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Literatures in English Research Guide

The following is intended as a general guide to research in literature.

Themes and Genres

Sometimes, you might be interested on criticism on a literary genre or theme, rather than a particular work. This often happens when:

  • There isn't a lot of criticism on a specific work, so you look to see how it fits into other works that are like it in one way or another
  • You are interested in several similar works.

In general, books will be your best resource for this kind of search, because they are broader in scope than articles. 

Other Ways of Searching for Books

Sometimes you may need to search more broadly; not for criticism of a specific work but for criticism of a theme or genre. 

These broader searches can be a little trickier.

Books are generally a better source for this kind of search, because they have a broader scope. Where articles will generally focus on one work (or a small group of works), books are more likely to look at a given period, theme, or group.

Literary Themes

You will probably want to start with an "All Fields" search, but you may find that there are many subject headings with a structure like this:

"_______ in literature" or "Literature and ________"

Some examples:

Consciousness in literature
Literature and history
Other (Philosophy) in literature
Race in literature
Venice (Italy) in literature

You might use these to write about those particular topics. They may also be useful if you are working with one work in particular and want to see how it fits in with other works about, for instance, Venice, or consciousness.

Not every theme has its corresponding subject heading. However, subject headings can be immensely useful in identifying books whose titles might not include these words.

Genre & Critical Approach

The catalog also classifies criticism of works based on genre. Genres can be broad or narrow. For example, these are all headings:

Biography as a literary form
Epic literature
Science fiction

There are also headings for criticism using a particular critical approach:

Feminist literary criticism
History in literature
Marxist criticism
Postcolonialism in literature
Psychoanalysis and literature
Queer theory
Structuralism (Literary analysis)

You can use the Advanced Search to pair these genres with particular works, or you could do this kind of search on its own.


Sometimes it's also possible to look for criticism of authors who are somehow similar to the author in question. 

For instance, there are many subject headings organizing both authors and literature by nationality, like this:

Irish literature
Authors, Irish

Literary movements are also useful subject headings:

Harlem Renaissance
Romanticism -- Great Britain

Other facets of a writer's identity may also be subject headings:

American literature -- African American authors
Gays' writings, American
Women authors

Unfortunately, it's often difficult to guess exactly how this will appear in the headings; each of the patterns I've listed above is a possibility. 

Suggested Reference Works

What about Articles?

If you are searching for themes rather than criticism of particular works, I'd recommend using books!  Broad topics of this kind are better covered in longer works!  Articles are shorter and smaller in scope, so they tend to focus specifically on a work or a small group of works rather than the bigger picture. 

You can do similar searches in some databases. 

Still, if you are sure you want to use databases for this, here's some advice.