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These pages are no longer updated.
Please use our new Research Guides at

Be sure to update any links or bookmarks to point to the new guides.

This guide is meant to assist you in discovering resources for the study of English Literature.

For more assistance, contact: Elise Ferer, Liaison Librarian, 245-1085.

For information on Literary Criticism, please see our Criticism Guide and the supplemental Literary Criticism Guide.


Important Information About the Research Process

What is a Good Source?

During the course of your research, it is important to consult a variety of sources, including print and digital.

  • On-line resources are quick and convenient in that they can be accessed outside the library, but they do not represent the complete range of information available in any discipline.
  • Many of the rich resources owned by the Library, both primary and secondary, are available in print.
  • A librarian can help you locate appropriate resources for your topic.

Good researchers don't ignore a possible location or lead. Some sources you discover may not be available in Dickinson's collection. When beginning the research process, be sure to build in enough time to order materials through Interlibrary Loan.

A good researcher is defined by the willingness and ability to follow leads and being able to quickly evaluate a source for its reliability and usefulness. Clues to important and reliable information come from many places. Secondary sources are often good places to start the reserach project, as their footnotes and bibliographies can provide you with leads to primary sources and other important secondary works.

Primary and Secondary Resources

A primary source is an account by an eyewitness or the first recorder of an event - or documents produced at the time an event occurred.

  • A primary source may be printed or electronic material and can include diaries, letters, memoirs, personal papers, public documents, field research reports, minutes of meetings, news footage, newspaper articles, speeches, oral histories. Primary source material can also include creative works such as poetry, music, or art, and artifacts such as pottery, furniture, and buildings.
  • Dickinson College owns primary material in fields such as Native American and scientific history, and the history of Dickinson College.
  • The Library also has many indexes and databases which will help you locate primary material.

A secondary source is a document which is derived from, or based on, study and analysis of primary sources.

  • These are works that are not original manuscripts or contemporary records, but which critique, comment on, or build upon these primary sources.
  • They interpret and analyze primary sources and provide the background necessary to understand the primary sources.
  • A secondary source may be printed or electronic material and can include reviews, criticism, editorials, analyses, encyclopedias, textbooks, histories, and commentaries.
  • Most scholarly journal articles are secondary sources which provide analysis, interpretation, or evaluation.

Please also refer to our Primary Resources in Humanities and Social Sciences Guide.

How to Start Looking for Sources


Developing a list of keywords for your project is vital for your bibliographic search, for your note taking and for shaping your final paper.

A keyword is simply an important word or short phrase relating to your research.

  • Keywords can be a person's name, a book title, a place, an organization or a subject.
  • You can often use keywords to conduct a search of the library's catalog, electronic databases, or printed indexes.

As you begin to research your topic, you will discover additional keywords that describe your subject.

Subject Headings

A subject heading is a specific word or phrase used to find and organize books and articles by topic.

Subject headings are different from keywords in that they are specific terms assigned to a subject by an organization. For example, the Library of Congress supplies subject headings for books owned by Dickinson College (and other libraries), and the company that provides the MLA database supplies subject headings for the articles indexed in that database.

These subject headings, also known as subject descriptors, may not be what you would expect. You might, for instance, go to our catalog and search for autobiographies.

ex. The Library of Congress often uses the term "personal narrative" instead of autobiography.

Library of Congress Subject headings can often be found on the page of a book that provides the publisher's information. The subject heading can then be used to search for a book or article when copied exactly as printed.

Another way to figure out what the key words or subject descriptors are for your subject would be to enter the title of a book on the subject that is in our library. Then look at the bottom of the record and find the subject descriptors.

In the library catalog and many electronic databases, an item's subject(s) will be hyperlinked, so that you can click on the subject heading to find similar items. You also might want to note the exact words for future use.

This is an example of a book in the library catalog with numerous subject headings:

A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Call Number: PR2825 .R68 2004
Edited by S.P. Cerasano
Publication info: New York : Routledge, 2004.
Physical description: xii, 211 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Series: (Routledge literary sourcebooks)
Bibliography note: Includes bibliographical references (p. [199]-205) and index.
Personal subject: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Merchant of Venice.
Subject: Shylock (Fictitious character)
Subject: Jews in literature.
Subject: Comedy.
Subject: Venice (Italy)--In literature.
Personal author: Cerasano, S. P.

Keeping Track of Your Searches

As you begin your research project take a moment and think about how to keep careful records of where you have searched (what catalog or database) and with what keywords.

