Library databases have their own language for describing things, displayed in the "subjects" that you'll see listed next to citations. Subject headings are a kind of controlled vocabulary, and using them well can transform your search results from random chaos to beautiful relevance.
This page from Literature: A Guide for Graduate Students includes broader "how to search" advice, e.g. MIT's Database Search Tips (a great, concise introduction to Booleans, keywords v. subjects, and search fields
Narrow to Scholarly Criticism
Sometimes it can be a challenge to separate the scholarship about a topic from the primary sources.
In HOLLIS (primarily Library Catalog):
- Criticism AND interpretation narrows down to literary criticism and other kinds of close interpretive analysis
- Criticism OR history includes historical, political, and other forms of analysis
In the MLA
- No extra terms needed! The MLA is an index of scholarship, and primarily literary scholarship.
Describe Your Topic by...
- Search “lastname, firstname” as an exact phrase. You may need to specify further—compare, for example, “James, Henry” against “James, Henry 1843.”
In HOLLIS Everything and other aggregator databases
- If you're not sure about how reliably subjects are deployed in a database, it's a good idea to search "lastname, firstname" OR "firstname lastname"
- In HOLLIS, account for multiple permutations:
- In the MLA, use adjectives but account for multiple ways of defining a region
Time Period - Century and Multi-century Literary Periods
- In HOLLIS:
- Use ordinals for all centuries from the 16th to the 21st (e.g. women writers 19th British).
- Pre-16th century, use a keyword search to find a few relevant materials and associated subject headings
- In the MLA: use 99-year ranges
Time Period - Decades, Historical Events, etc.
- If you're interested in a specific decade, such as the 1960s, remember that while decade designations often show up in abstracts or in book and chapter titles, that information isn't always included in HOLLIS, and some of the best material on the 1960s may be in a book that's tagged simply "20th century." So you need to use two approaches:
- Historical events