Cannibal Rights Activist Ophidia's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    You have to think about what audience you're in.

    Are you looking for highly regarded academic resources so you can one-up people in forum debates, or are you looking for something that sings to your heart? Do you want to learn or do you want to teach? Are you a beginner or are you fairly experienced?

    Unlike many scientific subjects, religion is more... subjective. Your desires and goals are going to largely color how you view what you read, hear or experience, and what you get out of a resource may not be what someone else would get out of a resource. Fer instance, I love Ralph Bloom's works on the Norse runes. Ask most other people and they'll tell you his books are crap - and, academically speaking, they are. But I'm not in it for accuracy, I'm in it because it speaks to me.

    With anything else, you have to rely on your internal b.s. meter, too. If someone tells you to go stand on your head in a rainstorm & kiss a frog to find your totem animal, would you do it? If you read in a book to go pick unspecified mushrooms in the dark of the new moon to slip into your intended lover's food, would you trust much else the author had to say?
    The forum member formerly known as perzephone. Or Perze. I've shed a skin.

  4. #4
    lady sings the blues DanieMarie's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    Also, to add, is it current?

    This seems like a no-brainer, but the net has been around long enough that there are articles around from like 2000. While that was only 10 years ago, some things (like business, technology, the economy, science) change much faster than that. So something from 2000 might be crazy outdated. I have a Human Resources Management textbook from 1995 and I'm sometimes really annoyed that that's the one we were prescribed, because in that context 1995 might as well have been 50 years ago and soooooo much has changed since then.

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    Sr. Member Ravenix's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    At uni we can only cite material that is peer-reviewed, meaning that it has been approved by academics; any university or academic site should be good (look for '.ac' or '.edu' in the site address). There should be some academic sites floating around on ancient cultures and such if you're wanting info on a specific people. You can even find archaeological info on gods and such.

    Failing that, any site that is well-written (i.e. nt ritten lyk thiss), has a nice layout and doesn't just lift stuff from Wikipedia should be fine. If you can tell that the owner has invested a lot of time and effort into it, it should be OK.
    Even Wikipedia is very good, I have a few pages on Germanic religion bookmarked; just remember anyone can edit Wikipedia and that from that you can be misinformed.

    Also check out the reviews for books you're intersted in on Amazon; you'll soon see if it's worth reading. And take a look at the other books that Amazon suggests for you, I found a few interesting books that way!
    "The Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence." (Tacitus, `Germania', 9)

  6. #6
    lady sings the blues DanieMarie's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    [quote author=Ravenix link=topic=989.msg18288#msg18288 date=1291041647]
    At uni we can only cite material that is peer-reviewed, meaning that it has been approved by academics; any university or academic site should be good (look for '.ac' or '.edu' in the site address). There should be some academic sites floating around on ancient cultures and such if you're wanting info on a specific people. You can even find archaeological info on gods and such.

    [/quote]

    That kind of bugs me about uni to be honest. It's not usually like this in business studies, but there's still a strong bias towards academic rather than practitioner content, and to be honest I find that in business, the academic world is a little "behind" the times compared to what's actually going on in real time, so practitioner journals are useful. It's also a bit of an "american" vs "british" uni thing for that in business school. I go to a UK school and they're a bit more into the whole "tradition" of academia. Whereas US business schools (despite the fact that business school existed in the US LONG before it did in the UK) they're more interested in studying a mix of material and learning about how things work in studies combined with how people actually practice business in the real world. Some of my UK courses (like Marketing) are also better for this.

    When it comes to studying religion I'd have trouble with sticking with only academic sources as well. It's such a subjective subject matter that eyewitness accounts and stuff like that can really help understanding (just make sure the source is reliable!)

  7. #7
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Just a couple FYI's...I merged this thread, and another thread that is similarly on evaluating source materials so if you are having trouble with the *flow* of the thread, check the title of the post!

    Also, Tylluan, you are in luck--the software here auto-merges your posts for you! If you post in the same thread within 120 min or something like that, it will merge...more than that, and don't worry about it!


    And, on topic....

    Something to keep in mind along the lines of bias, in terms of primary literature and interpreting what people are really doing and saying means that you need to understand the context in which an event took place or a person lived. I spend alot of time reading 19th century material, particularly in the fields of natural history, but diaries, magazines from the time, deportment manuals, etc--even cookbooks and children's school books...when you read (no matter what you are reading) you have to factor in not only the difference in time period, but regional differences, the type of source, and their specific world view, etc... Its very easy to read that someone did X or thought Y or whatever and not understand its relevance because we lack the conditioning of having lived in that time--its also very easy to impart a meaning or importance to something that it would not have had, for that same reason.

