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Literature Theory and Criticism Research Guide


A lot of excellent criticism is often published in books, both on the Beats and on other writers.

Subject Searching

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

In both of these resources, 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. 

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

Subject Headings

The library holds many books that can provide a deeper look at theoretical concepts. Besides general guides to theory, we have books on specific critical approaches.

A search of the subject headings is often effective. Some headings identify books on theory generally:

Critical Theory
Literature -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
Literature -- Philosophy

Some have to do with particular schools of criticism:

Feminist literary criticism
Formalism (Literary analysis)
Marxist criticism
Psychoanalysis and literature
Queer theory
Structuralism (Literary analysis)
Feminist literary criticism

Important thinkers are often subject headings in their own right (note that this will find books about, not by, these individuals). For instance: 

Derrida, Jacques
Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984
Kristeva, Julia, 1941 - 
Said, Edward W. 

Finally, you may wish to search for information to which these theories may be applied.  In such cases, it's a good idea to use the Advanced Search. Combining these kinds of headings with a topic (let's say, "popular culture") can get you books on the theory and philosophy about that topic. 

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.


Since books in the library are organized by topic, it is often useful to browse the shelves near a useful volume. There are some specific call numbers associated with theory and criticism:

  • PN 45-57                Literature: Theory, Philosophy, Esthetics
  • PN 59-72                Literature: Study, Teaching and Methods
  • PN 80-99                Literature: Criticism
  • PN 441                   Literary History (General)
  • PN 1031                 Theory of Poetry
  • PN 3329-2252         Theory of Prose

For general theory books, PN 81 is the most useful call number.

Reference books will be on Level 3; most other books in these call ranges are on Level 5.

Books on specific topics covered by theory may be shelved elsewhere.