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EN 104 - In Pursuit of the American Dream


This is a guide to selected sources of information related to the American Dream. It is meant as a starting point for your research. For further research assistance, please stop by the Reference Desk, or see our Ask a Librarian page for info on how to email, text, or call a reference librarian for help.


Required Readings Online

Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail

"I Have A Dream"  Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Self-Reliance"  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Civil Disobedience — Part 1  Henry D. Thoreau

Civil Disobedience — Part 2  Henry D. Thoreau

Civil Disobedience — Part 3  Henry D. Thoreau

Walden — Conclusion  Henry D. Thoreau

Democracy in America — Chapter 2  Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America — Chapter 8  Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America — Chapter 13  Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America — Chapter 14  Alexis de Tocqueville

Inaugural Address  Barack Obama


Research Basics

Visit Geisel Library's Research Help webpage for help with getting started.  In particular, check out the following:

  • Research Planner: Create a timetable of milestones for completing your paper, with links to useful resources at each step
  • Research Strategy: Helpful suggestions for every stage of the research process, from choosing a topic to citing your sources
  • Research Tutorials: Web guides and videos on how to use library resources

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Background Information

Before looking for books and journal articles on your topic, it is helpful to explore reference resources such as subject-specific encyclopedias. These resources can provide background information on authors and literary works, as well as the social issues, historical periods, and themes being addressed in this course. They can also help you determine keywords to search in the library catalog and journal databases. Use the bibliographies at the end of articles in reference resources to identify books and journal articles worth tracking down.

Starting Points

American History Through Literature:  1820–1870
American History Through Literature:  1870–1920
These two encyclopedias discuss how American culture and history are reflected in its literature. They include essays on themes like immigration, poverty, success, the frontier, and the Irish.

Credo Reference
Search for words like mobility, consumer culture, or inequality to find entries from encyclopedias of anthropology, geography, history, psychology, and other fields of study.

Encyclopedia of Social Problems
Find articles on historical and contemporary social issues related to the American Dream, such as immigration, assimilation, inequality, social mobility, and conspicuous consumption.

Oxford Reference Online
This database includes numerous reference works for obtaining basic information on authors and historical events.

Literature Resources

Literature Resource Center
This database includes lengthy biographical profiles of authors, plot summaries, and literary criticism for thousands of novelists, poets, and other writers.   User Guide

American Writers (13 vols.)
     Ref PS129 .A55

Critical Survey of Short Fiction (7 vols.)
     Ref PN3373 .C7

Critical Survey of Long Fiction (8 vols.)
     Ref PN3451 .C7

Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature
     Ref PS21 .E537 (print version, 4 vols.)

American History Resources

Dictionary of American History
     Ref E174 .D52 (print version, 10 vols.)

Encyclopedia of American Economic History (3 vols.)
     Ref HC103 .E52

Encyclopedia of American Immigration (4 vols.)
     Ref JV6465 .E53

Encyclopedia of American Social History (3 vols.)
     Ref HN57 .E58

Encyclopedia of American Social Movements (4 vols.)
     Ref HN57 .E594

Encyclopedia of Social Welfare History in America

Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century
     Ref E169.1 .E626 (print version, 3 vols.)

Encyclopedia of the United States in the Twentieth Century (5 vols.)
     Ref E740.7 .E53

Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life in America

Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups
     Ref E184.A1 H35

Historical Encyclopedia of American Labor
     Ref HD8066 .H57 (print version)


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Geisel Library Catalog
There are two approaches to finding books in the Geisel Library catalog:

1)  Keyword Searching

If you have a specific topic in mind, try a Keyword search on terms that represent your topic of interest. Use the Boolean AND to combine together multiple concepts, and use the Boolean OR to expand your search with synonyms and related terms. Use the * (asterisk) to retrieve variant forms of a word; for example, mobil* will find books with the words "mobile" or "mobility" in the catalog record.

Here are some examples of keyword searches related to this course's theme:

  • (Consumer OR consumption) AND culture AND (United States OR America*)
  • (Income OR wealth) AND inequalit*
  • American Dream AND (immigrant* OR immigration)
  • Social mobility AND (black* OR African-American*)

2)  Subject Searching

If you have a general area of interest but haven't chosen a specific topic, try searching some of the phrases below as Subject Headings in the catalog. Subject searching is effective for finding books about broad concepts.  Skimming through these books may give you ideas about how to focus your research. If you are researching a particular author or work, try searching the author's name as a Subject to locate biographies and literary criticism.

