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Using AI Tools in Your Research

A continually-updated guide on using AI tools like ChatGPT in your research

Example: ChatGPT and Google Gemini

How can you use LLMs?

Text-based Generative AI tools can be useful for you when you are brainstorming topic ideas or trying to come up with keywords to use to search on a specific topic. Remember that these tools are not storehouses of knowledge: they are fluency-based text-language generators, and are using their training materials to deliver an answer.

ChatGPT cannot yet find specific peer-reviewed articles, but it can help you get ideas for how to search for scholarship. It can suggest keywords, search strings, and format citations. 

Example: I asked ChatGPT for some keywords to search for sources on the Conquest of Mexico. ChatGPT generated the following list, which is mostly fine until about the 15th option:

"Here are some keywords that you could use to research the conquest of Mexico (notes on results in red):

Hernán Cortés, Aztecs, Montezuma II, Spanish Conquest, Tenochtitlan, Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Conquistadors, New Spain, Mesoamerica, Nahuatl language, Mexica, Tlaxcala, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, La Malinche, (less-than-accurate keywords begin here): Francisco Pizarro (best known for expeditions that led to conquest of Peru - not Mexico), Inca Empire (The primary indigenous empire of Peru), Conquest of Peru, Colonialism (too broad), Imperialism (too broad), Indigenous resistance (too broad)"

You can prompt ChatGPT to be more specific in one or more areas, but note that the same will happen - a mix of good ideas, wrong ideas, and overly broad suggestions. 

In addition to ChatGPT, there are other AI tools that would be useful, and offer similar assistance with brainstorming.

I used the same prompt in Google Gemini. In May 2024, its results were more comprehensive than what was offered by ChatGPT.

"General Conquest of Mexico:

  • Aztec Empire & Spanish Conquest
  • Fall of Tenochtitlan
  • Hernán Cortés & Moctezuma II
  • Indigenous Resistance to Spanish Rule
  • Spanish Colonialism in Mexico
  • Mesoamerican Warfare
  • Epidemics in the Conquest of Mexico

Specific Themes:

  • Ecological Impact of the Conquest
  • Cultural Exchange & Syncretism
  • Gender & the Conquest
  • Role of Indigenous Allies
  • Religion & the Conquest
  • Historiography of the Conquest (How historians have studied the event)
  • Memory & Legacy of the Conquest

Languages:

  • If your scholarship is in Spanish, consider including:
    • Conquista de México
    • Imperio Azteca y Caída de Tenochtitlan"

It also offers the following advice:

"When searching for scholarship, it is more helpful to use databases of work by academic publishers, such as JSTOR, Project MUSE, and EBSCOhost. These databases will allow you to search for articles and books that have been published in scholarly journals and by academic presses.

Here are some additional tips for finding scholarship:

  • Read the introductions and conclusions of articles and books to get a sense of the main arguments being made.
  • Pay attention to the footnotes and bibliographies to find other sources that you can consult.
  • Be aware of the different perspectives - there is often no single "correct" interpretation of an event."

Co-Pilot

In response to the same prompt, Co-Pilot, available through Microsoft Bing and NU sign on, offers the most comprehensive answer, along with links to resources available on the internet. 

"The conquest of Mexico is a fascinating historical topic that has been studied extensively. Here are some keywords and themes you can use for your academic search:

  1. Aztecs: The indigenous civilization that was conquered by the Spanish. Understanding their culture, society, and political structure is crucial.
  2. Hernán Cortés: The Spanish conquistador who led the expedition to Mexico. His actions and interactions with the Aztecs are central to the conquest narrative.
  3. Tenochtitlan: The magnificent capital of the Aztec Empire, which was later renamed Mexico City. Its fall to the Spanish forces in 1521 was a pivotal moment.
  4. Indigenous Agency: Recent scholarship emphasizes the role of indigenous communities in shaping the outcome of the conquest. Investigate how they responded to the Spanish presence.
  5. Sources: Explore both Spanish and indigenous sources. Historians have increasingly drawn from indigenous perspectives to provide a more nuanced understanding of the events.
  6. New Conquest History: This approach recognizes that the conquest extended beyond the well-known dates (1519-1521) and considers the longer-term impact on Mexico.

For more in-depth information, you might want to explore the following resources:

Remember to explore both primary and secondary sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of this pivotal historical event. Happy researching! 📚🌎"