American Political Oratory and Its Contexts

Kennedy/Nixon television debate, 1960

IC Library Print & Media Resources

Recommended Subject Searches

   For an American president--or any other politician--the most detailed information will probably be found in resources devoted to that individual.  So begin by running a Subject search on the name--last name first:

Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963

   The name-as-Subject will retrieve the bulk of the materials, but be sure to browse the available subheadings for the name, some of which might refer to political oratory:

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Addresses, sermons, etc.
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973--Inauguration
Obama, Barack--Language
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Oratory
Washington, George, 1732-1799. Farewell address

   A parituclar president may also be included under more general Subject Headings:

Presidents--United States--Inaugural addresses
Presidents--United States--Inauguration
Presidents--United States--Language
Presidents--United States--Language--History
Presidents--United States--Messages
Presidents--United States--Press conferences

Presidents--United States--Election
   This Heading can be subdivided by date: Presidents--United States--Election--2008
Presidents--United States
Presidents--United States--History

   For other politicians use the name search but vary the office:

Spitzer, Eliot
Governors--New York (State)--Biography

   The speeches of politicians at every level may be covered in more general works on political oratory:

Political oratory
Political oratory--United States
Oratory--United States--History
Rhetoric--Political aspects
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States--History
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States--History--18th century
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States--History--19th century
Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States--History--20th century
Communication in politics--United States
Communication in politics--United States--History--20th century
Mass media--Political aspects--United States
Political campaigns--United States
Campaign management--United States
Advertising, Political--United States
Speeches, addresses, etc., American
Speeches, addresses, etc., American--History and criticism
English language--United States--Rhetoric

   Other Subject Headings relevant to the context of a particular speech will depend on the time, place, and occasion.  For George Washington, the American Revolution would be relevant; for Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War; for Franklin Roosevelt the Great Depression; for Barak Obama the global financial crisis.

   For more general coverage of particular eras, try these Subject Headings, each of which will be extensively subdivided by date range:

United States--Politics and government [subdivided by date]
United States--History  [subdivided by date]
United States--Social conditions  [subdivided by date]

   And for a handful of resources on the art and ethics of an apology:


IC Library Databases (Articles)

Recommended Databases

    America: History and Life : In addition to searching politicians and presidents by name as Subject searches, this database can be invaluable because it allows you to set a "Historical Period" limit (below the search slots on the left).  If you set this for 1864-1865, any Subjects or Keywords you enter above will retrieve articles on that topic as it played out during the two-year period around Lincoln's second inaugural address.  But: be aware that setting a Period limit of 1864-1865 will also retrieve any Period that contains those 2 years: 1840-1880 or even 1800-1900.
       Be sure to set the "Document Type" limit to "Article" to weed out all the many book reviews that will otherwise clot your search for articles.
          There's a good deal of full text here, but where there isn't be sure to use the "Find Full Text" link below citations to see if another IC database can supply it.

     New York Times (1851-2009)  gives access to the full text of the New York Times 1851-2006: potentially every politician and president back to Millard Fillmore. Reset the default search of "citation and document text" to "citation and abstract" (since this is a Keyword search of 100% full text, you are likely to generate too many passing mentions of your search terms if you search all the text; first try the more focused "citation and abstract" search and only broaden it to "document text" if you retrieve too few hits). 
     Use the "date range" limits to target the primary sources available here--contemporary reports. Without a date range limit you may retrieve hundreds of articles written decades after the events they discuss.
     User Advisory: when searching for materials from earlier eras, be aware that language changes over time.  For example, the term African American was not in use before about 1970; before that time articles used the terms black, negro, or colored.  Even place names can change: to find articles on Lincoln's Gettysburg address, you would need to spell Gettysburg as Gettysburgh.

