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ENGL 203: Early Modern Literature

This guide has been designed as a starting point for the research you will do to complete your research assignments for ENGL 203. 

If you need help, please contact Ivana Niseteo, Liaison Librarian for English, French, French Programs (FASS), Humanities, Linguistics, and World Literature at 778.782.6838 or or Ask a librarian.

Background information

Sometimes you will need to learn more about your topic before you can determine an effective search strategy. Reference sources can provide you with quick definitions of terms, summaries of concepts or people/events, and contextual information. These sources can include encyclopedias, directories, biographical dictionaries, chronologies or handbooks. SFU Library provides access to many excellent reference sources, some of which are available online.

General reference

  • Oxford Reference Online. Dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks; excellent starting places for learning about new topics;  useful for finding out about key academic sources for a particular subject. 
  • Encyclopedia Britannica.  An all-purpose online encyclopedia, including an online atlas, dictionary, and select journal articles.
  • Oxford English Dictionary.  The accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  An illustrated collection of thousands of specially written biographies of prominent people who shaped all aspects of Britain's past, from the fourth century BC to the year 2000. Does not include articles on people who are still alive.


  • Dictionary of Literary Biography.  Provides biographical and critical essays on the lives, works, and careers of the world's most influential literary figures from all eras and genres. 
  • Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms [online]


  • Oxford Dictionary of Quotations [online]
  • The Columbia Granger's dictionary of poetry quotations [print]


  • The Hutchinson chronology of world history [online]
  • The New York Public Library book of chronologies [print]
  • BBC History Timelines - Interactive timelines for topics in archeology, British history and the World Wars. Note: this page is no longer updated.
  • British Library Timelines: Sources from History.  Allows you to explore collection items chronologically, from medieval times to the present day.
  • There is a very good chronology section in the database State Papers Online. When you log in, choose "Research Tools" and then click on the "Chronologies" link.

There are also many subject specific encyclopedias and handbooks, which can give you a good overview of a variety of topics related to the Early Modern world. Here are a few examples:

  • Routledge encyclopedia of Tudor England - Bennett 2HR reserves [print]
  • A new companion to English Renaissance literature and culture [print]
  • The Routledge companion to the Tudor age [print]
  • The Oxford handbook of Tudor literature, 1485-1603 [print]
  • A companion to Shakespeare [print]
  • English historical facts, 1485-1603 [print]
  • Historical dictionary of Tudor England, 1485-1603 [print]
  • An Introduction to English historical demography from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century [print]
  • The population history of England, 1541-1871 : a reconstruction [print]
  • Birth, marriage, and death: ritual, religion, and the life-cycle in Tudor and Stuart England [online]
  • Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820

You can also try searching the catalogue for subject specific dictionaries and encyclopedias by including the words encyclopedia OR dictionary OR handbook OR companion OR manual in your KEYWORD search, e.g.: renaissance AND (encyclopedia OR dictionary)

Keep track of every item you consult

Using the library catalogue

Use the library catalogue to find books and articles on your topic.

Before searching the 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.

Identifying search terms

To identify which terms you should use to search for books and articles, write down the proposed title of your project (or an imaginary title of an ideal article) and underline the important/meaningful words, e.g.:

  • Literary women in Renaissance England
  • Use the underlined words and think of any variations, synonyms or related terms. (i.e. women = female)

Combining terms

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

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). You may wan to consider building your search one term at a time to see how your results get narrower (or fewer). Here is an example of keywords linked together. Remember each time you add a term with "AND" you will get fewer results.

  • renaissance AND England AND literature (narrow)
  • renaissance AND England AND literature AND women (more narrow and fewer results)

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

  • renaissance AND england AND literature AND (women OR female*)

* The asterisk - used for a word that may have several endings (i.e. child* will find children, childhood, childish; female* will find females as well)

"quotation marks" - if you are searching for a phrase, be sure to use quotation marks (i.e. "The Faerie Queene")

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

Finding journal articles and primary sources

If you want to get more precise in your research, use journal article databases, instead of the catalogue, to find articles. There is a number of journal article and citation databases specific to English Literature available to you.
Before you start, note that not all databases are created equal. Some databases will provide you with full text articles, or only citations, or both. If the full text of the article is not available, however, 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 "Get@SFU" red button provided in our databases, and located next to each record, to possibly find full-text.

A few key databases

Check out this full list of databases in English literature.

What does peer-reviewed mean? 

A journal is refereed or peer-reviewed if its articles have been evaluated by experts before publication. The experts advise the journal's editor for, or against, publication of the articles. Peer-review insures that the research described in a journal's articles is sound and of high quality. Many databases have an option to limit to peer-reviewed (scholarly) articles on the main search page (usually it is a box that you need to check mark).

Check out the What is a scholarly (or peer-reviewed) journal? for more information and a set of evaluation criteria.

A few things to remember

  • Remember to use your keywords and the "AND" and "OR" commands. They are very useful for the databases as well. 
  • Most databases also offer subject headings, similar to the catalogue.  Try using these terms to lead to more accurate results.
  • Use the "Get@SFU" link to see if SFU owns that article.  If not, fill out an Inter Library Loan form to borrow the article from another library.
  • Check for an email option in each database to send the citation information to yourself for use at a later date (e.g. for your bibliography!).
  • Finally: can't find anything, don't know where to start? Ask a Librarian.

Hints and tips

  • Start early -- good research takes TIME!
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time reading.
  • Identify what you know already, and what questions still need to be answered. You can use the resources you learned about in your previous assignment to help answer these questions.
  • Break your search into parts – look for different articles to address different aspects of your topic.
  • Brainstorm possible synonyms and related terms to ensure a wide range of results.
  • Use commands that the computer can understand for more efficient searching (AND/OR/* The asterisk/"quotation marks").
  • Use the results of your searches to create new and better searches - pay special attention to the subject headings to improve relevance.
  • Use references from 'good articles' to find more materials.
  • Don't forget: you can always Ask a Librarian for help.