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ENG 335: Literary Eras-Gender and Modernism

Ann Mattis

Your Assignment

The broad research question for this paper is:

What historical and cultural discourses of gender, love, sexuality, and desire inform the backdrop of a modern/ist American literary tradition?

As professor Mattis notes in the assignment, your paper will specifically be narrowed to one of the texts you read in class along with a subtopic in class. Here are a few of the examples she provides: 

  • free love
  • sexology
  • secularism
  • primitivism
  • racial objectification
  • women's sexual agency
  • homoeroticism
  • bisexuality
  • policing women's bodies

Using Wikipedia to help select your subtopic

Wikipedia is not an appropriate source for college assignments. However, there are ways Wikipedia can be a great tool during the research process especially when looking for background information. Academic articles you find through the library assume that you already have specialized knowledge of the subject. Because of this, they are often not the best place to start researching a new topic. They use technical terms and complex concepts without explanation.

Wikipedia articles include a general overview of the subject, provide a useful introduction and define new or important terms, names and concepts.

Search Tip: This also leads to new keywords you can use for searching.


If your selected work was Passing and you weren't sure what subtopic you wanted to explore with for your paper, you could take a look at the Wikipedia page for the novel. It does a good job of outlining different themes from novels to help you determine what subtopic might fit your assignment question. 

Screenshot of Wikipedia page for the novel Passing by Nella Larsen

Developing Keywords

To be successful in your research, picking the right search terms is essential. As you begin to search for sources try the following as your search terms: 

  • Name of your text 
  • Author name
  • Chosen subtopic or a keyword related to your subtopic (i.e. instead of "women's sexual agency" you could do a search for "female empowerment" paired with the term "sexuality," Similarly you could use the word "racism" as a keyword instead of "racial objectification" to see if that yields better results). 

You can see an example of a search that could be used in racial objectification in Nella Larsen's Passing. 

Note: The title "Passing" is a common word and not a "unique" title like Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities. This is why it was important to include the author's name with the search. 

If you are struggling to find relevant sources with these keyword suggestions, click on the research help page of this guide to connect with a librarian.