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English 102 (Writing About Literature) Research Guide: Historical/Cultural Assignment

Use this guide to find articles about authors and their works! We also have tips for citing sources in MLA style.

Historical/Cultural Assignment


Select a text from the syllabus and locate that text in an historical moment.

  • Use references sources to find background information on the topic
  • Find print sources that focus on the topic
  • How has history treated the topic?
  • Use primary sources (newspapers) to learn about political or social conversations that influenced the author of the text and/or public opinion about the topic
  • Find biographical information on the author, including interviews and speeches
  • Find credible web sites--look for "official" author sites
    • HINT: library resources often provide reputable web sites

Finding Biographical Information on an Author

  1. Start with Literature Resource Center under the Literature Databases tab--do a Person Search--see the Biographies link under Content Types in the right-hand column
    1. To find interviews, scroll to the Document Type in the right-hand column, OR go to Advanced Search/Document Type/Interview and search the author
    2. In Advanced Search, under Document Type, use the Control key to select both Interview and Biography in the same search
  2. In MagillOnLiterature Plus, go to Record Type and limit the search to Author Biographies--search the author
  3. Look for biographical information in the recommended literary reference sources on this guide--start with Short Stories for Students, Poetry for Students, or Drama for Students
  4. In the catalog, conduct a keyword search using the author's name and the word "biography"

Suggested Subject Headings

Search the catalog by subject or use these words in keyword searches--they are always good search terms

Language is complicated and changes over time--think about all the possible words that might express your topic

For example, historical newspaper articles may use terms such as "colored" or "negro" whereas the accepted terminology today is African Americans

  • Vietnam Conflict
  • Vietnamese Conflict
  • Vietnam War
  • Kent State Shootings
  • Ireland--history
  • Ireland--history--War of Independence, 1919-1921
  • Hitler, Adolf
  • Holocaust, Jewish
  • Germany--History
  • Germany--Ethnic relations
  • National socialism
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Refugees, Jewish
  • Capital punishment
  • Jury--United States
  • Verdicts--United States
  • Race discrimination--United States
  • Discrimination in criminal justice administration--United States
  • African Americans--Employment
  • African Americans--Education
  • African Americans--Economic conditions
  • African Americans--Social conditions
  • School integration
  • Discrimination in education
  • Discrimination in housing
  • African Americans--Segregation
  • United States--Race relations
  • Housing--United States
  • Indians of North America
  • Nineteen sixties (or fifties)
  • United States--History--1961-1969 (or 1953-1961)
  • United States--Social conditions--1960-1980 (or 1945-)
  • Abortion
  • Slaves--Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.)
  • Slavery--Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.)
  • Slave insurrections--Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.)
  • Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.)--Race relations
  • Bombings--Alabama
  • Civil Rights Movements--Alabama
  • African Americans--Civil rights
  • Poverty--United States
  • Poor--United States
  • Public housing
  • Low-income housing

Finding Historical Newspaper Articles

Use these historical newspaper databases to find newspaper articles.

Instructions for reading a newspaper from the front page

  1. Open one of the historical newspaper databases above--they open in a new window
  2. Create a search in the Advanced Search screen
  3. Under Date Range, select an appropriate date range
    1. Type a year in each window for a range and ProQuest will change the dates to 1/1 through 12/31 of those years
  4. Click the Search button
  5. Click on the Page Map link for an interesting article with an early page (p. 1, p. 2, etc.)
  6. On top/right of the page, click on the Previous link until you get to page 1 (the front page of the newspaper) or use the drop down arrow and choose page 1
  7. From this view, you can hover over an article, see the title, and open up that article
  8. In the yellow box on the right, click on the link for Page Image - PDF to see the paper in larger print
  9. Click on the Next link on the top/right to see page 2

Begin with Selected Literary Reference Sources

Each of the following titles provides biographical information on authors, themes, and historical context of the literary works covered.

See additional literary reference sources under the tabs for:

  • Poetry Resources
  • Drama Resources
  • Fiction Resources

Suggested Reference Sources

Use these reference sources to find historical background information on your topic.  Browse the shelf near the suggested source to find other sources.

General databases (all subjects)

Use these general databases to find articles on the historical context of your work.