  • Emigration and immigration — United States
  • Equality — United States
  • Families — Economic Aspects — United States
  • Income distribution — United States
  • National characteristics, American
  • Poverty — United States
  • Social classes — United States
  • Social mobility — United States
  • Social values — United States
  • United States — Social conditions, 1980–
  • Wealth — United States
  • Working poor — United States

Here are some books found through keyword and subject searching:

The American Dream and the Popular Novel
     PS374 .B45 L65

The Great Risk Shift:  The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream
     HD7125 .H24

Falling Behind:  How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class
     HT690.U6 F73

Making American Tradition:  Visions and Revisions from Ben Franklin to Alice Walker
     PS169 .N35 S76

Pursuing the American Dream:  Opportunity and Exclusion over Four Centuries
     E183 .J55

Second-Rate Nation:  From the American Dream to the American Myth
     HN59.2 .S53

Who Are We?: The Challenges to American's National Identity
     E169.12 .H78

By searching WorldCat, you can identify potentially useful books owned by other college libraries and have them delivered to Geisel Library for your use. Try searching the same keywords and subject headings that proved successful in the Geisel Library catalog. To request a book, open the book's WorldCat record, click the "Request via Interlibrary Loan" link, and follow the on-screen instructions. Allow 7–10 days for delivery. You will be emailed when your book arrives.


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Journal Articles

Below are several databases that may yield useful journal articles for your research. Try searching the same keywords that you used in the library catalog, combining concepts together using the Boolean AND and OR operators. Once you find relevant articles, examine their Subject Headings and conduct Subject searches on the ones that seem potentially fruitful.

If you find a useful article for which no full-text link is available, click on the WebBridge icon to determine whether the journal is available in Geisel Library or in full-text via another database. If the article isn't available, consider clicking on the Interlibrary Loan link to request a PDF copy of the article from another library. Within a week, you should receive an email indicating that the article is available to access. To learn how to use WebBridge, please watch our video tutorial (3.5 mins.; includes audio).

Starting Points

Academic Search Premier
This multi-disciplinary database is an excellent starting point for finding scholarly journal articles and popular magazine articles on a wide range of topics.

America:  History and Life
The best place to start for topics involving United States history. Use the Historical Period limiter (below the full text limiter checkboxes) to specify your time period of interest.

MLA International Bibliography
Start here for papers with a literary focus. This database provides citations for journal articles containing literary criticism.

An excellent starting point for social perspectives on the American Dream. This sociology database provides full-text journal articles and citations to books and conference papers.

Other Databases

Search here for full-text articles from major scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences.    User Guide

Literature Resource Center
Limit the content type to "Literature Criticism" to find full-text articles about works of literature from more than 100 literary journals.    User Guide

New York Times
Full-text access to every article in the New York Times from 1851 to four years ago. This can be a valuable source to learn about the culture of various periods in American history.    User Guide

ProQuest Central
A massive database covering a wide range of subjects, with full-text of scholarly journal articles and newspaper articles.


CrossSearch enables you to search across multiple databases at once to find journal articles. For papers with a literary focus, search the English subject category; for other topics, you may wish to search in History, Politics, and/or Sociology. If an article looks useful, click on the WebBridge icon to see if it is available in full-text or in Geisel Library's periodicals collection.  For tips on using CrossSearch, please watch our video tutorial (3.5 mins.; includes audio).

Journal Finder

Journal Finder will help you determine whether a particular article is available in Geisel Library's online databases or periodicals collection. Use it when you encounter citations to useful-looking articles in the bibliographies of reference books or other journal articles, and want to track down the full text. Search the journal's title in Journal Finder and use the resulting links to locate the article's full text in either a database or the library collection. If Journal Finder does not provide any links, you can request the journal article through Interlibrary Loan. To learn more about how to use the Journal Finder, please watch our video tutorial (3 mins.; includes audio).


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Selected Websites

These websites were handpicked for their relevance to your course topic. You may also want to conduct keyword searching on your topics in a search engine such as Google, but be sure to look for indications that the websites you find are authoritative, objective and reliable. For help with this, see our guide to Evaluating Websites.

American Memory (Library of Congress)
A collection of digitized documents, photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures and text that collectively represent the American experience. Included are documents about immigrant communities, westward expansion, and other relevant topics.

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930 (Harvard)
This digital collection portrays the immigrant experience through a large number of online books, photographs, and manuscripts, including diaries and journals of 19th-century immigrants to the U.S.

Women Working, 1800–1930 (Harvard)
This collection offers digitized manuscripts, books, pamphlets, and photographs that shed light on women's role in the workforce during this period of American history.


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Citing Sources

For assistance with formatting your citations in MLA style, see the online resources available on the library's Citing Sources webpage.  You can also ask for the MLA Handbook (Ready Ref LB2369 .G53) at the library's reference desk.


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