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University of Wisconsin - Madison Libraries

Research Guides

Vernacular Architecture Research Guide : Getting Started

Starting research

This page suggests a step-by-step procedure for researching a vernacular architecture topic.

Explore the remainder of this guide for more comprehensive options and suggestions.

Step One

The Vernacular Architecture Forum Zotero group bibliography includes citations for books, articles, and other publications recommended by members of the VAF:
Use the search function to find a word or phrase in the list.  (e.g. bungalow)

For older citations which might not yet be contained in the group bibliography above, see a text document at:
Use your browser's search function to find a word or phrase in the list.  (e.g. bungalow)

Together, these bibliographies provide excellent coverage of the current scholarly research on vernacular architecture.  Begin to explore your topic here.

Once you've located a useful citation on your desired topic:
1.  analyze the citation to determine the type of publication described
2.  search the appropriate UW-Madison catalogues to determine if the publication is available

    •  if the source is a book, search the UW-Madison Library Catalog (or System Search or WorldCat).
    •  if the source is an article, try Citation Search for article title or journal title.
    •  for dissertations, try searching ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text or ask a librarian for assistance.

Step Two

Broaden your search to identify other relevant books.

Take advantage of Library of Congress subject headings. 
•   Search the UW-Madison Library Catalog or WorldCat for a book you learned about via the Vernacular Architecture bibliographies.
•   Notice subject headings assigned to that book.
•   Locate other books given the same subject headings and evaluate their usefulness.

Analyze the terminology used within titles and subjects you've identified so far.  Are you noticing synonyms or alternative terms you hadn't previously considered?
•   Try additional searches using these alternative terms.

Step Three

Broaden your search to identify other relevant articles.

Use citation title words, subject headings, or other terminology you've developed for your searches up to this point to query key journal databases.  Search the following databases as a start:

1) America: History and Life (for North American history) OR Historical Abstracts (for world history elsewhere than North America)

2) Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals

3) Design and Applied Arts Index 

(Additional database options are listed under the "Find Articles" section of this guide.)


Following is an example of research conducted according to the above-suggested process:

Say you're interested in old-fashioned dime stores but don't know where to start searching.

Step 1)  Searching for the broad general title word "stores" in the older Vernacular Architecture bibliography retrieves a citation for
      Thomas, Bernice L.
      America's 5 and 10 Cent Stores: The Kress Legacy
      New York, NY: Wiley, 1997

Step 2)  Since this is a book, search our Library Catalog to see if we own this book--and we do:
Notice a subject heading assigned to that book is: Variety stores--United States

Click the hotlinked subject to find more OR conduct a new search for the phrase "variety stores" to find even more.

Step 3) Searching for the term "variety stores" in the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals retrieves citations for a review of the original book and two additional related articles.

As you work your way through the process, note other terms and names that might also be worth searching:  "10 cent store," "dime store," "S.S. Kresge Company," "F. W. Woolworth Company," etc.  

Library Catalog

Search the UW-Madison Library Catalog

Citation Search

Locate journals and articles when you have a citation using Citation Search.