ENGL 434: Topics in the Victorian Period

 This guide has been designed as a starting point for the research that you will need to to research for English 434. 

If you need help, please contact Andre Iwanchuk, Liaison Librarian, English and History at 778.782.4304 or aiwanchu@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.


1) Library Website - a few pointers!
2) Background Information
3) Getting What You Need from the Library Catalogue
4) Databases: MLA and Beyond
5) 19th Century Resources
6) A Few More Tips and Hints

1) The Library Website - a few pointers!

Research and Writing Guides - It's a good place to start with any subject you are researching. You may want to explore other subjects guides if your topic is cross disciplinary.
Library Catalogue - Remember these steps three easy steps 1) Search by Keyword 2) Select a book from the list that appears to meet your needs 3) Use the subject headings for that book to find similar materials. Try using Advanced Keyword! Remember to request In Process books - it takes 2-3 days to receive it.
Article Indexes and Databases - Access databases by subject if you aren't sure which database to use. You may want to explore the databases for Contemporary Arts, Film, Philosophy or Women's Studies depending on your topic. Explore!
SFU Library Style guides - This page is very helpful and contains our new and improved style guides as well as pointers on citing and writing.You may want to consult the MLA guide from the Library's homepage at some point.
Request items from other libraries: Don't hesitate to use this if the SFU Library does not have an item you need. It generally takes 3-14 days for an item to arrive (often closer to 3).

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2) Background Information

To aid in the planning of your paper you may want to get some background information. You may want to consult encyclopedias, directories or biographical series to get general idea of the culture, historical context and biographical information about those people related to your studies of Tennyson.
  • Oxford Dictionary of national biography - An illustrated collection of biographies of the men and women who shaped all aspects of the history of the British Isles and beyond, from the earliest times to the year 2005. Does not include people who are still living.
  • Gale Literary and Critical Databases Combined Search is an excellent place to find background information about authors. 
  • Biographical dictionary of literary influences: the nineteenth century, 1800-1914. Z 1039 C45 B56 2001
  • Oxford Reference Online - This online collection of dictionaries, encyclopedias and other reference books provides access to general reference sources, as well as subject specific resources. There are over 20 resources included in this database for English Literature which can be searched individually or simultaneously.
  • Tennyson Alfred Tennyson Baron 1809 1892 Biography - Books about Tennyson's life held at SFU Library
  • The Encyclopedia of the Victorian world : a reader's companion to the people, places, events, and everyday life of the Victorian era  Bennett Reference DA 550 E53 1996
  • A companion to Victorian Literature & Culture  Bennett Library PR 461 C597 1999
  • Victorian Culture and Society: The Essential Glossary  Bennett Library DA 550 R59 2003

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3) Getting What You Need From the Library Catalogue

Use the Library Catalogue to find books owned by SFU Library. You may also want to used the Advanced keyword search as you can practice more targeted searches.

Before searching the Library catalogue or databases, think about your topic. Break down your topic into concepts or keywords. Think of synonyms for each keyword or concept.  Keep your mind open to new or alternative words that describe your topic. Create search strings that can either broaden (using OR) or narrow (using AND) your topic.

Here is an example of a search string using BOOLEAN operators (AND and OR) to get the best results. My topic is

  • The role of English expansion in Tennyson's literature

Identify the key words and think of any variations, synonyms or related terms. (e.g. expansion, imperialism, empire)

Combining terms

The simple terms and and or allow you to combine terms to broaden or narrow your searches.

  • Broaden: combining with or requires ANY term to be found in each search result (use this for finding synonyms)

                 e.g.  (expansion OR imperialism OR empire)

  • Narrow: combining with and requires ALL terms to be found in each search result (use this for finding two or more concepts in the same source)

                  e.g. Literature AND Victorian AND (expansion OR imperialism OR empire)

Remember your three steps 1)Do a keyword search 2) Select a book from the list that appears to meet your needs 3) Use the subject headings for that books to find similar materials. Subject headings are terms that have been assigned to each book. They are extremely useful for locating books on the same subject regardless of the terminology used by the author. Using subject headings in your search can lead to more accurate results but it's almost always easier to start with keyword searching first. For example:

If you click on this subject heading you will find other books that have critical information on this topic.

