A Serendipitous Search

When I need to find an article, or do research for any kind of paper or project, I always start in the same place: Google Scholar. The great thing about starting there is how focused the search field is. When you search through Google Scholar, all your results are scholarly, you are directed to reliable databases and citations and you don’t have to wade through mountains of arbitrary websites. It is still, however, a Google search and a certain amount of wading through unrelated results is unavoidable.

Flowchart, courtesy of LucidChart.com

I started at Google Scholar and set my search parameters to not include patents because that would keep really arbitrary and obscure things like patents by people named Sidney or Lanier from popping up. Then I searched “Sidney Lanier” because he is currently obscure enough that I hoped not too many odd things would come up, but I would still have a relatively wide variety of topics and keywords used in articles to choose from. This lead to my first discovery within the first page or two. I found a book (via Find It) in the library and the catalog number placed it in the stacks on D-Level. Since I was in the library at the time, I decided to go down into the depths and find the book. It was in the PQ section, which has both blue and white labels and I always go to the wrong one first. When I finally found it, I flipped through it and realized that it wasn’t going to be a particularly useful text for my topics. It was much more biography than critical review.

So I left the book on D-Level and headed back to my Google Scholar search. In the next couple of pages, I found a promising link to an article archived on JSTOR. When writing research papers for past classes, JSTOR has been my best friend, so I clicked over there and found an interesting text that comments on Lanier’s work as it relates to his life and when he wrote it, which fits very well with my interest in his time at Hopkins and the progression of his work out of the canon after his death. The article is called “How Time Has Served Two Southern Poets: Paul Hamilton Hayne and Sidney Lanier” by Thomas Daniel Young and although it also comments on Paul Hamilton Hayne, there are some lovely insights into Lanier. So I downloaded the pdf, because I was logged in through the JHU internet connection.

I doubt I would have found this article through a standard Google search or through a specific JSTOR search because of the way the title is phrased. Serendipity can be your best friend or your worst enemy when researching, but it has often served me quite well.

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