Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

FYSEM 110PS: Self-Portraiture

Why background information?

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference resources help you to discover basic information—names, dates, definitions, summaries, etc. These are good places to start when beginning research on an unfamiliar subject, and when choosing or narrowing a paper topic.

General reference

Authors, their lives and works


Reading a story, memoir, or essay that's set in a country that's unfamiliar to you? Reference works can help you quickly learn enough about a country's recent (or even older) history to help you better understand the context of the text you're reading.

English vocabulary

Come across a word that is new to you and can't quite figure out what it means based on the context of what you're reading? It's easy to look it up! Some dictionaries and definition sources that can help:

Literary Terms and Concepts

How to find even more reference works

Databases A-Z List

In the library's Databases A-Z page, use the All Database Types menu to select Reference. This will display a list of links to electronic reference sources.


You can use Discover to look up print and electronic reference works in the library collection as follows:

  1. In Discover Advanced Search, enter encyclopedias or dictionaries in the first box and use the "Select a field" menu to select SU Subject Terms.
  2. In the second box enter terms that describe the reference topic in which you're interested (e.g., american literature).
  3. Scroll down to the "Limit your results" section of the Advanced Search page and select the Five College Library Catalog Only box.
  4. Click on Search.

Discover advanced search for reference works

Once you've run your search, you can use Discover's Refine Results > Library Location menu to limit the results further to Mount Holyoke and Five Colleges E-Resources only.

Library Research Guides

Interested in consulting specialized reference works for other subject areas? See the library's Research Guides. There's one for every subject taught at Mount Holyoke and most of the guides have a Background Info page listing subject-specific reference works.

MHC Accessibility Barriers Form