What Is He Reading?!

kidsreading“A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research. Research tells a story and the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward.”  (University of Michigan Libraries Research Guides, “The Literature Review: For Dissertation”)


  • Identifies gaps in current knowledge
  • Helps you to avoid reinventing the wheel by discovering the research already conducted on a topic
  • Sets the background on what has been explored on a topic so far
  • Increases your breadth of knowledge in your area of research
  • Helps you identify seminal works in your area
  • Allows you to provide the intellectual context for your work and position your research with other, related research
  • Provides you with opposing viewpoints
  • Helps you to discover research methods which may be applicable to your work (all points from ibid.)


In any discussion of how a dissertation becomes a book—which is almost always the step that a student in the humanities will take in order to get tenure as a professor or to share one’s work with the world—young scholars are told that the literature review is no more than a professional proving ground, that it frames the knowledge of the major academic arguments that the person writing a dissertation is qualified to profess; but beyond that, we are advised (and advise others) to do away with the literature review.

Of course, that’s not always good advice, especially now that a growing contingent of new humanities PhDs engage in cross-, trans-, and interdisciplinary research, such that something very much like a literature review might serve to locate the potentially diverse audiences’ understandings of the sort of disciplinary synthesis or breakthrough occurring in cutting edge research. But even if the vast majority of professors and “how to write a dissertation/book” books are quite clear on their desire to murder the literature review, for many, the lit. review represents an integral part of our academic biography. Literature reviews—which might wind up as deleted code or otherwise are broken up and used to suture up awkward readings that assume the knowledge previously embedded in the absent lit. review—are a way of indicating to readers where one has been. They are a brief map of where the writer (and maybe the reader) has been, and often where the writer (and reader) will be going in the pages to follow.

Whatever the status of my own lit. review in the coming years, I’ve turned this section of my website into an archive of my own reading history. Admittedly, this is less a lit. review in the traditional sense and more a bibliography  of my academic thinking over time. This will allow me to more easily reflect on, and track, my academic progress, and will also allow others to both see what I have read (i.e. where I’ve been) and to recommend future readings (i.e. where I could go). To accomplish this self-tracking, I’ve taken to creating a series of monthly posts that I call What Is He Reading?! and which I have organized in reverse chronological order.


Pre-Comps Years

What Is He Reading?! 2.4 (Apr-Jun 2016)

What Is He Reading?! 2.3 (Mar 2016)

What Is He Reading?! 2.2 (Feb 2016)

What Is He Reading?! 2.1 (Jan 2016)

What Is He Reading?! 1.4 (Dec 2015)

What Is He Reading?! 1.3 (Nov 2015)

What Is He Reading?! 1.2 (Oct 2015)

What Is He Reading?! 1.1 (Sept 2015)


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