     General OneFile : is the most user-friendly of our comprehensive databases, covering almost any topic from a wide range of disciplinary angles and offering lots of full text.  Use the "Browse Subjects" search to find the best subject heading for your topic (and when you find a good one be sure to look at the "Related Subjects" to see if there's something even better).  For this topic you might try "Inaugural Addresses," "Political Oratory," or, for more context "Inauguration Days."  More specifically, enter the name of a president of politician, last name first.
     When you settle on a subject heading, open the "Subdivisions" link below it.  Most General OneFile subject searchs produce very large retrievals and the "subdivisions" help you narrow your search to a particular aspect: For individual politicians like Richard Nixon, you may be able to choose Speeches, Quotations, Public Relations, Interviews, Psychological Aspects, and Behavior.
      If the best available Subject or Subdivision is still too broad, open it and add your own Keywords in the "Search within these results" slot at the upper left.
     User Advisory: When first viewing your retrievals in General OneFile, note that you are seeing onlythe "Magazines" (popular articles) and must click on the tabs for "Academic Journals" (scholarly articles) or "News" (newspaper articles) to see those results.

     ProQuest Research Library : is another comprehensive database with substantial full text.  Use the "Thesaurus" (above the search slots) to preview what Subject Headings are available.  Subect searching can be a more efficient way to search than with only Keywords, since it guarantees that the articles retrieved actually be about the Subject--not just use a particular word. 
     Note that to the right of your search results you can limit your retrieval by "Source Type" (including Magazines, Newspapers, Scholarly Journals),  "Document Type," (including Cover Story, Editorial, or Interview), "Document Feature" (including Photographs, Illustrations), and "Location."
     Above each set of articles you retrieve ProQuest will display related Subject searches to help either broaden or narrow your focus.
     User Advisory: ProQuest is fussy about entering Subject searches in the designated search slot. If your subject is a person, enter the name--last name first--in the "Person" slot; if a named group of any kind--Microsoft, the Catholic Church, Radiohead, the New York Mets--enter it in "Co/Org"; if a place enter it in "Location."

      Academic Search Premier  Comprehensive subject coverage with considerable full text.  Note that there is a “Subject Terms” link just above the search boxes, allowing you to search the index of Subject Headings--often a good first stop for more efficient Subject searching whereby you are guaranteed that your topic is indeed a main subject of the articles retrieved.
     A good initial strategy in this database is to search a likely topic in the Subject Terms and when you find it “explode” the term by double clicking it--this brings up a list of related Subject terms.  You can check as many terms as you like before "adding" them to your search by AND-ing or OR-ing them together.
   The Subject Headings for inaugural addesses take the form here of the office with "inaugural addresses" as a subheading; Presidents--Inaugural adresses and Govvernors--Inaugural addresses.
If you want to target a particular politician, search by name: don't use the "Subject" search; use the "People" search, last name first.
    For any retrieved set of articles, there will be a box displayed on the left that will limit the articles to “Scholarly” journals—just check the box and click the “Update Results” button below.

      JSTOR : covers a wide range of scholarly journals in most disciiplines, always beginning with the first issue of each one.  This provides 100% full text access to articles from not only the first half of the 20th century but even the second half of the 19th.  Be aware, however, that at the other end of the date range articles don't appear in JSTOR until at least 2-3 years after publication.
     JSTOR offers only a Keyword search of its complete full text, so retrievals are large, but the relevancy ranking does a good job of putting the strongest matches on the first few pages.  This relevancy ranking does not weigh date, however, and will display a mix of articles written decades apart.  So if your topic is time sensitive, be alert to publication dates.
     User Advisory: The academic journals covered here feature numerous book reviews, so it's a good idea to tic the "Article" limit below the search slots so you won't be overwhelmed by book reviews on your topic.  
     Also note the "Date Range" limit, which in a database with an archive this deep can be very useful. You can use it to target articles written anytime during the last 150 years.

     LexisNexis Academic  News:  Offering a keyword search of 100% full text from a vast number of national and international newspapers, this is an easy database to use poorly and a bit tricky to use well. In order not to be overwhelmed with articles in which your search terms are mentioned anywhere—first or last paragraph—or any number of times—once or ten times—use commands to target articles in which your topic words are mentioned early or mentioned often.
     Use the hlead command (headline and lead paragraphs) to target articles in which your topic words occur in the prime news-story position of headline or first paragraphs. For example: hlead(fracking and pollution) will retrieve just the articles in which the words “fracking” and “pollution” are used in the headline or first paragraphs. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses after hlead, with no space between.
     Use the altleast command to target articles in which your topic words occur a set number of times. For example: atleast5(“gay marriage”) will retrieve only the articles where this phrase is used at least 5 times—indicating that it must be a main topic. You can plug in any number after atleast—atleast3 or atleast7. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses with no space between the number you choose and the first parenthesis.
     Use the date range offered under Advanced Options. Because this is a large database of 100% full text, one of the most effective ways to retrieve fewer than 1000 hits is to set up a time frame. Note: if you use the calendar icons to set beginning and end dates, you need to choose a year, a month, and a day for each. Without the day, the date won’t register.

