Primary sources

Start here

Primary subject databases
Database Description
MLA International Bibliography (via EBSCOhost) Comprehensive index for modern languages and literatures providing citations to articles, books, book chapters and dissertations. View Full Description

Main databases

Secondary subject databases
Database Description
Gale Literature Resource Center Full text biographical information, overviews, criticism and reviews on writers, past and present. View Full Description
Literature Online Full text of more than 355,000 works in English, American and Canadian literature. View Full Description
Project MUSE Full-text books and peer reviewed journals in the humanities and social sciences. View Full Description

Also useful

Tertiary subject databases
Database Description
C19: The Nineteenth Century Index Index to books, magazines, documents, newspapers. View Full Description
CPI.Q Index for Canadian academic journals and popular magazines View Full Description
Google Scholar Searches for articles and web resources from academic publishers and universities. View Full Description
Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance Interdisciplinary bibliography of scholarly research on the period from 400 to 1700. View Full Description
JSTOR Current and back issues of journals in arts and sciences. View Full Description
NSTC: Nineteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue Combined catalogue of books written in English from 1801 to 1919. View Full Description
ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global International database with full text and/or abstracts for doctoral dissertations and selected master's theses. View Full Description
Web of Science Core Collection Citation indexes for the arts & humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences. View Full Description
World Shakespeare Bibliography Coverage includes books, articles, reviews, audiovisual materials relating to scholarship and theatrical productions. View Full Description

Primo catalogue

Search Omni to find items at Laurier, UW and UG:

  • novels, plays, collections of poetry by title
  • works by specific authors
  • books (monographs) about literary works (literary criticism)
  • books on literary genres (eg. English drama) or literary movements (eg. postcolonialism)
  • book-length biographies, bibliographies (lists of works by or about authors or subjects), dictionaries, and other reference materials

MLA Bibliography

Use the MLA Bibliography to identify more books and book chapters on your topic:

  • do not limit to "peer reviewed" (this will eliminate all books and book chapters)
  • use "Get it @ Laurier" to connect to the Primo catalogue
  • book isn't in Primo?

Finding literary criticism

  1. For authors , try browsing in Primo by subject on author's last name, followed by first name: eg. Dickens, Charles. Here are some results. Note that for this author, criticism is available for specific works and topics:
    • Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870. Characters Children
    • Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870. Criticism and Interpretation
    • Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870. Criticism and interpretation History
    • Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870. David Copperfield
  2. For a particular period , browse by subject in Primo on the general category, then look for the century, followed by more specific subdivisions:
    • English literature
    • English literature 20th century
    • English literature 20th century Bibliography
    • English Literature 20Th Century History and Criticism
    • English literature 20th century History and criticism Dictionaries

Book reviews

Research guides

Below are a selection of research guides for English. To find more, search the Primo Catalogue for the subjects: literature, research, methodology.

Literary research guide: an annotated listing of reference sources in English literary studies, by Harner, James L.
Modern language Association, 2008. Print location: Z2011.H34 2008
American literature scholar in the digital age, by Earhart, Amy; Jewell, Andrew
University of Michigan Press, 2011. Print location: PS51.A64
Handbook to literary research, by Eliot, Simon; Owens, W.R.
Routledge, 1998.
Literary research and Canadian literature : strategies and sources
Scarecrow, 2011. Print location: PS8039.5.R49
Literary research and postcolonial literatures in English, by Christenberry, H. Faye et al
Scarecrow, 2012.
Reference sources for Canadian literary studies, by Joseph Jones
University of Toronto Press, 2005. Print location: Z1375.J66

More resources for finding books

Finding biographies

For book-length biographies, search the person's name as a "subject" in Primo

General guides

Literature Online (LION), 8th century to present
Biographies of writers in English and also of major writers in languages other than English.
Literature Resource Center
Includes full text from Contemporary Authors and Dictionary of Literary Biography
Gale's Literary Index
Index to publications of the Gale Group, a major reference book publisher, including Contemporary Authors, and Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Women authors

British women authors, see: call numbers beginning PR 111

Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature
1992. Brief descriptions of selected women writers from across the world and from all time periods. Print location.
Women Writers of Great Britain and Europe
1997. Biographical essays and lists of works for writers from antiquity to the present. Print location.

English authors

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
More than 50,000 biographies of people of distinction in the British Isles and its colonies, from the 4th century to the 21st. New edition of the 1885 work; also includes the original edition: do a search, then select "DNB Archive" from the left-hand column.

Poets: see call number range PR 541 - PR 611; Dramatists: see call number range: PR 106, PR 623 - PR 737; Prose Writers: see call number range PR 781; Novelists: see call number range PR 830 - PR 888

Canadian authors

See call numbers starting PS 8081

Contemporary Canadian Authors
1996. A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to writers in all genres. Print location.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Historical, biographical dictionary with scholarly articles on individuals who died on or before 1930. Biographies for later individual are being added; see "New Biographies" on the sidebar.

American authors

See call number range PS128 - PS 490

Australian authors

Oxford Companion to Australian Literature

African and Caribbean authors

See call numbers beginning PR 9205

Oxford English Dictionary
The full text of the 20-volume 2nd edition (1989) plus regular updates.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Biographies of people of distinction in the British Isles and its colonies, from the 4th century to the 21st.
Oxford Reference
Large collection of online reference sources.
Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism
Full-text encyclopedia with entries for critics, theorists, schools and movements.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Online encyclopedia from Stanford University. Updated continuously.
Dictionary of slang and unconventional English, by Eric Partridge
Encompasses world Englishes, with an emphasis on American and British slang. Print location: PE3721 .P3 1984
  • To find more resources, search the Primo Catalogue using the subject term "dictionaries" or "encyclopedias."

