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Studies in 20/21C American Literature - U.S. Ethnic Minority Literature: ENG 8024

Research help for the course, ENG 8024: U.S. Ethnic Minority Literature

Why Use Biographies?

silhouette of four persons standing during sunsetBiographies provide insights into individuals' lives and achievements. Biographies come in all shapes and sizes: some offer just factual information (full name, birth and death dates, place of birth, career history, etc.) while others provide more in-depth accounts as well as references for further reading.

When and Why You Should Use Biographies:

  • You need a quick account of an individual's life or accomplishments (e.g. brief sketches in encyclopedias)
  • You need an in-depth account of an individual's life or accomplishments (e.g. book-length biographies)
  • You need to offer a view of history through the lens of one individual's life or contributions
  • You need to track down where an individual's personal documents or objects are located 
  • You need to better understand how perceptions of an individual have changed over time

Remember: Biographies are often subjective. Keep in mind who wrote and published the biography, and decide whether or not that author/publisher had any possible biases. You may need to consult multiple biographies on the same individual.

Find Author Biographies & Interviews

These databases contain brief biographies or biographical overviews on individuals. Many also point to other resources about an individual, including related news stories, book-length biographies, and/or author interviews.

Tips for Evaluating Biographies

Tipped scalesBiographies, like any piece of information, need to be evaluated carefully.  Below are a few checkpoints for evaluating biographies.

  • Is the biography complete or partial? Does the biography span the entire life of the individual, or does it focus on one aspect of the individual's life (e.g. early years, family, later years, etc.)? Note that while one kind is not better than the other, depth and complexity can differ.
  • Is there evidence of careful research? Look for a bibliography, sources for further research, end notes, or author's notes to explain what sources the biographer used.
  • When was the biography published? What is the copyright or update date? Older biographies can be excellent and telling (for their brevity or perspective), but newer biographies may include new information based on recent research.
  • Is the author of the biography qualified to write on this individual and topic? Is the biographer a noted scholar of the individual or the historical period? 
  • Is there balance between the individual's achievements and strengths and their weaknesses? Is the biographer overly favorable or overly critical of the individual? Does the biography seem to deviate from reality?
  • Are there any available reviews of the biography? For book-length biographies, look for book reviews that may mention whether the book might be biased or the content lacking in factual documentation.
  • Consider why some individuals have many biographies written about them while others have few or none. If there are several biographies about an individual, compare any available book reviews of different biographies to see which one is considered the best or is identified as the "definitive source."