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Literature in English

Browse library materials for the study of literature in English

Interim Literature Librarian

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Abby Scheel
438 Doe Library

Additional Research Tools and Tips


Welcome to your digital handout for Prof. Otter's class on 19th century American poetry. This page has all instructions for walking you through the exploratory research process that we'll use in class. This page also points to other parts of this Literature in English guide for more information.

A. Finding Background Information


Not sure where to start?

  • Encyclopedias, introductory guides, and other reference tools provide you with a high level overview of your topic.
  • Look for key information (names, dates, movements, important works, etc.), themes, and keywords that will help you search for books and articles.
  • Encyclopedia entries will often include bibliographies to give you a head start on important scholarship.


  1. In the By Format section of this guide, click on Encyclopedias and Reference
  2. Click on Literature Online (LION).
  3. Search the name of one of the poets you've read in class.
  4. Narrow your results to Reference Works.
  5. Browse for an encyclopedia entry or biography.
  6. Answer the questions on your printed worksheet.

B. Finding Books


  • Books provide you with the breadth and depth of coverage needed to get you started.
  • (By contrast, journal articles may often be too narrow at the early stages of the research process.)
  • You can use one relevant book to find other relevant books.


  1. Go to UC Library Search, where you can find just about everything available at the library.
  2. Search for the book you identified in the "Finding Background Information" section.
  3. Use this book to find more books. Open the book's record, scroll down and click on a Subject link to search for books with that same subject OR use the Virtual Browse tool to look at books on the shelf nearby (these will be on a similar topic).
  4. Answer the questions on your printed worksheet.

C. Finding Peer-Reviewed Articles


  • Peer-reviewed articles address more focused topics.
  • The MLA International Bibliography is the premier database for finding literary criticism.


  1. In the By Format section of this guide, click on Articles.
  2. Click on MLA International Bibliography.
  3. Go to Advanced Search.
  4. Search for a peer-reviewed article on the poet you searched in section A. Finding Background Information or the terms you identified for keywords. Experiment with the Advanced Search features to see how you can maximize your results.
  5. Answer the first two questions on your printed sheet.
  6. Try the same search in UC Library Search
  7. Discuss the group reflection prompt on your printed sheet.

D. Finding Primary Sources


  • Primary sources can be any documentation from the period in question. Common primary documents are: diaries, letters, newspapers, photographs, and books.
  • The library offers millions of primary documents online AND in print at our amazing Bancroft Library and other special collections.
  • Poems in 19th century America were often published in newspapers and serials before appearing in books as part of anthologies or collected works.

INSTRUCTIONS (beginner level)

  1. Sarah Helen Whitman's poem "Retrospection" first appeared in the January 1829 issue of Ladies Magazine (1828-1829). To find this poem in the original, do a new search in UC Library Search for the magazine title like this (including quotes): "ladies magazine"
  2. Examine the 'Available Online' options to find one that offers the January 1829 issue. Navigate to that issue and open the full text of "Retrospective" (hint: the author is listed only as Helen).

INSTRUCTIONS (advanced level)

  1. Look in the reference article you found for section A. Finding Background Information for references to original publications of your author's works. Choose one original publication venue. This may be in a magazine (like the beginner level example above), a newspaper, a book,  or other source. 
  2. Use UC Library Search to see if we have that original publication online. For books, try searching by the book title. For publications in newspapers or magazines, try searching for the title of the newspaper or magazine inside of quotes (like the beginner level example above).