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EN 104 - "Up Close and Personal": Autobiographical Literature in 19th Century America



The following is a guide to secondary sources in Geisel Library that pertain to the assigned literature as well as to sample themes that are embraced in the writings. All of these resources can be accessed either on campus or remotely by entering in the S number on the back of your student ID.

Hopefully, this guide will point you to some useful reference books and library databases. It will also serve as a 'reality check', reminding you of the search tips you picked up during the library segment of your EN 103 class last term, providing helpful examples. You will be introduced to special tools and library services that will make the process of searching and locating relevant materials a bit easier.

For further assistance, please stop by the Reference Desk in person or pose your question online.


Selected Reference Books

Reference books are shelved by call number in a separate area near the Reference Desk on the main level of the library. They may not be checked out, but photocopiers are available on the lower level. Here's why you should consult reference books:

  • They will assist you in the topic selection process by providing ideas and insights. Many of them are arranged so that larger topics are broken down into sub-sections, allowing you to evaluate where a topic fits within its broader context and helping you to decide whether a topic is too broad or narrow.
  • In the field of literature, they will offer succinct literary analyses of the authors, titles, and sometimes the genre under discussion in your class.
  • Reference books will also help you to locate background information about structure and themes pertaining to your primary source readings.
  • Reference books will familiarize you with vocabulary that might be unique to your topic of study, making searching of the databases easier later.
  • They will point you to additional sources for more detailed scholarly information through bibliographies and lists of 'Further Readings'. If a citation found this way is of interest, determine its 'whereabouts' by using the Journal Finder tool available on the library's home page.

The library also has a growing collection of E-Reference resources. One of these is the Literature Resource Center (LRC); it is helpful for literary criticism and is included in the selected list of Reference Books below.

Columbia Guide to American Women in the Nineteenth Century
     Ref HQ1418 .C58 2000

Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century
     Ref E169.1 .E626 2001 (print version)

Encyclopedia of Women's Autobiography

Literature Resource Center (LRC)

Nineteenth-Century American Fiction Writers
     Ref PS377 .N56 1999 v. 202

Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism (several volumes)
     Ref PN761 .N56
     Of special note, see topics: "American slave narratives" (v. 20), "Travel writing" (v.44), "Women's autobiography" (v.76) and "Women's diaries" (v. 48).

Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature
     Ref PS21 .E537 2004 (print version; 4 vols.)
     See vol. 1 entries on 'Autobiography'.


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Find Books and Book Chapters

Geisel Library Catalog
Some of the best information may be found in books and book chapters-and the Geisel Library's collections are substantial. Begin by performing keyword searches. Remember to use your Boolean operators, as discussed in EN 103, where appropriate. Also, please remember to use truncation symbols (wildcards). For example, 'autobiograph*' will retrieve results containing the words autobiography, autobiographies or autobiographical. When you find a promising result, view its detailed record for relevant subject heading links.

Here are some keyword search examples:

  • autobiograph* and (19th or nineteenth)
  • alcott (crane, douglass, jacobs, etc.) and autobiograph*
  • feminism and (19th or nineteenth)
  • life writing
  • civil war and (diary or diaries)

Subject searches are effective for finding books about authors and their works. Subject searches are also effective for finding books about broad concepts like 'Autoboiography' or 'Nineteenth Century Literature'.

Sample Subject Headings:

  • Alcott, Louisa (or other names as subjects)
  • American fiction - 19th century
  • American prose literature - 19th century
  • Americans - Travel - 19th Century
  • Autobiographical fiction
  • Autobiography
  • Biography as a literary form
  • Novelists, American - 19th century
  • Personal narratives - 19th Century
  • Self in literature
  • Travel writing - 19th century
  • Women - United States - 19th Century

Here are some examples of books found by using subject and keyword searches:

American Autobiography : a Collection of Critical Essays
     PS169.A95 A5 1981

American Fiction to 1900 : a Guide to Information Sources
     PS368 .K57 1975

American Literature : Poe through Garland
     PS201 .C58 1971

Autobiography  (Linda Anderson)

Before They Could Vote: American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819-1919

Constructing American Lives : Biography & Culture in Nineteenth-Century America
     CT34.U6 C37 1999

Daring to Dream : Utopian Stories by United States women, 1836-1919
     PS648.U85 D37 1984

Design and Truth in Autobiography

Literary Transcendentalism (see chapter "Transcendentalist self-examination and autobiographical tradition")
     PS217 .T7B8

On Autobiography
     CT25 .L37 1989

Reading Autobiography:  (a Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives)

Turning Key: Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse Since 1800
     On Order

Hint:  When you locate a useful book or book chapter, look to the right and left of it on the book shelves and scan the 'Tables of Contents'. You may find other helpful books or chapters.

If you are unable to locate enough materials in the Geisel Library catalog, repeat your search by using the collections of libraries worldwide through WorldCat. This expansive database enables you to identify relevant books owned by other colleges and have them delivered to Geisel Library for your use, via our Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service. Try searching on the same keywords and subject headings that you used in the Library Catalog as noted above. If you find a relevant book, click on the title and look for the 'Request ILL' link. Once you submit the request, the book is typically delivered to Geisel Library within 7-10 days.


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Find Journal Articles

Below are several databases that may yield useful journal articles for your research. Try searching with the same keywords that you used in the book catalog, combining concepts using the Boolean AND or OR operators. Once you find relevant articles, examine the subject headings that have been assigned to them and conduct subject searches on the ones that seem most promising for your research.

If there is no link to the full text of an article you want, click on the WebBridge icon to determine whether the journal is available in the Geisel Library or in full-text via another electronic database. If the article isn't available, consider clicking on the Interlibrary Loan link to request a copy of the article from another library. Within a week, you should receive an email indicating that the article is available to access.

Academic Search Premier
This multidisciplinary database includes many full-text articles.

America:  History and Life
Try a subject search: Autobiography, and limit to Historical Period: 1800-1899. There is lots!

Full text & multidisciplinary database. Strong in historical readings. Latest 5 years NOT covered.

Literature Resource Center (LRC)
Coverage includes critical and biographical material on 19th century American literature.

MLA - Modern Language Association International Bibliography
This is the comprehensive database for locating all genres and periods of literary criticism.

Particularly helpful for articles pertaining to gender and/or social class issues concerning 19th century autobiography.

About CrossSearch

To search for journal articles across multiple databases at once, try CrossSearch. For articles with a literary analysis focus, check the 'English' subject category and perform your search. CrossSearch displays the first 20 results from each database. If an entry from the results list looks useful, click on the WebBridge icon to see if it is available in full-text or in Geisel Library's periodicals collection on the lower level. Please be cautioned that CrossSearch will not allow you to take advantage of special features inherent within the individual databases.

About Journal Finder

Use the Journal Finder to determine whether a particular article is available in Geisel Library's online databases or periodicals collection. This tool is helpful when you encounter citations to useful journal articles outside the journal databases; for example, in the bibliographies of reference books or other journal articles. Search the journal title (not the article 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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Citing Sources

MLA is the citation style required in this class. The library has both print and electronic versions of MLA citation guides; or ask a Librarian for assistance.

Please also note that many of the databases offer 'Citation Maker' or 'Citation Management' features, allowing you to save your selected sources to the MLA format.


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Need More Help?

Finding Author Biographies (A Geisel Library guide)

Research Help (a Geisel Library-developed website which includes numerous guides and tutorials)

Video Tutorials:  Journal Finder, WebBridge, CrossSearch (running time: approx. 3 minutes)

Identifying Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Send us an E-mail

Make an Appointment


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