Introduction: Reading About Literature
research on any literary topic it is important to analyze exactly
what it is you need to know:
- Do you need biographical
information, critical studies, historical background, book reviews,
definitions, quotations, or to locate a story or a poem in a collection?
- If you need critical
or biographical or historical information, should it be in the form
of a) brief summaries (such as you might find in a literary encyclopedia
or handbook); b) articles in books and periodicals; or, c) in book-length
studies? And how important is it that the information be current?
- Will the nationality,
period, or genre of your subject affect the particular library resources
you should use?
Once you have answered
such questions, a glance at the table of contents for this guide should
suggest the appropriate section(s) to which you should turn. Then a
quick survey of the annotations for each work included will lead you
to the best sources to use.
Finding Books on Your Topic in the Library Catalog (MNCAT)
The library catalog
is an extremely important reference source and could thus be the first
point of access to the materials you need. The University Library's
computer catalog is called MNCAT. It identifies materials in all of
the Twin Cities Campus Libraries. MNCAT can be searched by author, title,
subject, or keywords.
We provide two interfaces
telnet, and web versions. The instructions below apply to searching
both versions. Notice that the MNCAT Web has the default search by title,
so you select author, subject, or keyword rather than type a code such
MNCAT is one of
the databases we provide through LUMINA, the gateway to other electronic
information we lease or own.
Find an author
of a book by typing, for example:
Find a title
by typing, for example:
- Searching by Subject
Any literary subject which interests you--an author,
a period, a movement, a genre--will probably be accessible through the
subject headings in MNCAT.
- Author by Subject
All of the works
of an author that the library has are, of course, listed under the author's
name. And if the author or the author's works have been the subject
of book-length studies, these, too, are listed under the author's name
(as a subject). For example, type s=austen jane. MNCAT will display
an alphabetical list of sub-headings for books about Jane Austen. You
then easily can find a bibliography, biographies, criticism, or other
types of books on the author. Below is an example of a book found by
typing: a=austen jane--criticism and interpretation
self and world : the novels of Jane Austen. University
Park : Pennsylvania State University Press, c1988.
- Other Subjects
In addition to subject
headings for specific authors, some subject headings deal with a more
general topic, for example, a literary period. Below is an example of
a title found by typing: s=english literature--early modern, 1500-1700--history
truth : the representation of historical persons in Tudor-Stuart
writing. Judith H. Anderson. New Haven : Yale University Press,
or, a literary genre
or form. Below is an example of a title found by typing: s=poetry
Victorian poet : poetics and persona. Edited by Joseph Bristow.
-- London : Croom Helm, c1987.
To find out exactly
what subject headings are used on your topic, see the Library of
Congress Subject Headings (4 volumes) located near the Reference/Information
Desk. They will tell you under which heading(s) a given subject is listed
as well as other headings under which related subjects may be found.
- Searching by Keyword
A keyword is a single
word found anywhere in the bibliographic record, including author, title,
subject heading, publisher, place of publication, and other data. Searching
by keyword is most useful if you have incomplete information, or if
there is no appropriate subject heading. For example, if you can't remember
the exact title of a book you are looking for, search by the words you
know. Thus you could type k=tangerine to find the title The
Kandy-Colored Tangerine Flake Streamlined Baby, by Tom Wolfe. More
information on keyword searching is available in the handout entitled
"Keyword Searching," or by typing exp k to see the "Explain Keyword
with more information on MNCAT are also available near the Information
Desk on the first floor.)
Using Online Databases and the Internet
- Classification Systems
Books received since 1984 have been classified with the Library of Congress (LC) system. Previously classified materials in the general collection retain their Dewey Decimal numbers. Thus we have separate shelving locations. Literature books with Dewey Decimal numbers, i.e., numbers in the 800's, are on the third floor. Books with LC numbers, i.e., those beginning with P, PN, PR, PS, are on the second floor. Notice that larger-size books--quartos and folios--are shelved in separate sections.
The University Libraries
provide access--for students, faculty, and staff--to many remote databases,
through the LUMINA terminals. Two large bibliographic databases supplement
MNCAT and allow you to identify books, periodicals (but not articles
in periodicals), recordings, and other materials held by other libraries.
Listed under "OTHER" on the LUMINA menu, OCLC's WorldCat allows
you to locate books, periodicals, and other materials through 35 million
records from 17,000 libraries, and RLIN/Eureka's Bibliographic
File provides information on 22 million books and other items in 100
major research libraries.