  • The system needs to be flexible and dynamic since your project may change focus and you need to adapt.
  • What you want to avoid is repeating work (since you may not remember doing a search 1 month later) or leaving a hole in your research (e.g., by searching a database or site early on with one idea and then never returning after you have changed directions).
  • You also need good recordkeeping from the start in order to keep track of your citations!

Expanding or Narrowing Your Search

Words such as AND, OR, and NOT are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow a search in an electronic database.

  • AND will narrow your search; for example, the search "cats AND dogs" returns items that contain both the terms cats and dogs (both terms must appear in the record).
  • OR will broaden your search; for example, the search "cats OR dogs" will return items that contain either the term cat or the term dog - both not necessarily both.
  • NOT will exclude specific items, thereby narrowing your search slightly. For example, the search "Jasper Fforde NOT book review" will exclude any book reviews written by or about Jasper Fforde, but will include any other books or articles written by or about him.

General Resources

The following lists of resources are multi-disciplinary materials that cover many subjects. For more information on researching related areas of the study of literature, such as history, music, art, religion, and politics, contact your librarian, Chris Bombaro.

During the course of your research, you are likely to encounter problems. Some of the tools available for your use in the library may be difficult to use. Some may be difficult to find. Some databases or indexes may have titles that seem as though they may not be useful to you, when in fact they are.

Please check with your librarian at various stages of your research. Librarians can help you decide if you you are using the right tools for your project, if you are search effectively, and they can help you locate useful materials you may not have known about. Please make use of your librarians - your most valuable resource in the library!

These lists are not exhaustive. You should utilize the library catalog and database list for more information.


A database is the tool to use when you are looking for scholarly articles. Databases (formerly known as indexes when they were predominantly composed of print materials) may take the form of printed books, which are usually arranged alphabetically by subject; or electronic databases, which can be searched in a variety of ways (by keyword or author, for example).

Regardless of format, all databases provide you with the complete bibliographic citation of each article, including the title of the article, the author of the article, and the name, volume number, and pages of the journal in which the article can be found. Many databases will also include an abstract, or short summary of the articles; and some of the computer databases will provide the complete text of the article on-line.

Some databases are for general purpose research and others are highly specialized. ProQuest and Humanities Abstracts are examples of databases that cover history and many other subjects in which Dickinson College offers a major. These databases are good to use when you are beginning your research and need to familiarize yourself with your subject and the experts in your topic area. The MLA International Bibliography is a specialized database that focuses exclusively on the study of literature.

Although on-line databases may seem easier and faster to use than printed resources, you cannot rely exclusively on digital media and expect to have comprehensively researched your topic. On-line databases generally cover articles published since the 1980s. For research that extends further back, for primary resources, and for journals and other materials that may not be accessible on-line, you need to use printed resources.

The Dickinson College Library does not own every journal article covered in every database. You may have to use Interlibrary Loan to obtain an article.

Some important general-use databases are listed below. They will help you become familiar with the major areas of your research project and will help you begin to build a bibliography. You will learn when to use other databases as you continue to explore this website.

MLA International Bibliography
The premier scholarly index for literature, language, linguistics, and folklore.
Biography and Genealogy Master Index
Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) is the best place to begin a search for information about people. It is an index of reference sources containing biographical information on individuals, both living and deceased, from every field of activity and from all areas of the world. This index is not full-text, but Dickinson College owns many of the materials referenced in the database. A librarian can help you locate any materials you are having trouble locating.
Essay and General Literature Index
Indexes chapters and essays contained in books of collected works.
Humanities Full Text
Covers journal articles in the humanities, archaeology, art, classics, film, folklore, history, journalism and communications, linguistics, literature, music, performing arts, philosophy, and religion.This database is a good starting point for research in literature, and may also help you place your topic in social, political, and cultural contexts.
Humanities and Social Sciences Retrospective
A bibliographic database that cites articles from English-language periodicals. Coverage includes a wide range of interdisciplinary fields covered in a broad array of humanities and social sciences journals.
An interdisciplinary archive of over 600 journals in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
Literary Index
Gale's Literary Index is a master index to the major literature products published by Gale, including Contemporary Authors, Contemporary Literary Criticism, and Poetry Criticism.
Literature Criticism Online
This index includes Contemporary Literary Criticism, Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, Literature Criticism from 1400-1800, Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, as well as Drama Criticism, Poetry Criticism, Shakespearean Criticism, and Short Story Criticism. These series represent a range of modern and historical views on authors and their works across regions, eras and genres.
Lexis Nexis will provide you with full-text from newspapers around the world, for up to the past ten years.
Project Muse
Project Muse covers numerous subject fields in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, including history. Journals covered by Project Muse are scholarly and peer-reviewed, published by a not-for-profit press or scholarly society, and be a sensible fit with titles in the humanities, the social sciences and the arts.
Reader's Guide Full Text
This index will help you find articles in popular newsstand publications, such as Time and Newsweek.
A catalog of books and other materials in libraries worldwide. You can use this database to find out what libraries own material you might need.

