ENGL 126 Writing: Humanities

This research guide is to help students enrolled in English 126 - writing in the humanities.

Find Historical & Biographical Contexts

Find Historical Context

Understanding the history of the era in which an author lived or in which a piece of literature was written will often give you better insight into that literature's meaning, symbolism, and themes.

  • To gain quick insight into the events and themes of eras in American History, utilize the AMERICAN DECADES series below. You may read them in print or access them in GVRL (Gale Virtual Reference Library):

Video Tutorial: Literary Criticism 1: Learn about Literary Works and Authors

Source: "Literary Criticism 1: Learn about Literary Works and Authors" by Holman Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Part 1 of 2: Learn what literary criticism is and how to effectively find a range of sources for your work and/or author.

Gale Literature: Literary Criticism Database

Using Gale Literature

Search for critical analysis of novels, plays and poetry in the literary criticism database Gale Literature

Start with a: topic & work overview, biography, interviews, or reviews and news to get an overview of the author's style, ideas they explore, their critical reception, and the historical and biographical contexts informing their writing. Note that none of these is scholarly. 

You can return to find scholarly literary criticism later. 

The image below shows a search for information about "Two Kinds" by the author Amy Tan. 

Step 1:

Type in author, title, and/or keyword. Note that it may work better to type the author's surname, then first name.

Gale Literature Search


Step 2:

Select Topic and Work Overviews, Biographies, Interviews, and other introductory works. In this case, I selected Topic & Work Overviews.

Topic Overview

Step 3:

This long article provides an introduction to reading "Two Kinds" and The Joy Luck Club.

Note: The article menu to the right points to sections of the article. Themes and Style highlights important ideas explored in the text and the author's use of language, imagery, and other stylistic elements.

Note also the Subjects to the right. Subject terms can help you find a focus and they can be used as search terms for other relevant sources.

Opening of the topic overview

On Style

This excerpt discusses Tan's use of memoir and memory to shift perspectives and draw the reader into the competing world views of mother and daughter.

excerpt from an analysis of Tan's style

Additional Library Reference Collections

Why use reference?

References Sources for Literary Criticism

You can use Literary Criticism in Reference books and online library databases to get started on your project. 

Use reference to: 
  • Learn about general schools of thoughts

  • Learn about an author

  • Get an overview of critical approaches to a written text (Topic & Work overviews in Gale Literary Sources)

  • Learn about a historical era or cultural movement that offers important context to a literary work

American History Through Literature

The reference series American History through Literature offers particularly insightful background articles that contextualize literature, history, ideas, and authors.