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

Biographical reference 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

Reference works in other subject areas

Interested in consulting specialized reference works for other subject areas? See the library's Subject 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.

How to find more reference works

There are a couple of ways to find more reference works in the library collection:

  • Do an Advanced search in the Five College Library Catalog on terms that describe your topic (e.g., comics or graphic novels) and the terms encyclopedia or dictionary or handbook or companion.
  • In the Five College Catalog, restrict your search to just Mount Holyoke, click into the Advanced search form, enter the terms for your topic (e.g., history science) and use the Location drop down menu to select MH Reference:
MHC Accessibility Barriers Form