National Characteristics English In Literature

Identity Philosophical Concept In Literature

Imperialism In Literature

Nationalism Great Britain History 19th Century

Advanced Keyword Searching

Sometimes it can help to direct the computer on where to look for your key words.  For example, the subject heading Classical Literature -- History and Criticism -- Theory Etc may include a lot of irrelevant results.  To narrow those results to ones that deal specifically with Bakhtin or with the notion of Carnival, try combining those key words with your subject heading by using the Advanced Keyword search screen.  If you prefer to use the simple search box, use these commands in front of your search terms:

s: searches the subject field

a: searches the author field

t: searches the title field

An example of this search would be s:National Characteristics English In Literature AND Tennyson

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4) Databases: MLA and Beyond

Every database is slightly different, you improve as a researcher each time you go outside of your safety zone. For example you may want to try databases in other subjects. Look at the databases by subject area in the Journal articles and databases and see if there might be something that is helpful for your paper. Also remember not to limit yourself to only fulltext databases, most of the databases at SFU will give you the option to find the article either in print in the Library or in another electronic database. Click on "Where Can I Get This?"

Please note that if an article is not available at SFU you can get it through Interlibrary Loans. This service is quick.

  • MLA is the primary source for English Literature research. All articles in this database are scholarly.
  • Historical Abstracts - Indexes literature on the history of the world since 1450 except for the United States and Canada.  This database would be useful in researching the historical context of an issue or a topic.
  • Humanities and Social Science Index is a good place to begin to search a wide range of subjects within the areas of Humanities and Social Sciences. 
  • JSTOR Note that this database defaults to a basic search. There is also an advanced search option to the right of the basic box. I would suggest using this or if you are building long search strings it may be helpful to use the expert search. Note that JSTOR has a 2-5 year embargo on its articles so not the database to use if you are looking for the latest and most current information.
  • You may want to try Google Scholar but remember to access it through the Library homepage to get maximum results.

Using the Thesaurus or Index within a Database

One way to access the subject headings in a database is to examine which ones are attached to the results of your keyword search (found listed either along the right or left hand side of the screen, or within the information record for a particular article).  However, if you want to check to see is a term is treated as a subject heading or a descriptor before you search, look for the thesaurus or index tool within the database (usually found above the search boxes).  Type your term into the thesaurus search box to see if it appears within the alphabetical listing of all the subject headings used in the database.  If your term appears you can change the default setting on the main search boxes to look in the subject/descriptor field rather than in the whole record.  This will help to return more relevant results than simple keyword searching.

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 5) 19th Century Resources

The SFU Library has several databases that provide access, either in the form of an index or full text, to various 19th century resources. 

Tennyson's Poems,  a Linked Primary Bibliography - A list of the major editions of Tennyson's poetry, with links to the first editions where possible, or otherwise the earliest available edition.


Use these resources to search for primary resources published during the 19th century.  Once you have found some relevant titles, search the SFU Library catalogue to see if we hold a copy of the title.  Remember, many sources are reprinted at later dates, so if the date in the catalogue doesn't match the original year of publication, it is likely a reprint.  You can also use our interlibrary loan service to order a copy of anything we do not own.

Nineteenth Century Masterfile - An index to Nineteenth Century periodicals, books, newspapers and government documents.

Nineteenth Century Short Title Catalogue - Provides an exhaustive bibliography of over 1.2 million records for the 19th-century holdings of eight of the world's top research libraries. It covers virtually all printed materials published in the U.S. and the British Empire from 1801 to 1919.

Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals - ** Only available from library public workstations **  Covers literature, religion,politics, social science, political economy, women's writing, archaeology, science and the arts. Includes 45 of the most important monthly and quarterly periodicals, most of which are not indexed in any other bibliographic reference work. Identifies authorship of the articles therein (nearly 95% of the writing was done anonymously). Shows the contents of every issue of every periodical. Lists for each contributor all their articles written within the periodicals featured.  Please use Internet Explorer as your browser, rather than Mozilla Firefox, in order to open this database.

