WRTG: Historical Fiction: Research for Writers


IC Library Print & Media Resources

Finding Literary Criticism

     Because the historical fiction you're reading this semester is so recent--most written in the last ten years--there are not (yet) many books of criticism for the authors.  In the IC collection we do have two critical works on Colm Toibin, a recent autobiographical work by Michael Chabon, and a book about one novel and one short story by Annie Proulx.
     Your single best resource for literary criticism is the MLA International Bibliography --the largest database of journal articles on literary topics. Take advantage of being able to run a Subject search on any literary work--poem, short story, play, or novel--in the "Author's Work" slot.  Also try "Author as Subject." (And if you are primarily interested in finding articles, check "Journal Articles" under "Source Type."

     For newspaper/magazine reviews of recent book-length works or for author interviews and profiles try 
ProQuest Research Library or Academic Search Premier .  In either of these enter the title of the work and/or the author's name as a keyword phrase--meaning you should put both title and name in quotation marks to indicate you want to search them as single units.

     Finally, if you want to check to see if there are books about a particular author available outside the IC Library collection, seach the author as a Subject--last name first--in WorldCat via FirstSearch .  WorldCat is a "union catalog"--combining the holdings of virtually every academic library in the United States. If you find a book you want, open the record and click on the ILL link toward the top. This will open an interlibrary loan request form in which all of the necessary bibliographic information will have been transferred from the record to the form.    

American History and Life

     Below is a sampling of the kinds of Subject Headings available in a Library catalog which might be useful in researching American history and culture.  Note the articulated date ranges--of which I've included only the larger spans.
     Note: Not only individuals but entire categories of people can take subheadings such as Biography (which includes autobiography), Correspondence, Diaries, and Personal narratives.  Such material might prove particularly helpful in providing a sense of both the customs and material culture of everyday life at a given time and place: Working class women--Massachusetts--Boston--Diaries, Pioneers--Montana--Correspondence, United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives.

National characteristics, American

United States--Civilization
United States--Civilization--To 1783
United States--Civilization--19th century
United States--Civilization--1783-1865
United States--Civilization--1865-1918
United States--Civilization--20th century
United States--Civilization--1918-1945
United States--Civilization--1945-
United States--Civilization--1970-
United States--Intellectual life
United States--Religion

United States--Social conditions
United States--Social conditions--To 1865
United States--Social conditions--1865-1918
United States--Social conditions--1918-1932
United States--Social conditions--1933-1945
United States--Social conditions--1945-
United States--Social conditions--1960-
United States--Social conditions--1980-

United States--Social life and customs
United States--Social life and customs--To 1775
United States--Social life and customs--1783-1865
United States--Social life and customs--1865-1918
United States--Social life and customs--1918-1945
United States--Social life and customs--1945-1970
United States--Social life and customs--1971-

Maine--Social life and customs
New Jersey--Social life and customs
Mississippi--Social life and customs
Texas--Social life and customs
California--Social life and customs

Boston (Mass.)--Social life and customs
New York (N.Y.)--Social life and customs
Chicago (Ill.)--Social life and customs
New Orleans (La.)--Social life and customs
Los Angeles (Calif.)--Social life and customs

United States--History--Sources 
["Sources" are primary sources--the historical documents upon which narrative history is based]
United States--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
Indians of North America--History
Puritans--New England
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
United States--History--1783-1865
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
United States--History--1865-1898
United States--History--20th century
World War, 1914-1918--United States
Nineteen twenties
Depressions--1929--United States
World War, 1939-1945--United States
United States--History--1945-
Cold War
Nineteen sixties
War on Terrorism, 2001-

United States--Economic conditions--To 1865
United States--Economic conditions--1865-1918
United States--Economic conditions--1918-1945
United States--Economic conditions--1945-

Popular culture--United States--History--18th century
Popular culture--United States--History--19th century
Popular culture--United States--History--20th century

Marriage--United States--History
Women--United States--History
Women--United States--History--18th century
Women--United States--History--19th century
Women--United States--History--20th century
Women--United States--Biography  (includes autobiography)

African Americans--History
African Americans--History--1863-1877
African Americans--History--1877-1964
African Americans--History--1964

British History and Life

     Below is a sampling of the kinds of Subject Headings available in a Library catalog which might be useful in researching British history and culture.  Note that both Great Britain and England are used in Subject headings and that Great Britain is the broader term, comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

National characteristics, British--History
National characteristics, English

Great Britain--Civilization  [subdivided by period]
England--Civilization  [subdivided by period]
Great Britain--Intellectual life   [subdivided by period]
England--Intellectual life   [subdivided by period]
Great Britain--Social conditions  [subdivided by period]
England--Social conditions
Great Britain--Social life and customs  [subdivided by period]
England--Social life and customs
London (England)--Social conditions   [subdivided by period]
London (England)--Social life and customs  [subdivided by period]
Scotland--Social conditions
Scotland--Social life and customs
Ireland--Social conditions
Ireland--Social life and customs
Wales--Social conditions
Wales--Social life and customs

