The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

Shmoop to the Rescue!

I just discovered another strangely-named website that history and literature teachers may find amazingly helpful. It’s called “Shmoop.”

Shmoop (still in beta) explains its purpose here:

“Shmoop wants to help you become a better lover (of literature and history). See many sides to the argument. Find your writing groove. Understand how lit and history are relevant today. We want to show your brain a good time.”

I think it’s significant that Shmoop is written primarily by PhD and Masters students from top universities. Many have taught in high school and college. I’m also impressed that the writers cite their sources.

I checked out several of the literature titles (about 120 so far) and U. S. History topics (about fifty big ideas so far, arranged chronologically) and found the coverage extensive and well-organized. It’s certainly adequate for the secondary research that needs to accompany and support primary source analysis. One of my favorite sections helps teachers respond to that ever lurking student question–“Why Should I Care?” Shmoop is worth checking out for these answers alone.

Other U. S. History sections include timelines of key events, big picture and in-depth analyses, important people, and key quotes and statistics related to each topic. In the “Best of the Web” section there’s even a link to related historical documents. Yeah! You’ll also find tags to lead you to new discoveries on keywords of interest.

My only disappointment was the absence of links to my new hero, Ida M. Tarbell, in the “Muckrakers & Reformers of the Progressive Era” section (see my previous post). Still, I’ll bet she’s buried in those links somewhere. Maybe if I click on the progressive tag, she’ll show up in the 377 links there.

Oh, and there are some not-too-in-your-face ads.



5 Responses to “Shmoop to the Rescue!”

  1. Brady Wood says:

    Hi Mary,

    Thanks so much for the positive review of Shmoop!

    You’ll be pleased to know that Ida Tarbell commands a full two paragraphs (look for the “Trust-Busting” section on this page:

    She also appears in our Timeline of key events (Nov. 1902)

    Thanks again for helping to spread the good word about Shmoop!
    Brady and the Shmoop team

  2. The Primary Source Librarian says:


    Thanks so much for your comment and your helpful links. I noticed, too, that there was a great link from the “Trust-Busting” section to an article about McClure’s magazine from Allegheny College (Ida M. Tarbell’s alma mater). In your timeline, there’s a link to the entire 800+ page History of the Standard Oil Company by Tarbell. Very impressive! Every link is a value-added feature for students and teachers.

    I was rather worried about using your logo as an illustration, but your generous response has allayed my fears!

    Thanks again,
    Mary, The Primary Source Librarian

  3. Kathy says:

    Shmoop looks better than Cliff Notes. (Is that a compliment?)


  4. Mary says:


    Glad you took a look! I checked out the Cliff Notes website to do a quick comparison. It’s much more commercial looking than Shmoop. Since Cliff Notes have been around for many years, the coverage of subjects is more extensive. I don’t know who writes their materials. I’ve never been opposed to the idea of support materials for building understanding of common school topics and works of literature. The problems begin when students think they can just copy and paste without citing their sources. THAT is a never-ending battle! Shmoop does provide links to proper citations of its website.


  5. Nancy says:

    Cool tool! I worry, though, about the sex rating feature. I can see people using this feature to justify pulling books from libraries, for instance.

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