One of my best sleepover memories involves JSTOR, the amazing database you might have used for a C&C project or, if you’re like me, you frequent with search terms and curiosity. Some of you may be surprised or a lil grossed out by this. Who would want to read articles filled with unfortunate amounts of academic jargon for fun? Why get scholarly at a sleepover? If this is the case, I totally understand any bits of judgement. I personally have trouble with the fact that scholarly databases and articles are largely inaccessible; there are big words and complex theories and dense language that take some time to chew on, and often this removes them from a relevant and helpful context — not to mention how these databases have a paywall. Luckily our own library here at school and public libraries provide us with this resource so that the world of higher academia is not as limited and exclusive. Scholarly articles are valuable for learning in a lot of ways; they are writings that represent original research and exploration of a wide range subjects; they delve deep into specific topics with impressive amounts of analysis and references. JSTOR has tons of articles that explore worlds and books and concepts we are exposed to daily, some with enlightening specificity, some with pretentiousness and silliness we can laugh at, a lot with both — but all of them create a web of information and words that excite and inspire and are meant to be harnessed for any purpose you see fit.
“Dancing on Bela Lugosi’s Grave: The Politics and Aesthetics of Gothic Club Dancing” is an article I dug up at a sleepover one night. While scrolling through Tumblr my friend and I found ourselves laughing at a post about how “Goth privilege is not having to separate your laundry loads by color.” The next logical step was obviously to enter “goth identity politics” into JSTOR. The subject matter is a little silly, I must admit; parsing out a subculture and analyzing the role of Christian imagery for kids who are really into vampires is pretty funny; and so I did a dramatic reading of it much to the amusement of my friend. Another part of me though really admires these grad students and professors who will do extensive research and write long papers about anything and everything. It reminds me that there is so much to learn and be said about all that we interact with. Each article is a microcosm of our infinitely complex and strange world. And of course, JSTOR is full of articles of perhaps more relevance (sorry to place this sort of judgement value); about literature, feminism, science, art — you know, all that great stuff that creep their way into our brains and lives.
Reading scholarly articles instructs us about writing as well. What does the author do to illustrate complex ideas that I find digestible and relevant? What pieces of information are essential and play a key role in their analytical argument? What are the different ways they explore and address their thesis? Papers can go in various directions; they can follow rules, break them, they can be organized or all over the place, and each option has its pros and cons. Watch out, English teachers, you may be getting an essay that disregards the five-paragraph format sometime soon.
It’s also amazing just how much information is on this five-letter database. So many intellectual pathways to take when discussing just one line of Shakespeare! People have so many ideas about the importance of monsters and ghosts! There is so much historical context to Kanye West’s lyrical choices! JSTOR reminds me that so much out there is fascinating, that there are worlds behind even a small two-word phrase I’ve underlined in a book.
So whether you are doing research for a class or fulfilling your brain’s desire to learn and read, JSTOR is a great database to use. It isn’t brilliant because it is full of genius authors (although it has some of those too), but it is brilliant because of you. You are magical because you care about the contents of the articles you are reading and you want to learn, and because you can articulate the takeaways (whatever you happened to take away; there is no right and wrong way of reading) in an accessible and important way. Let’s transform scholarship to be whatever we want it to be; to help us with research papers, to make us laugh, to inspire us, or anything else.
By Kiana B. ’16