Medieval English literature is a very broad category, spanning many centuries and several languages. Thus, this guide can only give some very general pointers and try to hit some of the major movements. Fortunately, library resources include good ways to search, both generally and specifically,for medieval literature.
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.
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:
You may notice a certain irregularity among these names. In many cases, the birth and death dates are vague, uncertain, or unknown.
Furthermore, they do not all have the same kind of name. In general, authors are listed in the catalog by last name. However, the "de France" in Marie de France and the "Aquinas" in Thomas Aquinas are not surnames but merely specify where these authors were from, Thus, they are listed in the catalog by their personal names.
If you go back even further, many works of early English literature are anonymous. These are listed by title:
Thus, the subject headings for medieval literature are slightly less predictable than the headings for later literature.
Like other headings, however, they are also broken down into more specific categories. These may include Criticism and Interpretation, names of specific works, "sources" (that is, the works their works are based on) and more.
There are also subject headings you might use to search for early English literature in general, such as:
Notice that specific genres of literature, such as Christian hagiography and epic poetry, are often subject headings
Remember to browse, as some of these are further broken down into more specific subjects. For instance, in addition to English poetry -- Old English, ca. 450-1100, you may also see headings like English poetry -- Old English, ca. 450-1100 -- History and criticism.
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 about medieval literature and medieval studies. The ranges beginning with PN and PR are literature oriented, but you may also find interesting resources in areas of study like history and art.
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.