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American Studies: Origins and Impact of the Civil War - Smith: Background Information

A guide to background resources

Background Information

Background information provides basic facts, history, descriptions, and concepts about your topic. 

Use sources like

  • encyclopedias,
  • dictionaries, and
  • handbooks

to get a general overview of your topic. Use this information to help narrow and focus your research topic.

Look for the big picture
Encyclopedias can be good starting points for information which will introduce you to major concepts on a broad topic. Lengthy articles can outline the subdivisions of a topic, give different perspectives and report recent trends or scholarship.

Get the facts
Important names, dates, places etc. are often mentioned in background sources.

Learn the lingo
Look for key terms, terminology and definitions. Keep these terms in mind when you begin searching for your topic in online databases or the web.

Background Information Sources

The following sources are good, academic alternatives to Wikipedia.

They will give you the same types of information (background, broad topic overviews, biographies of people) but from authorative sources.