Humanities: Grey Literature

From dance notation and sheet music to preprints, grey literature can be found across humanities areas.

Read Hagood, Jonathan (April 1, 2012). A brief introduction to data mining projects in the humanities. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 20-23.

Grey Literature Specific to Humanities

Some types of grey literature have particular meaning within a discipline while others are similar cross fields.

Art and Art Reproductions

Many websites and subscription databases provide access to art and art reproductions.

For example, ArtSource from EBSCO Host has the option to search by the category of art representation such as Monet art reproduction.


Briefs are used in different ways depending on the discipline.


While the subscription-based dissertation finders work well, there are also focused resources. For instance, Music Theory Online (MTO) Dissertation Index. This is a good place for a list of recent music dissertations, however other tools must be used to locate the dissertations themselves.

Read Dougan, Kirstin (2011). Dissertations in the electronic age: tapping into emerging musicology research. Music Reference Services Quarterly, 14, 109-130.

Movement Notation Systems and Dance Sheets

Movement notation systems are used to produce sheets which are similar in format to sheet music, but is specific to dance. Other names include choreography sheets, choreography sheet music, cue sheets and step sheets. According to Sutton, "dance writing is a way to read and write any kind of dance movement. A stick figure drawing is written on a five-lined staff. Each line of the staff represents a specific level."

Read Sutton DanceWriting to get a sense for this form of notation and dance sheets.

Explore the following examples of movement notation styles.

Movement notation systems are also available for mime, gymnastics, ice skating, karate, and other types of movement. While some choreographers use movement notations, others simply create text-based sheets of directions.

Explore some examples of dance or cue sheets.

try itTry It!
Explore dance notation systems. This is a fascinating area unique to dance.

Music Notation Systems and Sheet Music

Music notation is a system of symbols is used to create sheet music. This music may be printed in a book form, but it's often shared as individual sheets or as pamphlets. The links contains sheet music collections

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Go to the Online Digital Musical Document Libraries from Wikipedia. Visit music libraries and explore the wide range of musical documents available. What surprised you?

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Librarians often must deal with works written in dance, music, or other types of notation. Explore a type of notation you don't know much about. Describe the notation and provide an example.

Scenario Stumper
I'm looking for some modern music for violin and piano that's in the public domain. I'd like a piece that's 5-10 minutes in length.
Let's explore IMSLP: Petrucci Music Library. We can do searches by duration, piece style, and instrumentation.
The Bottom Line... there are lots of options, but how about Distant Shadow for Violin and Piano by Nobuyoshi Tanaka. It's a modern piece and 7 minutes long. It holds a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Treatise are detailed essays focusing on a particular topic of issue. They may be scholarly or aimed at practitioners. Some examples include:

Art and Architecture

Scenario Stumper
I'm taking an advanced painting course and we're required to read Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting. This is supposed to inform our next work. Can you help?
There are many places on the web where you can download and read the treatise. However in addition to reading it, you may also want to explore some interpretations and projects related to the treatise to help with your project. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci and his Treatise on Painting is an entire website on the treatise with lots of insights.
The Bottom Line... it's important to remember that the treatise was actually compiled by Francesco Melzi, one of Leonardo's pupils in the mid 16th century. However it still had a tremendous influence.


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Many historical treatise are available through digital collections such as Archive and Hathitrust. Do a search for a treatise in a humanities area such as art, architecture, music, philosophy, or religion. Share the treatise and how you found it.

Working Papers and PrePrints

Working papers and preprints are used to access documents prior to publication.

Other Examples

Scenario Stumper
I'm in a linguistic program studying the endangered language of Native Americans of the Plains and Mountain regions such Arapaho. I'm not finding much using traditional databases. Do you have suggestions?
Let's try some grey literature sites. The Endangered Language Archive houses a wide range of documents related to this topic. Users can search by language such as Arapaho or browse the project titles.
The Bottom Line... specialty grey literature databases are perfect for this type of research. There's an exciting project called Arapaho Text Corpus that should get you started. Be sure to click RESOURCES under the project title to explore the resources.

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Go to visit CogPrints: Philosophy and Philosopher's Imprint. Browse the recent additions. List a citation for a philosophy paper you found. Describe the type of document and why you think it's found in this grey literature repository. How do you envision users making use of this database?

Institutional Repositories in Humanities

Institutional repositories have become a popular home for grey literature. Some examples are provided below:

Institutional Repositories


Read Seaman, David (2011). Discovering the information needs of humanists when planning an institutional repository. D-Lib Magazine. Available: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march11/seaman/03seaman.html

try itTry It!
Explore the institutional repositories above. Then, do a Google search for more such as art institutional repository or music institutional repository. Compare the types of materials that are found in the art, music, and philosophy/religion areas. How are they alike and different? List a repository you located, the URL, and few examples of the types of information sources located in the repository.

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