Finding and Focusing a Topic

The Library has a large number of subject specific online encyclopedias with short overview essays on most people and events in American history. These essays can be helpful in defining and focusing a topic. Entries generally include bibliographies which list important authors who have published on the subject. The Library has too many encyclopedias to list them all. To discover encyclopedias with essays on your topic, go to the catalog, select Articles & more, type keywords which describe your topic into the searchbox and select the format facet Reference on the results screen (see screenshot below) or browse selected encyclopedias on the History Subject Guide.

  • Dictionary of American History
    #1 reference title on American history.
  • American National Biography Online
    Biographical resource on more than 18,000 people from all eras who have influenced and shaped American history and culture. Each essay includes a recommended reading list and references to known unpublished and published primary sources.


A keyword search for slavery and Quakers in the "Dictionary of American History" brings up an essay on Antislavery. After a close reading of the essay you could decide to focus your topic on the role of women in the abolitionist movement or on Angelina Grimke. The bibliography of the essay leads to a number of relevant secondary sources. The essay also includes helpful leads to primary sources such as the titles of two famous antislavery newspapers. The Liberator is available online in the "American Periodicals Series" collection (see Finding Primary Sources). An author search for Angelina Grimke in "American Periodicals Series" leads to numerous articles written by her for the Liberator and other antislavery magazines. The "African American Studies Center" includes a biography of A. Grimke (it also includes a biography of Angelina Weld Grimke who was born much later) and so does the "American National Biography Online" (see Finding Primary Sources). The latter also includes references to published primary sources.

Finding Primary Sources

Here are some suggestions for locating primary sources in the Library's collection. Ask for advice and directions if you cannot find what you are looking for.

An author search in the library's catalog for Angelina Grimke leads to published primary sources which include her diary, letters and political writings. American National Biography Online has a short biography of Angelina Grimke.

Finding Secondary Sources

Falvey Library Catalog
The Library's catalog enables patrons to search & browse Falvey Memorial Library’s collection of books, journals, audio/video materials, electronic resources and more.

WorldCat (OCLC)
Presents a combined catalog of the catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. WorldCat highlights publications available at Villanova University. Other items can be requested via an inter-library loan request form. WorldCat Step-by-Step is a self-paced interactive tutorial for students new to this resource.

America: History and Life (EBSCO)
Indexes the literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present. Includes citations for journal and magazine articles, book reviews and dissertations. Abstracts of journal articles are included together with selected full-text. Indexing goes back to 1964.
America: History & Life is a self-paced interactive tutorial for students new to this resource.

A subject search in the library's catalog will discover books about Angelina Grimke in the library's collection.

A subject search in America: History & Life for Angelina Grimke will lead to scholarly journal articles about aspects of Grimke's life such as

Foletta, Marshall. "Angelina Grimké: Asceticism, Millenarianism, and Reform." New England Quarterly 80, no. 2 (June 2007): 179-217.

and critical reviews of her published diary such as

Jabour, Anya, and Jean R. Soderlund. "Walking by Faith: The Diary of Angelina Grimké, 1828-1835." Journal of the Early Republic 24, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 715-717.

Annotation Helpers

Place events in American history in context with the help of chronicles:

Determine the origin, meaning and changing usage of words with the help of:

Find the sources of quotations used in your primary texts with the help of: