Skip to Main Content

WGS 391: Disability in America: History, Theory, Activism: Home


You'll want to start your research by creating a list of keywords. The better your keywords, the better the sources you'll find, and your list will probably evolve and grow over the course of your research.

STEP 1: Initial Keyword List

Start with the Wikipedia page, or another general information page for your topic. Read through it to create your initial keyword list. As you do so, consider these questions:

  1. Has the terminology to describe the disability changed over time? Was it always considered a disability? If not, how is it referred to in other ways?
  2. Does the terminology vary depending on who is speaking (e.g. popular news sources, academia, the medical community, people within the disability community)?
  3. Is the disability considered part of a constellation of disabilities? What other disabilities is it associated with?
  4. What behaviors are associated with the disability?

    STEP 2: Primary Sources

What kinds of sources will be useful for your topic?

Medical diagnosis criteria?

Historical newspaper articles?

Film and television representations? Legal cases?

Check out our Primary Sources guide for some inspiration.



STEP 3: Secondary Sources

  • Search multiple databases at once for cross-disciplinary results
  • Find one good book or article, and look at the keywords associated with it to find similar sources
  • Consider using AND/OR in your searches 
  • Adjust date ranges to find sources in a particular timeframe (e.g., if you want the most recent scholarship, limit your search to the past couple of years)


As an example, we'll use the topic "representations of autism in popular culture". Just searching for that phrase will provide limited results, which is why we need to create some keywords. 

STEP 1: Initial Keyword List

Keyword list generated from Wikipedia page for Autism:

  • Autistic Psychopaths (historical diagnosis)
  • Childhood Schizophrenia  (historical diagnosis)
  • Autism Spectrum (associated term)
  • Neurodiversity (associated term)
  • Asperger syndrome (more specific diagnosis)
  • Stereotyped behaviors (symptom)
  • Compulsive behaviors (symptom)
  • Echolalia (symptom)


STEP 2: Primary Sources

Current medical definition from the CDC and DSM5. How do these criteria differ from historical criteria?

Google for "autism movies" and "autism shows". 

Representations of autism in film:

  • Rain Man (Film, 1988)
  • Temple Grandin (Film, 2010)
  • The Accountant (Film, 2016)
  • Atypical (TV series, 2017-present)

    STEP 3: Secondary Sources

Working from list of keywords created in Step 1, in combination with list of representations from Step 2:

Search term: "autism AND rain man"

Databases: All Ebsco

First Result: Why should I be like bloody Rain Man?!: Navigating the autistic identity.

New Keyword: "autism identity"

Digital Initiatives Librarian

Profile Photo
Sarah McKee
Chalmers Library 113

Finding eBooks

Use the library catalog to search for ebooks ONLY by using "Advanced Search" and selecting "ebook" from the "Other Material Type" menu.