Great Britain--History--Sources 
["Sources" are primary sources--the historical documents upon which narrative history is based]
Great Britain--History
Great Britain--History--Roman period, 55 B.C.-449 A.D.
Great Britain--History--Anglo-Saxon period, 449-1066
Great Britain--History--Norman period, 1066-1154
Great Britain--History--13th century
Great Britain--History--14th century
Great Britain--History--Richard II, 1377-1399
Great Britain--History--Lancaster and York, 1399-1485
Great Britain--History--Tudors, 1485-1603
Great Britain--History--Henry VIII, 1509-1547
Great Britain--History--Elizabeth, 1558-1603
Great Britain--History--Stuarts, 1603-1714
Great Britain--History--James I, 1603-1625
Great Britain--History--Puritan Revolution, 1642-1660
Great Britain--History--Civil War, 1642-1649
Great Britain--History--Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1649-1660
Great Britain--History--Restoration, 1660-1688
Great Britain--History--Revolution of 1688
Great Britain--History--18th century
Great Britain--History--George III, 1760-1820
Great Britain--History--19th century
Great Britain--History--Victoria, 1837-1901
Great Britain--History--20th century
World War, 1914-1918--Great Britain
World War, 1939-1945--Great Britain

Great Britain--Economic conditions--16th century
Great Britain--Economic conditions--17th century
Great Britain--Economic conditions--18th century
Great Britain--Economic conditions--19th century
Great Britain--Economic conditions--20th century

Popular culture--Great Britain--History--16th century
Popular culture--Great Britain--History--17th century.
Popular culture--Great Britain--History--18th century
Popular culture--Great Britain--History--19th century
Popular culture--Great Britain--History--20th century

Marriage--Great Britain--History
Women--England--History--Middle Ages, 500-1500
Women--England--History--Renaissance, 1450-1600
Women--England--History--16th century
Women--England--History--17th century
Women--England--History--18th century
Women--England--History--19th century
Women--Great Britain--History

Women--Great Britain--Correspondence
Women--Great Britain--Diaries
Women--Great Britain--Biography  [includes autobiography]

Beyond the United States & Great Britain

     The representative Subject Headings for the United States and Great Britain above can be used as models for what may be available for other countries.

     Resources in the "National characteristics" headings often deal with both the traditional and changing "character" of a population:

National characteristics, Chinese
National characteristics, Spanish
National characteristics, Australian
National characteristics, Mexican
National characteristics, Irish

     Alternatively, enter the country’s name as a Subject search—Italy, Poland, Brazil, Japan, Puerto Rico, Iran—and then scan the materials in these standard country subheadings:
--Economic Conditions
--Intellectual Life
--Politics and government
--Social Conditions
--Social life and Customs

These subheadings will sometimes be further subdivided by time period

Italy--Social conditions
Japan--Social life and customs
Puerto Rico--Politics and government

     Also try a Subject search on the name of any relevant ethnic/racial group and scan the available subheadings:


     Or try a Subject search on a cultural topic or issue that interests you and look for country, continent, or area subheadings:

Popular culture--Japan
Women--Middle East
Women’s rights--Iran
Civil rights--China
Popular music--Argentina
Human rights--Guatemala
Television broadcasting---Great Britain
Sex role--Africa

Books Beyond the IC Library

     WorldCat via FirstSearch  is a "union catalog" that allows you to search the holdings of over 10,000 libraries from accross the country and around the world. Check WorldCat to discover what the entire universe of possible resources looks like for your topic. 
User Advisory:
  • Because this is such an enormous database you need to choose a "Limit Type to" before you begin. Most commonly you will be looking for "Books," "Visual Materials" (for example DVDs), or "Sound Recordings."
  • I recommend you avoid the "Author phrase," "Title phrase," and "Subject phrase" search fields and use "Author," "Title," or "Subject" instead. The "phrase" searches must be exact and are unforgiving.
  • If your topic is time-sensitive, try focusing on a recent time span under Year.
  • When you find an item you want you can request an interlibrary loan by opening the WorldCat record and clicking on "ILL (order via interlibrary loan)," which you'll find toward the top of the record under "External Resources." This will connect you to Ithaca College Library interlibrary loan, where you log in using your usual Netpass name and password. Logging in opens a form where all the identifying data will have automatically been transferred from the WorldCat record. All you have to do is click "Submit."

