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WRIT 1370: Introduction to Writing in the University (Fall 2016): Finding Context:
Reference Sources

Research for Kelly King-O'Brien's writing seminars. Click on the BLUE TABS below to access each section of this guide.

Background on Local and U.S. History

Use the following sources to find background information and historical context. For other helpful titles, ask us for suggestions.


Click here for a list of books on Cornell's history.


List of/Links to Encyclopedias and Reference Books on U.S. History and Culture:

Dictionary of American History.
3rd edition. 10 volumes. New York: Scribners, 2003.
(Online; also in print: Olin Reference E 174 .D52x 2003 +)

A comprehensive revision of this classic reference source originally published in 1940, it features updated and revised entries from previous editions, as well as more than 800 new entries. Short entries good for identifying major events and people in U.S. history.

Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural & Intellectual History.
2 volumes. New York: Oxford UP, 2013.
(Online; also in print: Olin Reference E 169.1 .O945 2013 +)

Like the Encyclopedia of American Social History, below, a source of insightful articles on many fascinating aspects of U.S. history. Helpful bibliographies of additional sources with each article.

Encyclopedia of American Social History.
3 volumes. New York: Scribners, 1992.
(Olin Reference HN 57 .E56 1992)

The first encyclopedic overview of social issues in U.S. history with insightful articles on many fascinating topics. Good place to explore paper topics. Updated by the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Social History, (online; in print: Olin Reference HN 57 .O94 2012).

Oxford Companion to United States History.
Paul S. Boyer, editor in chief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001-2012.
(Online; also in print: Olin Reference E 174 .O94 2001 +)

Over 1,400 entries written by some 900 historians and other scholars, illuminating not only America's political, diplomatic, and military history, but also social, cultural, and intellectual trends; science, technology, and medicine; the arts; and religion.

Oxford African-American Studies Center.
New York : Oxford University Press, 2006- .

Contains more than 8,000 articles by top scholars in the field, over 1,750 images, more than 300 primary sources with specially written commentaries, nearly 150 maps, 150 charts and tables, and over 6,000 biographies. The timeline is a useful starting point.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.
Edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.
(Online; also in print: Olin Reference E 169.1 .S764x 2000 +)

Try searching civil rights within this publication.

Large Online Collections of Reference Books

Use the following reference sources to find background information, context, and definitions. For other helpful titles, ask us for suggestions.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: GVRL. (Online)

You can search for background articles in the social sciences and humanities in this full-text database of reference encyclopedias.

Oxford Reference. (Online)

Another full-text database of reliable information from hundreds of reference works published by Oxford University Press.

Sage Reference Online. (Online)

A searchable, full-text database of reference works that focuses on the applied social sciences.


Discover additional reference works in the Dictionaries and Encyclopedias section of Databases and on our online Subject Encyclopedias page.

Reading Citations in Bibliographies

Learn how to tell the difference between a book, a journal or magazine article, and an article in a book in a reference list/bibliography in this 90-second video. Research Minutes: Reading Citations.

Reference Help

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Michael Engle
106 Olin Library
Cornell University Library

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