Graduate Guidance

Using your literature review to develop your own position

Cameron Byron

My dissertation explored geographical notions of affect and atmosphere in the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Over the course of my research I explored how there are affective encounters with maritime heritage, and how museum space is curated to evoke certain atmospheres. Engaging with existing literature was key to situating my project but also developing my own, original ideas. I utilised a range of literatures in my investigation including museum geographies and geographies of memory.

Whilst writing my literature review, as well as demonstrating I had read widely in my chosen topic, I was also actively thinking about the ways in which I could use the literature review process to show my own originality, developing that literature further. This I found, would help me to find my own voice, and allow me to take authority of the literature review. Whilst I was reading someone else’s work, I would always have my own (developing) research question and objectives in mind, to help me to forge a bridge between their ideas and my own.

I began by reading the literature and then asking myself how I might be able to re-work relevant ideas in a creative and original approach. For example, I found that discussions surrounding affect and materiality helped me to think through exploring the use of spatial design in asking the question of how affect becomes engineered within museum space. In my review, therefore, I made sure to assert where my own ideas – in the context of the Merseyside Maritime Museum – emerged out of these discussions. When it comes to actually writing this for your own review, I would advise on making sure you show a clear trajectory of how your ideas became influenced by, proceed, or diverge from existing ideas, by putting forth your own interpretations, opinions, or critiques. This will show how you have properly engaged with and utilised existing work.  

I also found it beneficial to think about how certain perspectives and ideas might interlink, such as museum geographies and the geographies of memory, in opening up new pathways of discussion. You may find that interlinking ideas can change the way you think about a certain space, or help you to develop or re-work existing understandings. For example, if you are undertaking a project that you are particularly passionate about or familiar with, you might find that engaging with the literature and interlinking it with related debates gives you a deeper insight into what you actually know about this topic. For example, if you play online games, you might have ideas and thoughts about evolving, changing or multiple platforms and player habits. Take these ideas, and then ask yourself what this can contribute or how they link to discussions surrounding online spaces and/or digital geographies. A literature review is hence a good opportunity for you to assert your own voice in the context of the existing discussions.