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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498B: Lincoln, Visual Culture, and Nation Building

A course guide.

What is a Literature Review?

Historical research often begins with a literature review. In a literature review, the researcher tries to answer the question, "what have other scholars already said about this topic?" As a historian, you will respond in some way to what has already been said.  When you reach the final stage of your research -- writing up your conclusions and making your own argument -- you will want to show how your analysis relates to previous interpretations.

One might call a literature review a "secondary literature review" since it typically means a review of the secondary literature on your topic. For more information on secondary literature, see our guide to Library Research for History Students.

Catalogs and Indexes

Two good places to begin a literature review are the Library's Online Catalog and Historical Abstracts or America: History and Life.

Full-Text Resources

Full-text databases give you the complete text of journal articles or books.

TIP!  When you search full-text databases, you are searching for words used in the document itself. Ask yourself, "what words would an author use in writing on this subject in the time period under consideration?" 

For example: the use of the term Orientalism to denote "the representation of the Orient (especially the Middle East and Asia) in Western academic writing, art, or literature" (OED) was introduced by Edward Said with the publication of his book, Orientalism, in 1978.  However, scholars were employing the discourse of Orientalism long before Edward Said named it. Try to imagine what words might have been used to reflect Orientalist discourse or to describe it.