Skip to main content

ENGL 392SC: Science, Magic, and Superstition in Early Modern Drama

Getting an Overview - Reference Works

When taking an interdisciplinary approach to a topic, you may face the challenge of needing to familiarize yourself with a field of study that's new to you.  A quick way to orient yourself is to consult reference works in that field.  These can provide a helpful overview, information about key concepts and figures, and even bibliographies for further reading. Since ENGL 392SC is a literature course, the focus in this research guide is on resources that will help you familiarize yourself with topics in science, magic, history, and related areas. However, if your background is in a discipline other than English, you might also check out the Background Info page of the English Research Guide for reference sources that can help you get up to speed on the study of literature.


History of Science - General

History of Science - Subject-specific

Scientific Biography

Witchcraft and the Occult

The Renaissance

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

Tips for choosing which keywords to search


Unless it's a really distinctive word, always search one word titles along with the author's name.

Author names

It’s best to include an author’s first and last names, especially if the last name is pretty common.

Time period

To narrow your search results to the early modern time period, add terms like these:

"early modern", renaissance, elizabethan, jacobean, "16th century"

Geographic location

To narrow your search results to a specific geographic area (say if you're trying to target works written in or about England), add terms like these:

england, britain, "united kindgom" 


It's always a good idea to brainstorm words that describe what you're searching for before you even begin searching in the library catalog or other databases. For example, if you were trying to find information about a particular author's use of magic and searching on that person's name and the word "magic" wasn't getting you any results, instead of the word "magic" you might try terms like "supernatural," "occult," "paranormal," "sorcery," "witchcraft," etc.

Narrowing a search

If you run a search and find that you're getting too many results, try narrowing it by adding additional keywords. For example, a search on the terms

shakespeare science

might yield hundreds of results, but if you added the name of a specific play like The Tempest to your search, it would narrow down your results to a more manageable number to browse through.

Broadening a search

If you can't seem to find any articles or books on a particular literary work and concept or theme in which you're interested, try broadening your search by searching on just the author's name and keywords describing the concept or theme. (For example, instead of searching the terms "thomas kyd the spanish tragedy ghosts," try "thomas kyd ghosts") Even if the articles or books you find don't mention the specific literary work you're researching, you may be able to apply analysis of the author's use of the concept or theme in their other works to the work you're studying.

If the previous technique doesn't work, you can make your search broader still by searching keywords describing the concept or theme in which you're interested and literature or drama as a whole.  For example, if you get no results searching for information about a particular author and/or work and how that author or work deals with ghosts, you might try searching on the terms "literature ghosts", or “literature supernatural,”  possibly including keywords for the time period (renaissance or "early modern" or elizabethan or "16th century" or jacobean) and geographic location (england or britain) to narrow if you got a lot of results. You may find you're able to apply this broader analysis to the title you're studying. Better yet, you may find that some of the books or articles you find this way actually do mention the work you're researching or at least the author - especially for books, check the table of contents and index!


Interdisciplinary databases

Literature databases

History and history of science databases

Science databases


MHC Accessibility Barriers Form