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Exploring historical context

Working on a period play? This page offers selected resources to help you learn about the historical context: the time in which the characters would have lived and what their experiences might have been.  Note that many of the sources mentioned here are region-specific, but you can always use the library catalog and research guides to search for more reference works, books, newspapers, etc. that are appropriate for the geographic location of the play you're investigating. 

Reference works


Culture and popular culture


If writing about a specific trade or profession, finding a handbook or guide about it is helpful. For example, a catalog search on the terms "physicians guide" returns books like The Yale Guide to Careers in Medicine & the Health Professions : Pathways to Medicine in the Twenty-first Century published in 2003 as well as A Guide to the Practical Physician published in 1684.


Primary sources

Period newspaper and magazine articles

Find even more on our News Sources guide!

Personal narratives

For a more in-depth look into the mind and experience of a person from a particular time or place, try searching the Five College Libraries Catalog for biographies, memoirs, journals, diaries, correspondence, or narratives (narrow by time – e.g., 20th century – and/or place – e.g., United States). If you have the name of a specific person, do an author search on that person’s name.

History Books

Aside from being good sources for getting in-depth information about a time period or event, history books can also lead you to more primary sources.  For a location-specific history, in the 5 College Libraries Catalog do a subject keywords search on the name of the place and the word history (e.g., chicago history).

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