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ENGL E-599: English Literature in a Critical Context


Major Multidisciplinary Databases



The first and still most widely known full-text journal database, trusted for its content.  JSTOR covers core  scholarly journals in 75 fields.  


Some of its content is open access and easily discoverable on the web; some is made available only because of your Harvard affiliation and the library's subscription to JSTOR


The most recent issues of journals may not even appear in a JSTOR search, however, if they are behind the database's 1-5 year "moving wall." 

Google Scholar: familiar and current; searches full-text which can be an advantage when you've got a very narrow topic or are seeking a "nugget" that traditional database searching can't surface easily. 


Google Scholar incorporates more types of information -- not just books and journal contents-- and depending on your need, comfort level, and perspective, that eclecticism can be an advantage.  

Google Scholar is perfectly acceptable for most general forays into scholarship; its algorithms are excellent and do return relevant results. 

It's also an excellent way to follow CITATION TRAILS. Enter the title of a book or journal article and then click on "Cited by" when the item appears.  If the cited references are very numerous, consider keyword searching with them.

Project Muse

Originally a collection of high quality journals published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, Project Muse now includes both journals and and books from non-profit scholarly publishers, including university presses and socieities. 

Muse is weighted heavily toward the humanities, though its coverage of the social sciences is also robust. 

Content is current, so unlike JSTOR, there is no moving wall to contend with.  In fact, recent issues of journal titles that are embargoed in JSTOR will sometimes be available for access in Project Muse

But there's substantial unique content in Muse, as well -- by some estimates, about 30% of the database -- and that makes double-checking it worthwhile when you do literary research.  


A database of library catalogs (including Harvard's), WorldCat won't supply you with full-text content for any books it contains, so don't search it with that expectation.

its value will be in identifying where you can get closest geographical access to books and monographs, with research value to you, that aren't available digitally.

Using either your IP address it picks up or a zipcode that you enter, WorldCat will list university, research, and/or public library options in your immediate area -- or in the next closest place to where you are. 

When you're far from Harvard, this is one convenient way to track book-length studies down.

As long as any of the area libraries allow you in (often a phone call or a scan of their website will clarify policy), you'll be set. 

Key Literary-Focused Databases


bookmark iconMLA International Bibliography

Produced under the auspices of the Modern Language Association, the major U.S. scholarly association for literature and literary-related fields, MLA  is the premier database for searching scholarship on literature from all periods, in all languages, in all its forms.  

bookmark iconLiterature Online

A leading online resource for the study and teaching of literature in English, it has three major components: primary sources (over 355,000 literary works), a database of literary criticism, and an online library of key reference resources.  

Scholarship and criticism in this database comes from ABELL (the Annual Bibliography of  English Language and Literature, the British "cousin" to the MLA).  Although there is significant overlap with MLA, ABELL does have some unique content and is usually worth checking.


Guides and Bibliographies


The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Criticism

An indispensable resource for scholars and students of literary theory and discourse. Compiled by 275 specialists from around the world, the Guide presents a comprehensive historical survey of the field's most important figures, schools, and movements and is updated annually.

Cambridge Companions Online 

A series produced by Cambridge  University Press, of accessible, authoritative essay collections, written by experts,   Article authors compile and synthesize the consensus thinking about writers, philosophers, artists, important concepts, and historical periods.

Sample volumes:

Oxford Bibliographies Online

OBOs combine the best features of the annotated bibliography with an authoritative subject encyclopedia  in order to help you identify some of the most important and influential scholarship on a broad social, political, cultural or interdisciplinary  topic. They're regularly updated to remain current.

Often the issue in information-seeking isn't scarcity of material but overabundance. OBO entries can help you solve the problem of knowing what or who to read or which voices in the conversation you should give some fuller attention to.

Examples of guides (literary and otherwise) that might be pertinent for your capstone projects: 



Oxford Reference Online 


A collection of several hundred digitized texts, some aimed to give you brief and succinct information.Many others provide in-depth, specialized, subject overviews.  Consider this database an excellent, academically authoritative answer to the more general, everyday information needs that Wikipedia supplies.  Look here for explanations of people, events, concepts, theories, timelinees, quotations, definitions, and more. 

Extra-Literary Perspectives and Special Kinds of Resources


bookmark iconSocial Science Premium Collection 

If venturing beyond the borders of literature and humanities seems like an appropriate step for your project, Social Science Premium Collection -- which combines in one place the contents of several standard, well-respected databases for fields like sociology, psychology, and anthropology -- is a way to experiment. 

You can certainly try your text or author in a database like this, recognizing, of course, that your results will be much smaller, and will be discussed through a different lens. 

A search of "oscar wao" for example, limited to scholarly articles, results in 107 hits; a search on "everything is illuminated" retrieves 27 scholarly discussions (some in Spanish); and "cynthia ozick" AND "the shawl," just 17. 

But if you use this database to think more broadly about the ideas you're dealing with, independently of the text you've chosen,  you'll increase your yield -- and possibly find a dimension that will enrich or complicate or deepen your analysis.

bookmark iconPTSDpubs

Collects, codifies, makes accessible the worldwide literature on PTSD and other mental health consequences of traumatic events. 

bookmark iconUSC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive 

An online portal from USC Shoah Foundation that allows users to search through and view 55,000 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides that have been catalogued at the Institute. 

You can create an account  or search as guest. 

The database allows you to limit by event, country and language. It also allows keyword searching of transcripts and its own thesaurus of index terms.

For some literary topics -- related to Spiegelman and Ozick, for example -- you might find here, in witness interviews, a type of "corroborating" primary source for ideas you're exploring in a literary text. Some terms to experiment with: 

  • future message
  • intergenerational genocide impact
  • Jewish identity
  • Jewish religious observances
  • post-conflict adaptation


Other Subject Librarians