Digitized Sources

19TH Century UK Periodicals Digital Archive - Newspapers from 1800-1900 from Britain.  The availability, on the scholar’s desktop, of six million pages of nineteenth-century journalism, fully searchable, sourced from the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and other specialist libraries, offers a collection of unparalleled range and diversity.

Times Digital Archive - A complete digital edition of the Times (London), and its predecessor title Universal Daily Register (1785-1788). It contains full-text and full-image articles for the years 1785-1985. It is a digital reproduction, cover to cover, of the paper in PDF files, containing over eight million articles and advertisements. The entire newspaper is captured, with all articles, advertisements, and illustrations/photos.

Periodicals Archive Online -  An online archive of digitized, full-image journal articles and offers unprecedented access to international, scholarly literature in the humanities and social sciences disciplines from 1802 to 1995. 

InteLex Past Masters  - InteLex Past Masters is comprised of 117 full-text humanities databases that make available cohesive collections of editions, in both original language and in English translation, of seminal figures in the humanities and social sciences. 

Carlyle Letters - Here you will find a perspective on the 19th century like no other, through the words of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. Browse over 10,000 of their collected letters by date, by recipient, by subject, and by volume. We invite you to explore a correspondence that features some of the most influential artistic, philosophic, and literary personalities of the day.

Internet Archive - Contains links to digitized books around the world, as well as other types of media.  If SFU does not have a particular source listed in the indexes, you may also search here to see if a digital version is available.

Art and Print Culture

If you are interested in print culture, illustrated books, and art inspired by poetry, you can use one of the SFU Art databases to search for relevant works from major art collections around the world.  There are also many books in the SFU collection related to this subject.  Try searching the following subject headings:

Literature Publishing Great Britain History 19th Century

Publishers And Publishing Great Britain History 19th Century

Printing Great Britain History 19th Century

Art And Literature Great Britain History 19th Century

Illustration Of Books Victorian Great Britain

Visual Perception In Literature

Palgrave Studies In Nineteenth Century Writing And Culture

Image Databases

ARTstor - Currently contains over 700,000 images.  The Collection documents artistic traditions across many times and cultures and embraces architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design as well as many other forms of visual culture. The collection has been derived from several source collections that are the product of collaborations with libraries, museums, photographic archives, publishers, slide libraries, and individual scholars.

Art Images - SFU Library's Art Images is a growing collection of online images documenting a broad range of art in support of teaching, learning, and research at SFU. Currently the collection is composed of over 2000 images with an emphasis on the history of Western Art.

Oxford Art Online - The most comprehensive online reference resource for all aspects of the visual arts worldwide from prehistory to the present day. Includes links to art images from galleries and museums around the world. Many images are held in private collections and are not readily available in public websites.

Early photographically illustrated books – British Library.  Take a look at Victorian Britain as captured in almost 1,500 early photographic prints, including works by distinguished pioneers of the medium.

Arthurian Legends

Medievalism Great Britain History 19th Century
Medievalism In Literature
Middle Ages In Literature
Arthurian Romances

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6) A Few More Hints and Tips

  • Remember to keep track of every item you consult to avoid plagiarism.  Check the MLA guide on the Library homepage for assistance using MLA style. The Department of English also maintains this guide with information on preferred style.  You may also want to explore the bibliographic citation management tool RefWorks.
  • Use a variety of different formats: print sources, electronic sources. You may even wish to check out a few good websites for background information:
  • Voice of the Shuttle
  • VictorianWeb
  • NINES - The chief function of NINES is to protect, sustain, and enhance digital scholarship and criticism in "the long 19th century." Developing an aggregated body of peer-reviewed scholarly and educational tools and materials will have a significant impact in several important areas of our work. 
  • Don't forget: you can always Ask a Librarian for help.

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