A primary source is a document produced within a particular historical context. Examples include works of fiction, poetry, drama and art, plus letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches and interviews. The document may have published close to the time it was written, at a later time, or it may not be published at all, as is the case for many items in archival and manuscript collections. See Finding Primary Sources - Library of Congress Subject Headings (from MIT Libraries) for subject keywords to use when searching the Primo Library Catalogue.

Online primary source collections

Start here for English literature

Early English Books Online (EEBO) 1475-1700
Facsimiles of more than 100,000 literary and historical texts as listed in the English Short Title Catalogue.
Eighteenth Century Journals 1650-1815
Rare, full-text journals on a wide range of topics.
Nineteenth Century Collections Online
Primary source collection focusing on the 19th century, gender, and class through a transnational perspective.
Literature Online (LION) 8th century to present
Full text of hundreds of thousands of works in British, American and Canadian English.
Defining Gender, 1450-1910
Full-text manuscripts and printed works, plus illustrations.
Early Canadiana Online
Digitized texts published between the first European settlement of Canada and the early twentieth century.

Also useful for English literature, A-Z

19th Century Masterfile 1106-1930
An index to a variety of primary sources from the 12th century up to 1930.
Asian American Drama late 19th century to present
Full-text plays, many not previously published, and related information.
Black Drama 1850 to present
Full-text plays and related information from around the world.
Center for Research Libraries
Materials available in digital format of for request through Interlibrary Loan.
First World War Personal Experiences
Documents, maps and visual resources.
Internet Archive
Digitized texts in the public domain.
Latino Literature late 19th century to present
Full-text poetry, prose and drama by writers in the U.S.
Modernist Journals Project early 20th century
Selection of full-text journals, books and essays along with visual art.
News Archives Online late 18th century to early 21st
Full-text newspapers from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.
North American Indian Thought and Culture 17th century to present
Full-text biographies, autobiographies, diaries, letters, personal narratives and speeches.
North American Theatre Online
Information about plays, actors, productions, etc.
North American Women's Drama colonial times to present
Full-text plays, chiefly American with some Canadian.
Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674 to 1913
Details of thousands of criminal trials.
Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice
Includes manuscripts, books, pamphlets, maps and images.
South and Southeast Asian Literature 1827 to present
Fiction and poetry written in English by authors from South and Southeast Asia.
Twentieth Century North American Drama late 19th century to present
Full-text plays, chiefly American with some Canadian.

Letters and diaries

British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries 1500 to World War II
Search by author's name, age, marital status, etc., and also by historical event.
Manuscript Women's Letters and Diaries 1719 to 1991
Collection of personal writings by American women of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries
North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories late 18th century to present
Full-text personal narratives of immigrants to the United States and Canada.
North American Women's Letters and Diaries colonial times to 1950
Full-text material, primarily American, with some from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Original documents in the Laurier Archives

Clara Bernhardt (1928-1991) fonds
Cambridge, Ontario-area poet, novelist, composer, and columnist. The collection includes publications, manuscripts, scrapbooks, correspondence, diaries and other papers.
John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) collection
English lecturer and novelist, whose works included Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance. The collection includes reproductions of publications, newspaper clippings, and correspondence.

Critical reception and publication history

Dictionary of Literary Biography
Often provides an overview of the reception of a work. Search for your author or title in Gale's Literary Index to identify the appropriate volumes.
Look for biographies of your author (subject term: biography), then check the table of contents and index for mentions of your work
Cambridge University Press
Look for an edition of your work by this press; these often include publication history
News archives online late 18th century to early 21st
Search for reviews from the time your work was published
Book reviews
Use these tools for books published since 1900

Historical and social contexts

When studying a literary work, you may want to learn about the context:

  • historical events from the time period
  • social or psychological issues affecting the characters

To find information, you may need to expand beyond the specific resources for literature. Examples:

Sample keywords

Here are some terms and phrases to add to your Primo catalogue searches. Once you find a good source, click on "details" and then on the subject heading that best matches your search.

  • "context" Search along with the author's name
    • context Austen
  • "social conditions" Sample subject heading:
    • England social conditions 16th century
  • "social life and customs" Sample subject heading:
    • Canada social life and customs 19th century
  • "political and social views" Sample subject heading:
    • Shakespeare William political and social views
  • "history" Sample subject heading:
    • Great Britain history 1660-1714
  • "intellectual life" Sample subject heading:
    • New York intellectual life 20th century

Selected sources

America: History and Life
Identify articles, books and book chapters for Canadian and American history.
Historical Abstracts
Identify articles, books and book chapters for English and world history back to 1450.
Cambridge Histories Online
250 volumes covering English and American history and related topics.
Social History of England, by Asa Briggs
New York, Viking Press, 1984. Print location: HN398 .E5B74 1984
Short history of early modern England: British literature in context, by Peter C. Herman
Chicester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011
Culture of the English People: Iron age to the industrial revolution, by Norman Pounds
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print location: DA110 .P683
Origins of modern English society, by Harold James Perkin
London: Routledge, 2002
History of Canada, by Scott See
Amenia: Greyhouse Publishing, 2010
America: a concise history, by James Henretta
Boston, Bedford, 2012. Print location: E178.1 .H5 2010