Choosing the INDEXES
option, and then the Arts and Humanities group, will provide access
to articles and other sources listed in the MLA International Bibliography
(#36 below) and the Arts & Humanities Citation Index (#43
databases may require you to provide your student e-mail password.
the computer screens will help you to find and interpret data. Handouts
near the Reference Desk also explain how to search these files.
Finding Critical Studies through Subject Bibliographies
- The Internet as a Research Tool
You will soon discover,
if you have not already, that the Internet offers rich, challenging
and ever changing resources. You may begin at the University Libraries
home page for English
and American Literature and check the section "English Departments,
Specialist Librarians, Centers." Some internet version of print reference
tools are linked through servers listed in that section. Internet sources
are also identified in the citations to print sources listed (above-below).
This guide itself is available at that site, and the URLs function as
A subject bibliography
is a list of books (and often articles) devoted to a specific topic--English
literature, the English romantic poets, or John Keats. Such bibliographies,
whether comprehensive or selective, can be extremely useful to you in
identifying what has been written on a topic. Many of them have brief
descriptive and/or evaluative notes (annotations) which can be of further
help in selecting the best sources for your research. Subject bibliographies,
like those discussed below, often appear as separately published books,
but they are also found in periodicals, encyclopedias and other compendia,
and as parts of books on a topic.
- Retrospective Bibliographies
The following bibliographies
are invaluable for identifying critical studies of authors. Because
they list, in one handy source, critiques written over many years, they
can save you a lot of time. Most of them also offer the convenience
of grouping these critical studies under each author's specific works--thus
enabling you to quickly find, for example, what has been written on
John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," without having to pore over critiques
on Keats' other works.
- Bibliography of Comparative Literature
This bibliography lists books and articles about the inter-relationships of countries, writers, and works. Arranged by period, country, theme, and author, it is valuable for the study of the relationship of various intellectual movements (German idealism and English romanticism, for example) and for the influence of one writer on another.
Location(s): Wilson Reference PN871 .B3x 1960
Check MNCAT Record for Location and Availability http://prime2.oit.umn.edu:1701/primo_library/libweb/action/display.do?fn=display&vid=TWINCITIES&doc=umn_aleph002081881
- Annual Bibliographies for Current or Comprehensive Listings
Annual bibliographies are especially valuable in supplementing older, retrospective bibliographies (such as those found above) and for making comprehensive searches on a topic or writer.
- MLA International Bibliography
The MLA International Bibliography is a classified listing and subject index of scholarly books and articles on modern languages, literatures, folklore, and linguistics which has been compiled by the Modern Language Association of America since 1926.
- Individual Author Bibliographies
If you are looking
for extensive critical studies on an author it will worth checking to
see if an individual author bibliography exists. Keep in mind that some
of these bibliographies will list only works by the author, some
will list only works about the author, and others will do both.
Individual author bibliographies can be found by looking in MNCAT under
the author's name as a subject--e.g., s=angelou maya--bibliography--and
by consulting the sources listed below.
Finding Periodical Articles for Literary Research
- Finding Specialized Bibliographies on Your Topic
- Look in MNCAT
under the appropriate subject heading(s) for your topic (see II for
information on how to find subject headings) and then under "Bibliography"
as a sub-heading--e.g., s=romanticism--england--bibliography.
- Or, look under
your subject in one of the following bibliographies of bibliographies:
The term periodical
refers to any publication that appears at regular intervals (although
customarily not to newspapers). A periodical may be either a general
magazine such as Time, or a scholarly journal such
as Studies in Short Fiction. Scholarly journals will be especially
valuable sources for scholarship on your topic.
- Indexes: The Keys to Using Periodicals
Our term index
is derived from the Latin "indicare" which means to "point out." Thus
a periodical index points out--usually by means of both author and subject
headings--the specific periodical in which the article appears, along
with the volume, pages and date of the issue. Some indexes include abstracts,
or brief summaries of the principal ideas of an article (or book). They
may help you to decide whether you want to find and read the entire
At times some elements
of the information given will be in a different order. The periodical
title will often be abbreviated, as it is in the example on the previous
page. A key to the abbreviations used is usually included in the front
or back of the index (or bibliography). A good general guide to abbreviations
of periodical titles is Periodical Title Abbreviations, 3 vols.
