Find Background and Context for Your Topic

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


  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online.
    Several volumes added each year. Detroit: Gale/Cengage.
    (print version: Uris Library Reference PS 129 .D55)
    Biographical and critical essays in 350+ volumes on the lives, works, and careers of major writers from all eras and genres.
    To identify volumes on short story authors, search dictionary [in title] AND short story [as a phrase] in our Library Catalog.
  • Literature Resource Center.
    A complete literature database combining biographical, bibliographical, and contextual information on authors and their works (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, history, and journalism). Draws from Gale Group's core literary databases including Contemporary authors, Dictionary of literary biography, and Contemporary literary criticism. Provides additional search capability for Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of literature and Gale literary index.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 4th edition. Oxford University Press, 2015.
    (print version: Olin Library Reference PN 41 .C67 2015)
    Clear, concise definitions of the most troublesome literary terms, from abjection to zeugma, and increased coverage of new terms from modern critical and theoretical movements, such as feminism, schools of American poetry, Spanish verse forms, life writing, and crime fiction.
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature.
    4 volumes in the print version. New York: Oxford, 2004.
    (print version: Olin Library Reference PS 21 .E537 2004)
    Covers the terrain of American literature in 350 essays from leading scholars, encompassing the range and depth of American literary history from the 1600s to the present day. For an example of a good background article, see the article "The Short Story in America" in this encyclopedia.
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature.
    5 volumes in the print version. New York: Oxford, 2006.
    (print version: Olin Library Reference PR 19 .O95 2006)
    The counterpart to the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature for Britain. "Narrative" is a good example of an excellent overview article on a literary topic.