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Anthropology: ANTH 323

A research guide for students in Dr. Tessa Farmer's ANTH 323 course.

ANTH 323: Researching Commodities

Welcome, ANTH 323 students! This guide has been specifically developed to help you with your Commodity Project. The following information resources will help you locate credible and reliable information. Not everything on the page may be relevent to your specific, chosen commodity but it will get you started on the right path and (hopefully) help you to contextualize your subject in a meaningful way. (Image source: schill on Flickr, CC by-nc)

If you have any questions, contact Nick Velkavrh or John Jackson.

A Good Place to Start: Global Issues in Context

A good place to begin your research and to develop a context for your commodity is our Global Issues In Context database. GIC offers international viewpoints on a broad spectrum of global issues, topics, and current events. It brings together a variety of sources for analysis of social, political, military, economic, environmental, health, and cultural issues.

Try searching for your commidity, e.g. "bananas" or "natural gas", and then use the subject headings to the left of your search results to narrow your research. GIC works best when using a "top down" approach to searching: start broad with one or two search terms and then narrow down as you go along using the limiters provided in the sidebar.


Finding Government Publications

coffee harvester

Government websites are an extremely valuable resource for locating reliable statistical information, data, and reports. Below are a few recommended websites for commodities produced in the United States. In all of these cases, look for sub-pages on "Research" or "Publications" to find in-depth reports.

For commodities produced outside the U.S., try to locate the home country's relevant governmental agency. For example, to find information on rice production in Australia, you may want to check out Australia's Department of Agriculture. You can also try some of the international websites recommended below. (Image source: noodlepie on Flickr, CC by-nc)

The following links will be helpful for locating international data and statistics (including the United States) on a wide range of topics related to health, industry, trade, education, social conditions, technology, development, and more.

Finding Articles

Depending on the type of information you're searching for (environmental impact, social impact, economic factors, industry information, etc.), you will likely need to search multiple databases in order to develop a well-rounded perspective on your commodity. Below are the databases we recommend and the type of information they contain, as well as some examples of how to search them.

Search Tips for GreenFile:

  • Search by subject instead of keyword by using the "Subject Terms" tab at the top.
    • Example: "gas industry" instead of just "gas"
  • Use the OR/AND operators to include all possible terms in your search.
    • Example: Hydraulic fracturing OR fracking
    • Example: natural gas AND [Subject=] “environmental aspects” OR “environmental impact analysis”

Here are two examples of the type of information you can find in GreenFile:

  1. Something specific: Schafft, K. A., Glenna, L. L., Green, B., & Borlu, Y. (2014). Local impacts of unconventional gas development within Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Region: Gauging boomtown development through the perspectives of educational administrators. Society & Natural Resources, 27(4), 389-404. doi:10.1080/08941920.2013.861561
  2. Something broad: Clark, C. E., Burnham, A. J., Harto, C. B., & Horner, R. M. (2012). Introduction: The technology and policy of hydraulic fracturing and potential environmental impacts of shale gas development. Environmental Practice, 14(4), 249-261. doi:10.1017/S1466046612000415

Search Tips for EconLit:

  • Select the title of an item that appears relevant and use the "Descriptors" to find additional articles on that topic. For example, after searching for "natural gas AND labor" (by keyword), you can find this article:

Brown, J. P. (2014). Production of natural gas from shale in local economies: A resource blessing or curse? Federal Reserve Bank Of Kansas City Economic Review, 99(1), 119-147.

Notice the descriptors. You can click on any of these to find more info on the mining, extraction, and refining of hydrocarbon fuels.

Finding Company Info through LexisNexis

In addition to finding newspaper articles and legal case files, LexisNexis can help you locate company profiles. It can be a great source for identifying other companies that work with a specific commodity.

  1. From the homepage, select "Search By Content Type" and then "Dossier(Company, Executive, & Industry)"
  2. Select the "Industry" tab and enter a term, such as “natural gas” and select "Find"
  3. From the list of results, find the 2-4 digit SIC code that corresponds to the types of companies you're looking for, e.g. "4925 Gas production and/or distribution"
  4. Select an SIC category from the list to view an overview of the industry.

You can also use the SIC code to find companies within that industry.

  1. From the homepage, select "Search By Content Type" and then "Dossier(Company, Executive, & Industry)"
  2. Select "Create a Company List"
  3. Enter the SIC Code and select "Create." You could additionally limit your list by geographic location.

Subject Headings (Books)

Books are useful for finding deep, thoughtful approaches to a topic. However, unlike articles you often cannot search the full-text of a book online. Instead, use the Subject Headings when searching the library catalog to determine whether a book may contain information on your commodity. The subject headings are located at the bottow of a books record. You can select them for find more books on that topic:

For example, these subject headings will help you find books on commodities:

And these subject headings will help you find books on specific products:

These are just a few examples. Remember to think about how your commodity is extracted, where it is found, and the effects it has on people and the environment to determine the best search terms to use in your research. Note: The Subject Headings may not always be what you expect. For example, on this book, the subject headings are "Coffee Industry", "Tea Trade", and "Cocoa" (whereas, most students would search for simply "coffee", "tea", and "chocolate").