Picturing the Past

Our premier image database, ARTstor can be valuable for researching material culture--especially the "Advanced Search." When the "Basic Search" opens click on "Advanced Search" in the upper bar. In addition to the standard Keyword search, "Advanced" allows category searches of the image collection. Among the "Object Classification" options are Architecture, Decorative Arts and Interior Design, Fashion, Costume and Jewelry, and Garden and Landscape. These classifications can be combined with both Date Range and Geography. This allows you, for example, to run a search of all images of Decorative Arts and Interior Design between 1700 and 1800 in France--or between 1800 and 1900 in the United States. Or look at Costume and Jewelry from 1500 to 1600 in England.
Note: ARTstor requires Java and Flash Player, and you must have your browser set to allow cookies and your pop-up blocker disabled.

A guide I made for theatre students called Finding Visuals might also prove helpful.

Contact Us

picture of Dr. Brian Saunders

Dr. Brian Saunders

Humanities Librarian
(607) 274-1198

Search Argos

And Don't Just Take My Word for It . . .

Bridget Bower is the IC Library Archivist and Reference Librarian for History. Two of her research guides which might prove useful are
History: United States
History: World

IC Databases (Articles)

Time in a Bottle

Note: Most of our databases give you access to articles from the past three decades, but few can retrieve full text from before the 80s.  Below are two exceptions. 

     JSTOR : 100% full text access to articles from not only the first half of the 20th century but even the second half of the 19th (use the "date range" limit below the search slots to target older articles).  
     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.  
     User Advisory: The academic journals covered here feature numerous book reviews, so it's a good idea to tick the "Article" limit below the search slots so you won't be overwhelmed by book reviews on your topic.  

     New York Times (1851-2009) gives access to the full text of the New York Times 1851-2006. Click the "Continue" button and at the home page 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/eyewitness 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 used prior to the 1970s, so when searching for articles on race relations in America prior to 1975, the terms "Negroes or Blacks" will be needed to retrieve relevant newspaper stories.

Home truths

     America: History and Life : This is our only database that allows you to set a "Historical Period" limit (below the search slots on the left).  This refers not to when the article was published but to the historical era it discusses.  
 But: be aware that setting a Period limit of 1861-1665 will also retrieve any Period that contains this span.  So, for instance, you would retrieve articles that discuss your search terms both in relation to the American Civil War and in relation to the entire 19th century: 1800-1899.
     Also be sure to set the "Document Type" limit to "Article" to weed out all the many, many book reviews that will otherwise clot your search for articles.
     Having set the Period and Article limits, a good way to begin with this database is to open "Indexes" above the search slots and select the "Subject Terms" index, where you can check to see if there is a good Subject Heading for your topic.
     There's a good deal of full text here, but where there isn't be sure to use the "Find Full Text" links below citations to see if the full text can be supplied by another of IC's databases.

Anything Goes

ProQuest Research Library :
Academic Search Premier :
     Both of these comprehensive databases  can provide substantive articles on virtually every country in the world.  Entering country or city names as Keywords, however, may retrieve too many hits where the name is mentioned in passing but is not the true subject of the article.  Better to enter a place  name as a Subject search.  But be aware: both these databases have special search slots for place names as Subjects.  In ProQuest open the "more Search Options" tab and enter place names in the "Location" slot.  In Academic Search Premier open the "Select a Field" drop-down menu and enter place names in "Geographic Terms."  In both cases, add additional Subject Headings or Keywords for topical focus.  And Note: adding "History" as a "Subject" term may help focus on articles about a place's past.

General OneFile : Another comprehensive database with articles on virtually any time or place.  Enter a place name in the default "Subject Guide Search" and then open the "Subdivisions" link below the place name.  One of these subdivisions will always be "History" and many of the others will offer articles with a historical perspective.  For a topical approach, run a Subject search on the topic, open the subdivisions, and click on the drop-down menu at the top right where it says "Topics."  The other two options you can select are "Location" and "Date."


     Other relevant databaes will depend on the particular setting for your story.  For example, if a religious community, you might want to try ATLA religion database with ATLASerials ; if you were portraying an author or a theatre group MLA International Bibliography  or Performing Arts Periodicals Database . And SocINDEX with Full Text will provide some articles on social history.

Web Resources

Selected Web Sites

  • Voice of the Shuttle: History: from the University of California Santa Barbara, sets of links to categorized history resources--see table of contents at upper right.
  • American Memory: From the Library of Congress, a vast collection of primary resources in several media.
  • Making of America (U Michigan): Primary sources--books and articles--from 19th century America.  Good for research in the social history of that period.  And note the Subject index.
  • Luminarium: An outstanding site covering Medieval, Renaissance, and 17th Century Britain and Europe. For the more historical resources, be sure to look at  "Essays and Articles" and "Additional Sources" in each category.
  • Victorian Web: Wide-ranging resources for 19th century Britain--no longer maintained, but worth a visit for the links that still work..

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.