ENGL 127 Writing: Social Sciences (Martin)

For students in Aley Martin's section of English127

Search Strategies

Background Essay

While you are writing about a current issue in English 127, your first essay assignment asks you to research and write an informative essay on the historical context to the issue. Ultimately, that will help you and your reader understand the current situation.

How do you find sources on the history of your current issue? That can be tricky!

Here are a few strategies:

Strategy 1: Look for lengthier sources, such as books, documentaries, and scholarly journal articles, on your topic. They may address history.

Strategy 2: Look for books, documentaries, and scholarly journal articles on the history of your topic.

  • Type in words that capture the idea of historical periods and/ or of the larger context. For example, for BLM, try:
    • "Black Lives Matter" AND history
    • "Black Lives Matter" AND 1950s (for example)
    • "African Americans" AND protest
    • "African Americans" AND history AND police
  • The screenshot below shows, for example, two book titles that clearly talk about the history leading up to my current issue. The search was for "Black Lives Matter" AND history

(click on image to enlarge)

BLM AND history books


Strategy 3: Look for leads in subject encyclopedia articles and databases.

Look for words that capture ideas about context, background, and history.

  • Start with GVRL/ Gale eBooks. Type in your topic. Explore.
    • Does the article talk about an earlier similar movement?
    • Does the article talk about the larger context to your current issue? For example, civil rights protests for BLM.
    • Does the article mention earlier important time periods, names, events
    • Does the article provide further reading you can look through for sources that might talk about the historical context? Look at the end of the article for further reading and/or bibliography.
    • Do you see an encyclopedia title that indicates it will look at history or larger context?
    • Click on the Subjects from the limiters on the right. Do you see connected ideas that point to historical context?
  • The screenshot below shows how a search of Black Lives Matter returned an article from an encyclopedia of the history of race and ethnicity in America. This may be a good place to find historical context. 

(click on image to enlarge)

BLM - Encyclopedia of Race and Culture in the US

  • This second screenshot shows an excerpt from an article on the civil rights movement. I found this article by selecting the subtopic Civil Rights Movement from the Subject list with my search of BLM. The article provides leads to protest groups that were part of the 1950s and 1960s African American civil rights movement. 

Civil rights mvmt article snip


Strategy 4: Look for useful Subject Terms!

We use Keywords that capture what we want to research. Databases also use Subject Terms to pull together resources on a subject. Look for and try relevant subject terms. 

Where can you find Subject Terms? In One Search you will find them if you click on the title of an interesting sounding source. Scroll down to see Subjects. Click on a Subject - and it takes you to other sources on that subject from our collection.

  • Sample subjects for search of "African American" AND history AND (protest OR "protest movements"). These are the subjects for the relevant-sounding book Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement. 

(click on image to enlarge)

Subjects from book: african american women in the civil rights movement

Strategy 5: Start in a History Database

If you are working on a historic topic, use library history databases to find topic overviews and scholarship. 

A search of the topic "immigration" in US History in Context, returns a collection of sources on the history of US immigration history, policy, and debates. 

If my current topic was anti-Asian violence in the US, I could search for info on Asian American AND immigrants, as well as more specific searches on specific nationalities or groups, including Chinese immigrants or Japanese Americans.

  • Read the topic page opening article for a big picture overview.
  • Read reference to find a time period to focus on for your background research. All of US immigrant history will be too vast in scope.
  • Find more scholarly sources by limiting to "Academic Journals" (called scholarly or peer reviewed in other databases)
  • Look in the bibliography for books you can search for in the HL One Search or borrow with ILL. This database does not include books.
  • Primary Sources will be historical documents from the era.

One Search for an Overview

Look for Books, Scholarship, & Documentaries in One Search

HL History Databases

Reference for Topic Overviews & Introductions

No collection has it all

You may borrow full text of sources not available in Holman Library through InterLibrary Loan. 

You may also search in WorldCat for sources not even indexed in our collection.