Historical Overview: Literature

From the moment the first ship landed on our shores, the settlers of the New World began a phenomenal and unique adventure. Though at first their writing remained rooted in the style of their mother countries, a national voice began to emerge as the colonies became a nation. Some common threads from 1492 to the present are:

the structure of government
a fascination with death and the supernatural
a celebration of individualism

We can't fit every resource about American Identity and Literature on this list! A topic guide is just the beginning of building your bibliography.

Reference materials

This is the place to start any research project. Reference books offer short, authoritative information on every topic. These books must be used in the library. Most contain bibliographies of important books on your topic. A good first stop would be any of the standard encyclopedias in the Beaver collection: Encyclopedia Americana, World Book or Britannica.

Ashby, Ruth. (1995). Herstory : women who changed the world. 304 pages. REF 920.72 H44 1995 Two volumes on notable women from around the world.
Parini, Jay. (2003). American writers : classics. 388 pages. REF 810.9 Am3 2003 v.1
Smith, Valerie. (2001). African American writers. REF 810.9 Am1 2001 Includes bibliographical references and index.
Unger, Leonard. (1981). American writers : a collection of literary biographies. 4 Volumes. REF 810.9 Am3 A 4-volume collection (with 3 supplements) featuring biographies on various American writers, from Jack Kerouac to John Steinbeck.


Books by American authors, about American Literature, its themes, eras, and literary forms can be found in various sections of the library. Many of the books listed below are found in the 800 section, particularly 810, 813, and 814. You may find you need materials that deal with U.S. history and politics to supplement your arguments; these can befound in the 970s. You may also want to examine social issues in the United States, which can often be found in 305s and 306s. Be sure to examine the catalog to uncover materials under other subject areas to ensure full support of any thesis statement.

Bober, Natalie. (2001). Countdown to independence : a revolution of ideas in England and her American colonies : 1760-1776. 342 pages. 973.3 B63 2001
Cohen, Rachel. (2004). A chance meeting : intertwined lives of American writers and artists, 1854-1967. 363 pages. 810.9 C66 2004
Davidson, Marshall. (1973). The American heritage history of the writers' America. 403 pages. 810.9 D28
Johnson, Claudia. (2007). Class conflict in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The great Gatsby. 153 pages. 813 CLA 2007
Lape, Noreen Groover. (2000). West of the border : the multicultural literature of the Western American frontiers. 224 pages. 810.9327 L31 2000


You can click on any of the links and will immediately be logged into the database. If you are away from campus, please read the instructions on remote access which are located here.

Biography Resource Center A database of complete biographies on notable people around the world.
Contemporary Literary Criticism A complete database offering full-text articles on literature.
Gale Student Edition Full-text articles and other multimedia geared toward high school students. Go here before Google! Search for subject "American and Literature" to find full-text articles; multimedia, newspapers, and other popular resources. Author searches and subject area searches are also possible. Play with different combination of search terms; for questions, consult the BCDS library for searching help.
Readers Guide Full Text Select Good source of articles and criticisms. Basic or advanced search: "American and Literature".

Internet sites

American Literature on the Web A list of websites about American literature, hosted by Washington State University.
Early Americas Digital Archive A searchable archive at the University of Maryland that includes electronic texts and links to texts originally written in or about the Americas from 1492 to approximately 1820.
Early American Women Writers A comprehensive website at the University of Connecticut dedicated to female writers in the 19th and early 20th century.
Outline of American Literature A narrative, broken down by period.
Perspectives in American Literature An extensive online portal housed at California State University.

BPL: electronic resources

JSTOR: More than 600 core scholarly journals focusing on literature and the humanities. Collection spans the last 150 years but does not includes most current 3 to 5 years.
Literary Resource Center: Full-text database that combines more than 1,000 books, major literary encyclopedias, and reference works from antiquity to the present. It also houses more than 100 literary journals and unique sources not available elsewhere.
Student Resource Center: Designed for grades 6-12, this database offers easy keyword searching across journals, images, books, and reference materials.

Updated 10-09.