    For example...in science today, the emphasis is on experimentation as a means to support theories which give us insight and predictability into how things work. 150-200 years ago, suggesting a theory would ruin one's reputation and standing. At that time (and part of the reason for the popularity of natural history) "science" was the collection of "facts"...which was pretty much something anyone could do, regardless of class, education, gender, etc. Most people today think of Darwin only in terms of evolution---but Darwin wasn't the only one to come up with the idea (even his specific idea of natural selection--not only did he share the "discovery" with the lesser known Wallace, but actually, their idea was preempted in a treatise on logging, published decades earlier, though virtually unknown and unread...and that is without including ideas suck as Lamarckian evolution). Really though, the greater significance of Darwin wasn't that he developed a theory of evolution, but that he backed that theory up with a huge body of evidence, and the purpose it gave to biology (leading to the death of natural history) as a whole.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  8. #8
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    @Thalassa- and it wasn't just the death of natural history,. but also the beginning of the end for regarding theology as a science. I seem to remember that Darwin actually studied theology at University. Wallace (born in Wales - had to get that in somewhere! ) tried to meld together his belief in Spiritualism with his scientific interests which put something of a strain on both!

  9. #9
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Quote Originally Posted by Tylluan Penry View Post
    @Thalassa- and it wasn't just the death of natural history,. but also the beginning of the end for regarding theology as a science. I seem to remember that Darwin actually studied theology at University. Wallace (born in Wales - had to get that in somewhere! ) tried to meld together his belief in Spiritualism with his scientific interests which put something of a strain on both!
    (Thankfully) the natural theology aspect of natural history did take quite a drubbing with the publication of the Origin of Species...not as much from Darwin himself, but those such as T. H. Huxley (who had the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog), Asa Gray (an American botanist...I'm a big fan of Mr. Gray, when I reenact, his text is my essential tome of botanical wisdom) and his other supporters...Huxley himself is attributed with the creation of the term agnosticism (I've seen it referenced in a few texts, but I've never looked into it beyond that). But the attachment of religion to science...I honestly think it was moving in the direction of disconnection already, Darwin was just the big shove it needed to get over the top of the hill.

    I will say this though...I've started reading up on the Spiritualist movement (because it was somewhat popular--as popular as any alternative among the upper/middle classes in the North during the latter half of the 1800's), particularly its connection to the early Feminist movement...and its really quite interesting...which in a round-about way can get me back on topic (I could seriously talk about natural history and early biology forever, I was born in the wrong century!).

    Sometimes its hard to find sources. Seriously. Unless its a journal article, my university doesn't have it. Hell, they don't even have JSTOR anyhow. And after I graduate in May, I won't have access to their computer library system to find articles anyhow...and most people are probably somewhere where they don't have university access. When I was younger, I could go to the library at the uni where my mom was getting her masters degree (this was in the early days of the internet), look something up, and go find it in the stacks. Today, you have to have a password for their computer system to even look something up, and they probably don't carry it any longer, because it can be had online.

    And books--I actually prefer secondary sources, since they've sort of done their work for me, and then I can (try to) track down the primary sources for them...but its hard to know if its good or not when you can't flip thru it (sure Google books can help there), but a lot of what I read up on has not been the biggest area of research, much less book publication. Most books are university publications, and that can be expensive. For example, I recently paid $50.00 for an e-book (the hard copy would have ran me $70 either used or from the publisher directly), and no library in the state had a copy, so I couldn't get it on loan...it was extremely useful, but was it really *worth* $50?
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  10. #10
    Supporter shadow1982's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Great thread, would have been very useful when studying for my History Degree. A couple of things to bear in mind when reading books written by historians, although I may be repeating what has already been said;

    What a historian is doing is putting forward his or her interpretation, based on scrupulous research in the sources. It is only a contribution to knowledge and will be subject to evaluation and criticisms by other historians. In order to know your history, it is important to also know your historian as they will all, to a greater or lesser degree, be taking up personal positions. Search engines are great for this, I will often google an author to get an idea of who they are and other writer/historians views on them.

    Also, try to read as many different things about one subject as you can get your hands on. This will help you form an idea of where many different writers agree and where someone may be way of the mark as far as others are concerned.

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