Skip to main content

ENGL-392NP-01: World Literature and the Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan as poet

It took the literary world by surprise when singer-songwriter Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. If you were to search the library's literature databases for information about Bob Dylan, you'd find many of the recent articles about Dylan are all about his unexpected win. But is there any actual literary analysis of Bob Dylan's songs? These steps help find that kind of analysis:

  1. Make sure you're searching in a literature database like the MLA International Bibliography
  2. Add terms like "poetry" or "poetics" to your search to target articles that analyze Dylan's songwriting for its literary value
  3. If all else fails, use the database's limiters to restrict your search results by date to articles published before Dylan won the Nobel Prize (October 13, 2016). In the MLA International Bibliography, you'd use the Refine Results > Limit To > Publication Date option to change the date range of your results by year or click on the More menu that allows you to enter a publication date range including months. 

Finding secondary sources on works by well known authors without getting overwhelmed

Well known authors, especially those work has been around for many years, often have a lot of literary criticism written about their work. For example, there's a wealth of literary analysis for Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. This can be a challenge because you may find so much information that it's difficult to figure out which sources to use. Some tips for sifting through sources to find what will be most useful for your topic . . .

Start with tools like reference books or companions to get an overview of an author's works


Literature reference works

Search on your author in one of the reference works below to get an overview of their life, works, and themes that appear in their works. This information - especially the themes - can help you figure out a specific aspect of their work to focus your research topic on and terms describing that aspect that you can use when you begin searching the library's databases for more information.  Some reference works even include bibliographies of additional readings that can give you a sampling of critical articles and books on the author's works, sometimes even pointing out seminal works of criticism. If one of those titles looks interesting, look it up in Discover to see if the library has access to it.


Companions are books containing collections of critical essays exploring different aspects of an author's works. Aside from offering a sampling of critical analysis on a writer, companions usually contain introductory information about the author, too. Below are a samples of companions to Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. You can find more in the Five College Libraries Catalog by searching on an author's name and the term "companion." 

Use a literature database or databases

If you know you want to find scholarly secondary sources on a literary topic, one quick way to begin shrinking your search results down to a manageable size is to use databases that cover only scholarly publications on literature. Start with the Literature Databases in the Tools for Finding Secondary Sources part of this guide.

Narrow your search terms

For a well known, well studied author, running a search on just the author name and title of the work you wish to research is likely to yield more results than you can easily browse through.  For example, at the time of writing this, running a search on Faulkner and Sound and the Fury in the MLA International Bibliography returned 781 results. To take that number down to a more manageable number, add search terms that more narrowly describe a particular aspect of Faulkner's novel that you are most interested in exploring. For example, adding the term "identity" to the search as follows

MLA International Bibliography with search terms Sound and the Fury, Faulkner identity entered in the three search boxes

takes the number of results down to 8. 


Finding secondary sources on works by newer or lesser known authors

Newer, lesser known authors present a different challenge: you may have difficulty finding any secondary sources about their work. Some search strategies that may help . . .

Reference works 

Search on your author in a reference work to get an overview of their life, works, and themes that appear in their works. Some reference works include bibliographies of additional readings that can give you a sampling of articles about the author's works. If one of those titles looks interesting, look it up in Discover to see if the library has access to it. Note that for newer authors in particular, you may find more book reviews than scholarly articles analyzing their work.

Search across multiple databases

Discover, which simultaneously searches the Five College Libraries Catalog and most of the library's databases, is a good tool to use if you're having a hard time finding information about an author. Not only does it across many databases, but it also searches popular as well as scholarly sources. Popular sources like newspapers and magazines are a good source of book reviews which may be the only kind of analysis you're able to find for a newer author or recently published book.

JStor is an all scholarly, all full text digital library that allows you search not just citations for but also the full text of every article and book that it contains. Where a database like Discover only searches brief descriptions (citations or records) of each article or book it indexes, a full text database like JStor also searches the full contents of each article and book it contains. This means that even if the description doesn't contain any of your search terms, if they appear anywhere in the actual text of an article or book, JStor will find them.

Broaden your search terms

Can't find seem to find any articles or books by searching on the author name and title of the book you're researching?  Try broadening your search terms. For example, if you were trying to find information about information about Svetlana Alexievich's book The Last Witnesses and tried searching on the author's name and the title of the book in the MLA International Bibliography, you'd get 0 results. However, if you were to search on the author's name and the broader concept of war:

MLA International Bibliography advanced search screen with Svetlana Alexievich and war entered in the search boxes

You'd get 9 results. Keep in mind that some of those results, when you read the actual articles or book chapters, may discuss The Last Witnesses, it's just that the title of that book wasn't included in the brief description of the article that the database searched. It's also possible to apply analysis about another work by the same author to the work you're paper topic is about. For some authors you might need to go broader still and search only on the author's name to find any secondary sources on them. There are only 55 results altogether in MLA for Svetlana Alexievich, which is not too difficult to browse through if you have to.

Finding analysis on international authors

When searching for secondary sources analyzing the work of international authors, most of the tips in the previous Finding secondary sources by newer or lesser known authors apply. Some additional suggestions: make sure to consult reference works and databases that are likely to cover authors writing in languages other than English and be careful of variant titles for translated works.

Reference works

Databases that cover world literature

Variant titles

Titles of works originally published in other languages sometimes get translated in more than one way. For example, the translated edition of Svetlana Alexievich's book of interviews of Soviet female veterans of World War II that your class is reading is titled The Unwomanly Face of War. However, if you look at some reference works and articles that mention the same book, they give the title as War's Unwomanly Face. Be aware that it's not uncommon for this to happen and, as you come across alternate titles, note them down and remember to search on all versions of a book's title. 

MHC Accessibility Barriers Form