Literature Review: Ireland and the Caribbean

I reached a milestone in my post-PhD life this week, I finally submitted a book proposal to a university press. The proposal took ages, partly because the first press I chose to pitch to requires a very detailed proposal. Some presses just ask for a short summary of the proposed book, often followed up with a sample chapter. But to pitch to my favoured press, I had to write detailed summaries of each chapter, and more. I think this worked in my favour though, because it made me think hard about my argument and narrative, and how I would unfold those over the course of the book. 

I also want to include a literature review in the book. I started out doing a lit review for my own purposes as I had a hunch about where I think the scholarship in the field should be heading, but wanted to assure myself that this argument makes sense, and that I’m right to say ‘no-one in the field is already doing this’. Cue a multi-week review of the literature. I now have a spreadsheet with a line for each 80+ publication in the field, including history and literary scholarship, in the English language, and covering Irish involvement across the Caribbean from the early modern era to about 1840. I also have a long roll of paper with my notes on how the field has progressed over the years.

There was more literature than I thought. Unfortunately though, most of it is behind the academic paywall. It’s either journal articles or chapters in edited collections. These collections are usually published by academic presses and the books are outrageously expensive, including this one that I contributed to. To access the articles and these edited collections, you really need access to a University library. There are a few monographs out there, but you need to know what you’re looking for to find them. 

Literature reviews usually belong in theses, to show you’ve read widely and understand your field and to describe where your own work fits. But a comprehensive review hasn’t been published in my field, ever, and it’s a useful way of understanding the trajectory of the field. We’ll see whether my prospective publisher agrees to including a review in the introduction. 

For advice on writing a lit review, visit Pat Thomson’s blog here.

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