10th ed. (Wilson Reference AP1 .A44x 1996 Desk)
- Deciding Which Index to Use
Your own assessment
of your needs can help you in deciding what kind of periodical index
to use: Is this a subject which you know relatively little about? Are
you just beginning your search for periodical articles? Are you just
now in the process of narrowing or choosing a topic? Are you working
on a topic which spans more than one field of study? Do you need information
from a period of time not covered by other sources? If your answer to
any of these questions is "yes," you will probably do best to start
with a periodical index with broad coverage, such as the Humanities
Index. Are you looking for specialized information in a field of
study with which you already have some acquaintance? Have you already
used a general index but need still more information? Then you may want
to try a more specialized source such as a bibliography or a more narrowly
focused index such as the Wellesley Index.
Are you trying
to be as thorough as possible in your search for information? Is your
subject one which doesn't turn up readily in other indexes? Are you
interested in following the influence of a certain scholar? Then you
may want to turn to the Arts & Humanities Citation Index
in your search.
The following indexes,
located in the Reference Room, are among the most useful in doing
- America: History and Life
This index provides historical coverage of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present with over 2,000 journals including all key English-language historical journals.
- Arts & Humanities Citation Index (included in Web of Science)
AHCI covers all disciplines in the arts and humanities. THe database indexes articles, book reviews, performance reviews, fiction, poetry, editorials, letters, etc. from over 1,100 arts and humanities journals published worldwide in all languages.
Each bibliographic citation includes a list of references cited in the source article, which are linked to other articles that cite them.
Location(s): Wilson Library (3rd floor) Quarto AI3 .A63 Non-Circulating
- Humanities Index
Subscription cancelled 2003
[Resource no longer available]
Finding Biographical Information
- Locating Periodicals in the Library
In Wilson Library
most periodicals are shelved in the Periodicals/Reserve Room,
in the basement of the Library. Most are available in regular paper
format, but some are on microfilm or microfiche. The latest issues of
current periodicals are shelved to your left as you enter the room while
the older, bound volumes are shelved around the periphery of the room--both
are in alphabetical order by title. Those on microfilm or microfiche
are kept in boxes or cabinets in the room.
Notice that when
you find a citation to a periodical article through indexes in LUMINA,
the record indicates "Your library (MNU) owns this item."
Biographies may appear
as separately published books, as articles in periodicals, or as entries
in biographical dictionaries and directories. The amount of biographical
information you need--a book-length study or a brief sketch--will
determine the best approach for you to take.
- Book-Length Study
biographies of an author may be found by looking in MNCAT under the
author's name (as SUBJECT). Recent biographies will be found under the
author's name (as SUBJECT) followed by the subheading BIOGRAPHY. For
- Brief Sketch
For brief information
about an author, or when no book exists, a biographical dictionary or
directory will often provide a summary of an author's life and work.
Because many dictionaries and directories are devoted to authors, several
indexes have recently been published which will lead you to the
specific biographical sources in which biographical information on a
given author can be found.
Below are listed
some of the major reference works which give biographical information
about authors, as well as indexes which provide access to them and to
many other biographical sources. Note, also, the entry for Biography
Index, a valuable source for finding biographical articles in periodicals.
- The Dictionary of Literary Biography
Systematically presents career biographies and criticism of writers from all eras and all genres through volumes dedicated to specific types of literature and time periods. 330 volumes.
TC Wilson Library Reference Quarto PS21 .D55x
- Dictionary of Literary Biography [print edition]
A uniquely valuable resource that provides biographical and extensive bibliographical background information on important literary figures. Use the index in the latest volume.
Location(s): Wilson Reference Quarto PS21 .D55x
Finding Other Factual Information
- Biographical Dictionaries and Directories
The following sources can save you considerable time and effort in finding information on a literary topic:
- Oxford Companion to American Literature
Entries for authors, works, literary schools and movements, literary awards, literary societies, scholarly organizations, anthologies, newspapers and magazines, book collectors, printers, etc. For online version, use the Oxford Reference Online listed below.
Location(s): WILSON Reference PS21 .H3 1995
Check MNCAT Record for Location and Availability http://prime2.oit.umn.edu:1701/primo_library/libweb/action/display.do?fn=display&vid=TWINCITIES&doc=umn_aleph000524488
- Fictional Characters
Below are examples of useful sources for identifying fictional characters from literary works of all cultures and periods.
