Reference works like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks can offer a comparatively brief introduction to a new (to you) discipline, it’s important figures and concepts. There a good way to familiarize yourself with a topic relatively quickly and some even offer brief bibliographies of additional works to read should you want learn more.
There are a couple of ways to find more reference works in the library collection:
When searching for information about any discipline from a specific time period and location, it's helpful to include search terms that will narrow your results accordingly. For example, if searching for information about science in Renaissance England, it's helpful to include not just the term "science" (or the name of a specific branch of science) but also
renaissance or "early modern" or elizabethan or jacobean or tudor or "16th century" or "17th century"
england or britain or british
Book-length studies are good for getting a more in-depth background on a topic. Say you found a brief entry on philosophy in an encyclopedia of the Renaissance. A book-length history of Renaissance philosophy would provide you with even more details to help you write intelligently about that topic and apply what you learn to your analysis of literary works that show the influence of those ideas or schools of thought.
Articles tend to be much more narrow in scope than both reference works and book-length studies. When searching for information about disciplines other than literature that the literary work you are studying touches upon, you may not want to search article databases unless your topic is really specific. To determine which other subject-specific databases to use, see the library's Research Guides (linked below) to find databases that cover history, politics, the sciences, philosophy, etc. For literature and literature-related article databases, see the Secondary Sources section of this guide.