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English Research Guide: American Literature

This online guide contains helpful resources and tips to assist students taking English courses at LaGrange College with easier access to the library's materials.

Welcome

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

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:

  • American Writers (REF PS 129 .A55, 18 volumes including Supplements)
  • Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (REF PS 21 .E537 2004, 4 vols.)
  • American Women Writers:  A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present (REF PS 147 .A422 2000, 4 vols.)
  • African American Writers (REF PS 153 .N500 A344 2001, 2 vols.)
  • Native North American Literature (REF PS 508 .I5 N38 1994)
  • Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature (REF PN 471 .W455 2004)
  • American Writers before 1800 (REF PS 185 .A4 1983, 3 vols.)
  • Fifty Southern Writers before 1900 (REF PS 261 .F54 1987) and Fifty Southern Writers after 1900 (REF PS 261 .F543 1987)
  • Short Story Criticism (REF PN 3373 .S56):  We have 74 volumes; the last volume has an Author index, vol. 42 has a cumulative title index.  (Some entries are abridged versions of a book or journal article; a librarian can help you look for you the unabridged original, or you can check the online catalog for books or Journal Locator for journal articles.)
  • The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism (REF PN 81 .J554 2005)
  • MLA Handbook 8th edition (REF LB 2369 .G53 2016b; for online information about MLA style, see the Purdue OWL)

 

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:

  • Dictionary of American History (REF E 174 .D522 2003, 10 vols.)
  • Historical Dictionary of Colonial America (REF E 188 .P45 2011)
  • Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century (REF E 169.1 .E626 2001, 3 vols.)
  • Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895, from the Colonial period to the Age of Frederick Douglass (REF E 185 .E545 2006, 3 vols.)

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.

Online Catalog

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.:

            Fuller, Margaret, 1810-1850--Criticism and interpretation.

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:

  • Anne Bradstreet (call number PS712 .P5 1965)
  • Raymond Carver (PS3553 .A7894 Z77 1994)
  • Kate Chopin (PS1294 .C63 S55 1985)
  • Stephen Crane (PS1449 .C85 Z575)
  • E.E. Cummings (PS3505 .U334 Z75)
  • T.S. Eliot (PS3509 .L43 Z682)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (PS1631 .S68)
  • William Faulkner (PS3511 .A86 Z79 1966)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald (PS3511 .I9 Z6)
  • Robert Frost (PS3511 .R94 Z66)
  • Margaret Fuller (PS2506 .B7)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman (PS1744 .G57 Z85 1985)
  • Allen Ginsberg (PS3513 .I74 Z8)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (PS1881 .M28 1965)
  • Langston Hughes (PS3515 .U274 Z6)
  • Jack London (Twayne Studies in Short Fiction, PS3523 .O46 Z866 1999)
  • Herman Melville (PS2386 .H5 1963)
  • Marianne Moore (PS3525 .O5616 Z65)
  • Frank Norris (PS2473 .F7)
  • Joyce Carol Oates (PS3565 .A8 Z6)
  • Sylvia Plath (PS3566 .L27 Z58 1978)
  • Edgar Allan Poe (PS2631 .B8 1961)
  • Wallace Stevens (PS3537 .T4753 Z6216)
  • Jean Toomer (PS3539 .O478 Z57)
  • John Updike (PS3571 .P4 Z76 1993)
  • Eudora Welty:  A Study of the Short Fiction (PS3545 .E6 Z73 1997)

 

Journal Databases

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).

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