In addition to literary analysis, you may need some historical information. For instance:
Historical Primary Sources -- that is, first-hand evidence from that historical period.
Historical Secondary Sources
These are a little different from literary sources.
QC offers access to several collections of digitized historical documents.
These are fascinating and provide a real record of the past--not just books, but newspapers, speeches, images, and other primary sources.
However, they can be a little daunting to search.
There are several useful ways of browsing:
The "Browse" menu in Black Thought and Culture and Women in Social Movements allows all of these. Nineteenth Century Collections Online doesn't allow the same kind of browsing, but it does group its materials into "collections."
The "Document Projects" In Women and Social Movements group documents by their relationship to specific social movements.
Searching for primary documents is not the same as searching for journal articles!
There are several reasons for this:
Keep this in mind when you are choosing your keywords. Use words that you think a writer at this time would use for this audience.
Names are easy; ideas are difficult.
As with any search, you will acquire additional useful vocabulary along the way.
Searching secondary sources in history has many similarities to searching secondary sources in literature, but there are additional resources you may want to consider.
The databases that cover history exclusively (America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts) allow you to limit your search by historical period, finding only the articles about a particular date range. This is very helpful for more general searches.
For instance, a search about abolitionism from 1830 to 1870 can provide context for events in that particular date range.
You may also want to note the index terms and use them for searching, as you would in many other databases.
A lot of important historical scholarship is published as books. Since books often give good overviews, this might often be a better starting place than a database.
Just like authors, historical figures can easily be searched using the subject search.