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Comparative Literature Research Guide


This guide is intended to introduce you to some strategies and resources for comparative literature research. 

There are many similarities between research for comparative literature and other kinds of literary research, so you may also want to look into our guide to literatures in English.

Books are an essential resource for research in literature, because they are:

  • Easy to browse
  • More likely to provide introductory materials
  • Broken down into chapters on specific topics

Notice you don't have to read the whole book!

Books are also a good resource for historical background research. 

Catalogs (Search for Books Here)

Interlibrary Loan

Searching for Books

Subject Headings

You can use subject headings in either of these resources:

In the catalog, you can use

Subject Begins with...

to find books if you already know how they are described (that is, what their subject headings are). This will give you a list of things that books are about.

Subject headings are specific phrases that are consistent throughout the catalog. This can make it tricky to guess what the best subject heading will be, but there are some specific patterns that can help you. The following things are often subject headings:

  • Authors' names, entered last name first (for example: Rousseau, Jean-Jacques). In many cases, you will see subheadings further describing the books we have on that author (so, for instance, you can see all the books about the Confessions).
  • National literatures and literary movements such as German poetry or Modernism.
  • Names of countries or religions or philosophies, like ChinaTaoism, or existentialism. These can be very useful if you want more information about the context in which a work was produced. 

Since comparative literature is quite interdisciplinary, you may find yourself consulting books about literary criticism, history, philosophy, or the social sciences. When you are searching, it is useful to think about what kinds of books you would find most helpful. 

Browsing the Shelves

Browse the Shelves

This is a very effective strategy for literature, because all the books on an author are usually shelved together.

Reference books are on level 3, while most other books are on level 5.

Most of the books on literature are organized by language family; literatures of the Romance languages are in PQ, the Germanic languages are in under PT, and so forth. Because the Library of Congress classification was developed in the United States, British literature and American literature have their own classes (PR and PS, respectively). 

This list from the Library of Congress provides more information. 

The library also holds some books on literature generally, and on specific genres. For instance:

  • GR 1-999                  Folklore, Folk literature
  • PN 1-99                    General works on literature, literary theory, and literary criticism
  • PN 1010-1529         Poetry
  • PN 1600-3307         Drama
  • PN 3311-3303         Prose

Other Guides on Literature