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ENGL 319CR: The Cunning Renaissance

Getting an Overview - Reference Works

Why start with reference works?

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. 







History of science

Find more reference works

There are a couple of ways to find more reference works in the library collection:

  • Do an Advanced search in the Five College Library Catalog on terms that describe your topic (e.g., history science) and the terms encyclopedia or dictionary or handbook or companion.Screen shot of catalog advanced search screen.
  • In the Five College Catalog, restrict your search to just Mount Holyoke, click into the Advanced search form, enter the terms for your topic (e.g., history science) and use the Location drop down menu to select MH Reference:MH Reference search on history science

Going Deeper - Books & Articles

General search tips

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.

Springshare's information on Accessibility in Libguides - - MHC Accessibility Barriers Form