- Imaginary People: A Who's Who of Fictional Characters from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day
Covers about 2,500 characters from popular culture-- "novels, poems, plays, short stories, opera, ballet, comic-strips, songs, films, radio, television, and computer games
Location(s): Wilson Reference PN56.4 .P75 1996
Check MNCAT Record for Location and Availability http://prime2.oit.umn.edu:1701/primo_library/libweb/action/display.do?fn=display&vid=TWINCITIES&doc=umn_aleph001193199
- Dent Dictionary of Fictional Characters
Brief identifications of about 15,000 characters from novels, plays, and short stories.
nb-- This is a revised edition of a work previously published as Dictionary of Fictional Characters, by William Freeman, 1963, and subsequently as Everyman's Dictionary of Fictional Characters, by Fred Urquhart, 1973, both of which are in WILSON circulating stacks. Each edition dropped some characters and added others.
Location(s): Wilson Reference PN56.4 .S495x 1991
Check MNCAT Record for Location and Availability http://prime2.oit.umn.edu:1701/primo_library/libweb/action/display.do?fn=display&vid=TWINCITIES&doc=umn_aleph001733098
The following are among the most useful compendia for identifying the source of a literary quote or for discovering notable quotations on a topic.All three of these volumes provide well-known quotations from all periods and cultures. Their arrangements vary: Bartlett (chronological); Oxford (by author); Home Books (by subject). Each has supplementary key-word and other indexes.
The following general DICTIONARIES and THESAURI provide information on most of the words in the English language--similar sources exist for other major languages.
Finding Book Reviews
- Roget's II: The New Thesaurus
The online version of Roget's II contains 35,000 synonyms and over 250,000 cross-references in an easy-to-use format. Features of the thesaurus include succinct word definitions and an innovative hyperlinked category index, which leads you to list of antonyms for the word you select.
The basic things
you need to know to search for a book review are:
- The author
of the book and its original title.
- The date
of the book's initial publication (see I. above on how to find publication
dates in the catalogs). If the book has appeared in more than one
edition it is sometimes helpful to know the dates of later editions.
Locating Works in Collections
- Basic Guides to Reviews
The works discussed
below are some of the most useful sources for locating reviews, the
majority of which appear in periodicals.* The annotations for each of
them will help you to decide which ones to use based on the years covered
and on the types of periodicals included.
In using these
sources to find a review begin by looking under the author's name in
the volume for the year in which your book was published. Then check
the volumes for the next few years following the date of publication.
Scholarly books in particular tend to be reviewed a considerable time
after their original publication date. The citations in book review
sources are similar to those used in other periodical indexes (see IV
In looking for literary
works--poems, short stories, plays, essays--in collections or anthologies
keep in mind that:
- Most of them
will not be separately noted in MNCAT--listings are for complete
books, by editor or compiler and by title of the work only. It is
sometimes worth checking the catalogs by title, however, in case the
title of the work anthologized has been used as the general title
of the collection. It is also sometimes worth checking the catalogs
by author for collections of his or her essays, poems, plays or short
stories which might include the work you want (and then looking at
the table of contents of the volume itself). Another method of locating
elusive literary works in collections is through an individual
author bibliography (see III, C), listing works by author.
- The most efficient
way to begin tracking down anthologized works not listed in MNCAT,
however, is through the genre indexes below:
Writing the Paper and Style Manuals
- American Verse Project
The American Verse Project is a collaborative project between the University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative (HTI) and the University of Michigan Press. The project is assembling an electronic archive of volumes of American poetry prior to 1920. The full text of each volume of poetry is being converted into digital form and coded in Standard Generalized Mark-up Language (SGML) using the TEI Guidelines, with various forms of access provided through the WWW.
The books listed below can answer questions on grammar, familiarize you with scholarly conventions and research paper format, and help you improve your style.
Other Guides to Research
- Chicago Manual of Style Online
The standard work and most comprehensive of the style manuals. All chapters are written for the electronic age, with advice on how to prepare and edit manuscripts online, handle copyright and permissions issues raised by new technologies, use the latest methods of preparing mathematical copy, and cite electronic and online sources.
Most of the library sources you will need in beginning to investigate a literary topic are discussed in the other sections of this guide, but the following book-length guides will direct you to other reference works--both literary and general--to assist you in going further in your research.
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