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This guide was created for Dr. Wilson’s American Literature I class (ENGL 2206, Fall 2017), so it focuses on earlier American literature, but most of the resources will be useful for all periods, and I've updated it for his American Literature II class in March 2018. Please see the Reference librarian for assistance with your specific topic, or to order books or articles on interlibrary loan.
Reference books are often the best place to start your research. They provide background, and often have bibliographies that will lead you to other useful sources.
The Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online (380 volumes as of 2017) is an excellent source of information on authors. Use the “Advanced” search. If you prefer a hard copy, we have about 80 volumes of the DLB in print; see the reference librarian
We also have reference books on the Main Level of Lewis Library, including:
Books on American Literature are in the PS area (both in Reference and in the “Stacks”--books available for checkout--on the lower level).
You may also want to consult reference works that deal with American history and life, rather than literature. Ask the reference librarian for help on your specific area of interest. The following is just a sampling:
You may also want to try the Gale Virtual Reference Library, which provides searchable PDF full text for the Dictionary of American History and other multi-volume reference books. It’s good for topics like witchcraft in America or Puritanism. Another database with full text of reference books is Oxford Reference Online.
Use our online catalog to find books, e-books, videos, and CDs.
For books about an author, do a “Subject” search. If you want critical works, go to a catalog record and click on the link that says, e.g.:
For books on other topics, you can try a “Words or phrase” search, but note the “Subject” headings in the catalog record, which may not be what you can expect. For example, the subject heading for Native Americans is “Indians of North America”; the subject heading for gender roles is “Sex role.”
See this page for tips on determining the subject heading for your topic.
Remember when you type search terms in the catalog that you’re not searching the full text of the book, just the catalog record. Thus, to find books that discuss Margaret Fuller’s “The Great Lawsuit,” do a “Subject” search for Margaret Fuller, then look in the index for the pages that cover “The Great Lawsuit.”
To find books in the Twayne’s Authors Series, add “twayne” to the “Words or phrase” box. We have Twayne volumes for many American authors, including:
Use GALILEO to find articles from journals, magazines, or newspapers.
The “Search GALILEO” box on the library’s home page searches many but not all of our databases. Often it’s easier and more efficient to search a specific database. To access a database, click on “View all Databases” in the GALILEO box, or click here; or try one of the links below.
MLA International Bibliography – the most complete database for literature journals. Unfortunately this database has no abstracts (summaries of what the article is about), so the computer searches only the title and subject headings for the words you type in. Again, note the database’s subject terms (“sex roles,” “cultural identity” etc.).
America: History & Life – a good database if you’re looking for articles on American history and civilization.
Academic Search Complete – a good “general” database which covers many disciplines, and includes both scholarly journals and magazines; if you want only scholarly journal articles, click on the box that says “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.” This database does provide abstracts.
JSTOR – has full text articles from scholarly journals in literature, history, and other subjects. Use the “Advanced search” to select the subjects you want to search (“Language & Literature,” “History,” “African American Studies,” etc.). Unlike most databases, JSTOR searches the full text of articles; enclose phrases in quotation marks, e.g. “the scarlet letter.”
Project Muse – also has full text articles from scholarly journals in many disciplines
If you’re not familiar with database searching (as opposed to Googling), please don’t hesitate to ask a librarian for help; or use these links to view our library guides on database basics and Boolean operators. Avoid typing long phrases like "the individual's relationship to society."
If the database you search doesn’t provide a link to the full text, see or e-mail a librarian. We may have the journal on our shelves (we have print subscriptions to American Literature, Explicator, and other literature journals), or we can order it for you on interlibrary loan.
If you have a citation from a bibliography, you can use Journal Locator to determine whether we have full text in a database, or our Periodical Holdings to see if we have it in print (or, again, ask a librarian).