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.
What is a background source?
Background sources are written for a general audience and are intended to give an overview of a topic, fill gaps in the reader’s knowledge, and provide context for deeper understanding. Examples include Wikipedia, introductory textbooks, and reference works such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks. They can be a useful place to start your research and can assist in selecting a topic for a research project, locating basic information and key facts, defining important words and concepts, and getting suggestions for additional sources to consult.
Typical characteristics of background sources:
- intended to be informative
- provide context, background, or summary information
- present shared information and established facts; information is uncontested
- offer suggestions for additional sources of information on the topic
Europa World Online
Online version of the Europa World Year Book, the indispensable source of information on world-wide affairs.
Oxford Reference This link opens in a new window
Hundreds of dictionaries, general reference, language reference, and subject reference works from Oxford University Press.
Gale Virtual Reference Library This link opens in a new window
Handbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias in a wide range of subject areas, including Arts, Biography, Business, Education, Environment, History, Law, Literature, Medicine, Multicultural Studies, Nation and World, Religion, Science, and Social Sciences.
Sage Knowledge This link opens in a new window
Dictionaries, encyclopedias, guides and handbooks from a range of social science fields.
Guides & Handbooks
CQ Press Guide to Congress
Covers all aspects of Congress and examines subjects such as pressures on Congress; pay, housing, qualifications, and ethics of members; and how Congress is elected. Includes a complete institutional history of Congress along with updated insight and analysis on the 2008 and 2010 shifts in power of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Guide to Political Campaigns in America
A single source of scholarly and practical insight into a variety of political campaigns and campaign activities.
Guide to the Presidency and the Executive Branch
Note This comprehensive two-volume guide is the definitive source for researchers seeking an understanding of those who have occupied the White House and on the institution of the U.S. presidency. Readers turn Guide to the Presidency and the Executive Branch for its wealth of facts and analytical chapters that explain the structure, powers, and operations of the office and the presidents relationship with Congress and the Supreme Court
Guide to U.S. Elections
A comprehensive, two-volume reference providing information on the U.S. electoral process, in-depth analysis on specific political eras and issues, and everything in between.
Guide to U.S. Foreign Policy: A Diplomatic History
At no time in American history has an understanding of the role and the art of diplomacy in international relations been more essential than it is today. Both the history of U.S. diplomatic relations and the current U.S. foreign policy in the twenty-first century are major topics of study and interest across the nation and around the world. Spanning the entire history of American diplomacy -- from the First Continental Congress to the war on terrorism to the foreign policy goals of the twenty-first century.
Guide to the Supreme Court
No other reference on the Court offers so much detail and insight in such an easy-to-use format. Updated through the 20082009 term, this classic resource explains everything users need to know about the Supreme Court, from its origins and how it functions to the people who have shaped it and the impact of its decisions on American life and the path of U.S. constitutional law