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.
Research Do's and Don'ts
This page from Literature: A Guide for Graduate Students includes more search strategies and tips on taking advantage of different database features.
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
- e.g. for medieval OR "middle ages," "early modern" OR renaissance you will find a variety of terms, including medieval, 1100 to 1500, to 1400, etc.
- In the MLA: use 99-year ranges
- 1200-1299, 2000-2099, etc.
- Note some additional multi-century periods used instead of the 99-year ranges, primarily for pre-1500 anglophone literature (medieval, Middle English, Old English) and Chinese literature (Qing dynasty, Warring States, etc).
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
- Historical events---especially wars---are often assigned very specific date ranges, e.g. Vietnam War, 1961-1975 or World War, 1939-1945.