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

An encyclopedia is a general information source, usually a book or a series of books, that provides basic overview articles on various branches of knowledge. Encyclopedias may be general or subject-specific and are usually arranged in alphabetical order by subject.

The information in encyclopedias may be supplied in short paragraphs or in lengthy articles that include citations to other works on the same topic. Therefore, an encyclopedia is an excellent place to begin research on your topic. An encyclopedia article will help you gain general knowledge about your topic, supply you with important keywords relating to the topic, and will often provide you with citations to important primary and secondary works on the topic.


The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature REF PA31 .H69 1993

Encyclopedia of American Literature REF PS21 .E53 2003

Encyclopedia of the Novel REF PN41 .E487 1998

The Penguin Companion to Literature REF PN41 .P44 1969

Dictionary of World Literature REF PN41 .S5 1953

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable PN43 .B65 1995

Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs REF PN43 .D48 1988

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions REF PN43 .W384 1999

Encyclopedia of Traditional Epics REF PN56 .E65 E64 1994

Dictionary of Real People and Places in Fiction REF PN56.4 .R56 1993

Twentieth-Century Literary Movements Dictionary REF PN597 .T94 2000

The Encyclopedia of Novels into Film REF PN1997.85 .T54 2005

Dictionary of English Literature REF PR19 .A38 1966

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English REF PR85 .C29 1993

Cambridge Guide to Fiction in English REF PR821 .O97 1998

The Oxford Companion to American Literature REF PS21 .H3 1995

Characters in Literature:

Cyclopedia of Literary Characters REF PN44 .M3 1998

Larousse Dictionary of Literary Characters REF PR19 .L37 1994

Dictionary of Fictional Characters REF PN56.4 .S49 1992

Literary Terminology:

The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory REF PN41 .C83 1999

A Glossary of Literary Terms REF PN41 .A184 1988



Who Was Who in Literature, 1906-1934 REF PR106 .W5


Contemporary Authors
A database that includes biographic details on approximately 100,000 modern novelists, poets, playwrights, nonfiction writers, journalists and scriptwriters. Featured are current writers, the most-studied literary figures of the early 20th Century and authors from around the world whose works have been translated into English or published in the United States. Included are the author's writings, media adaptations, works in progress sidelights and interviews.
Dictionary of National Biography
Biographies of people who shaped the British Isles.
Biography and Genealogy Master Index
Biography and Genealogy Master Index is the first place you should look when seeking biographical information on any living or deceased person worldwide. It is an electronic index to over 13 million biographical entries in 3,400+ biographical reference works.



Masterplots: Plot Stories and Critical Evaluations of the World's Finest Literature REF PN44 .M33 1996

World Literature Since 1945 REF PN771 .I9


Literary Index
Gale's Literary Index is a master index to the major literature products published by Gale, including Contemporary Authors, Contemporary Literary Critisicm, and Poetry Criticism.
Literature Criticism Online
This index includes Contemporary Literary Criticism, Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, Literature Criticism from 1400-1800, Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, as well as Drama Criticism, Poetry Criticism, Shakespearean Criticism, and Short Story Criticism. These series represent a range of modern and historical views on authors and their works across regions, eras and genres.

Periodical Directories

Periodical Directories allow you to get detailed publication information on journals.

MLA Directory of Periodicals
The MLA Directory of Periodicals contains detailed publication information about journals that publish material related to language and literature. The directory includes information about when the publication began, scope and content, contribution rules, languages in which the periodical's contents are published, peer-review status, editorial personnel, sponsoring organizations, subscription information, and subjects covered.
Ulrich's Periodicals Directory
Ulrich's Periodicals Directory provides pertinent information about journals, magazines, e-zines, newspapers, and newsletters including: publisher, tables of contents, ISSN, article abstracts, ordering and advertising info, where the journal is indexed and reviews.

Specific Guides for English Research and Resources

English - Great Britain by Time Period

English - United States by Time Period

English - Special Topics