Where's the Full Text for This Article??

     Few databases offer 100% full text.  Most retrieve a mix of full text articles and article "citations"--article title, author(s), publication info, and usually an "abstract" or one-prargraph summary of the content.  When a citation makes you want the full text, look below it for this icon: 
     Clicking "GETIT" checks (almost all) the IC Library's other databases to see if any offers the full text of the article--or if the Library has a print subscription to the journal in which the article appeared. 
  • "GETIT" will usually find the full text in another database and open it in a new window.  
  • If none of our databases can access the full text but we have a print subsciption to the journal, "GETIT" will retrieve the Library catalog record for the journal so that you can see if the date of the article falls within the date range we have on hand.
  • If full text is not available from any database or from a print subsciption, "GETIT" will provide a link to the IC Library's Interlibrary Loan.  Log in (same as your IC e-mail)--and set up your account if you've never used it before.  "GETIT" will have populated the article request form with all the necessary information and you simply submit the request elecrtonically.  Most articles are supplied as digital files and will be sent to you via e-mail when they arrive.

Contact Us

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Lisabeth Chabot

College Librarian
(607) 274-3182

Search Argos

Web Resources

Selected Web Sites

  • American President: An Online Reference Resource: From the University of Virginia, an outstanding site for contextual research on American presidents.  When clicking on a particular president, be sure to look at the available essays at the upper right and be sure to scroll down to the "Presidential Speeches" section and to check for any video of a Miller Center Speaker on that presidency.
  • Presidents of the United States: This claims to be the "most comprehensive" Web site for information about American presidents and there's certainly a lot here.  Use the "Presidents List" on the right to target an individual, and notice that among the Subject cateogries in the center table is "Speeches, Addresses, Papers, and Research Sources."
  • I Do Solemnly Swear: Presidential Inaugurations.  There are several sites where you can access the full text of U.S. presidents' inaugural speeches, but this one from the Library of Congress is probably the most useful. You can click on "Inauguration" to access a selection of historical documents connected with each inaugural address, as well as an authoritative transcript supplied by Yale Law School's Avalon Project.  Also be sure to scroll down the home page for the "Special Presentations" links to additional documents, videos, and references for each inauguration.
  • The American Presidency Project: from UC Santa Barabara, this site offers a wealth of online materials relating to the executive office, including many speech-realted resources.  Be sure to click on the Data, Documents, and Media bars at the top.
  • American Rhetoric:  An online speech bank perhaps best approached using the "Site Search."  I'm not sure you'll find material not available from the sites listed above, but nowhere else will offer the Gettysburg Address as read by Colin Powell, Sam Waterson, or Johnny Cash.
  • Inaugural Words: 1789 to the Present: From the New York Times, a list of the most frequently used words in each president's inaugural address.  Just mouse over a word for an exact count.
  • ETC: Many political figures, past and present, federal and state, have their own Web sites with links to speeches and papers.  By all means Google them, but first take a look at my Google search advice below.

Web Search Engines

  Google Advanced Search: When doing research on the Web, always use the Adanced Search version of Google. This not only provides more flexibility in entering search terms, but more importantly it allows you to target the Web domains that are likely to provide the most authoritative information.
Under "Need More Tools?" you will find the "Search within a site or domain" slot. You may enter only one domain at a time, but it's worth targeting each of the three domains likely to supply the best information: colleges and universities (enter the "edu" tag), nonprofit organizations (enter the "org" tag), and the United States government (enter the "gov" tag).

Web Directories

     Web Directories differ from search engines like Google in that all the online resources have been selected and annotated by editors, thereby promising a much higher degree of quality control. 

Citation Help

MLA Citation

MLA is the citation style used by most disciplines in the Humanities. Here is my guide to the latest (2016) update of the MLA style.