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Seventeenth Century British Literature Research Guide


Books are often a good place to start, because they generally provide better introductions to unfamiliar subjects than articles do. Further, you do not need to read the entire book--just the relevant chapter is often sufficient. 

In any case, the search strategies listed here may also help you with other kinds of resources. 

Subject Searching

Your search for books might start in one of two places...

In both of these resources, if you are looking for books about a particular author, you can use a Subject Search. This is very useful in literary research because it allows you to find all the books on an author, and only the books on that author. 

In some cases, there may be so many books on an author that browsing the subject headings doesn't work well.  Consider Shakespeare:

list of the subheadings under "Shakespeare -- Adaptations"

Those are just the books about adaptations of Shakespeare! Milton presents a similar problem.

In such cases, you may want to use the Advanced Search to combine your subject search with a keyword search.  For instance, John Milton, Radical Politics and Biblical Republicanism is one of many books you would find by searching for “Milton” as a subject and combining it with “politics” as a keyword.

For more information on subject searching, please see the general guide to literature research. 

Subject Headings

Authors are usually subjects in the catalog. When you search for authors, remember, you are using a subject search to find books about the author, NOT an author search, which would find books by the author. So, you can do searches like this:

  • Behn, Aphra, 1640-1689
  • Browne, Thomas, Sir, 1605-1682
  • Marvell, Andrew, 1621-1678
  • Milton, John, 1608-1674‚Äč

Remember to put the last name first!

You will also see headings that refer to particular types of works pertaining to these authors, such as Characters, Criticism and Interpretation, Political and Social Views and so on.

There are other subject headings you may also find of interest, such as:

  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century
  • England -- Intellectual life -- 17th century
  • English drama -- 17th century -- History and criticism
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism
  • Poets, English -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Biography
  • Epic poetry, English -- History and criticism
  • Milton, John, 1608-1674 -- Influence
  • Pastoral poetry, English -- History and criticism
  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 17th century
  • Theater -- England -- History -- 17th century
  • Women and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century

Remember to browse, as some of these are further broken down into more specific subjects. For instance, in addition to English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism, you may also see headings like English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc. 

Although all of these are real subject headings and you should feel free to use them, there are also many more. This is just a list of examples to help you get started and give you some idea what kinds of searches are possible.


You can use these call numbers to find books on seventeenth century literature, which are grouped near each other in the library. While it may appear old fashioned, browsing is in fact a highly efficient method of taking advantage of the way the library is organized in order to find books on a topic.

  • DA 370-461              History of Great Britain -- The Seventeenth Century
  • PN 721-749              Literature of the Renaissance (1500-1700)
  • PR 431-439              Seventeenth century British literature
  • PR 521-549              Renaissance and seventeenth century British poetry
  • PR 641-701              Renaissance and seventeenth century British drama
  • PR 3291-3785         Seventeenth century authors by surname

Since books on the same author or topic are grouped together on the shelf, it is often a good idea to visit a particular call range and see what we have on the shelves.Note that in the Library of Congress system, the earlier sequences usually refer to more general topics. 

Reference Books