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Early Modern Drama

Peer Reviewed Literature

Where do scholars talk to other scholars in their discipline?  In the field of English Language Literature, this conversation (the published version of it) usually takes place in scholarly journals and books.  To get an article published in a scholarly journal, an author's manuscript must go through the peer review process. This involves having the manuscript read, critiqued, and approved by other scholars in the same field.  Why should you care about peer review? You can assume some of the work of evaluating the quality of the information has been done for you if an article has been peer reviewed.

Here is a brief video from North Carolina State University Libraries explaining the peer review process:

How do you determine if an article is peer reviewed?

You can visit the web site of the journal in which an article is published.  Their information for authors will usually include a description of the submission process and say if they use peer review.  Even easier, many of the MHC library's subscription databases (like MLA International Bibliography and Discover Supersearch) allow you to limit your search results to only peer reviewed items. Some other databases, like JStor and Project MUSE, contain articles and/or books only from scholarly publishers.

How do you determine if a book is peer reviewed?

Visiting the publisher's web site and checking their information for authors is one way to determine if a book's publisher uses the peer review process. Most university presses (e.g., Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, University of Toronto Press, etc.) use peer review, so a book from one of these publishers is a helpful indicator that the book is scholarly.  Other things to check for are author credentials (is this an expert in the field), cited sources (footnotes and/or end notes), and intended audience (is the book intended for a scholarly or general audience).  Unlike for articles, using the peer review limiter in the library's subscription databases to target scholarly books doesn't always work.  The MLA International Bibliography peer review limiter only works for articles, while the Discover Supersearch peer review limiter only partially works for books.  

Tools & strategies for discovering seminal works on your topic

Seminal works are highly original and influential works that have led to the further development or understanding of a subject. There is no one tool for discovering the most important works on a topic, but there are some ways to build your knowledge of the scholarly conversation surrounding a topic.

Mining works cited lists and bibliographies

Use the library databases and catalog to search for articles and books on your topic. As you find articles and books on your topic, pay attention to their works cited lists and bibliographies. What articles and books are they citing? Notice in particular any works that are cited across the articles and books you've found. Repetition can be a sign that they're important.

Cited reference searching

Some databases include information about how many times an article or book has been cited by other sources. This is not a foolproof way of determining the relative importance of an article or book, however.  No two databases include all of the same works, and it's possible an article or book has been cited many times because many people disagree with it. It's worth checking a few of the sources citing a work to see if that's the case or not.

  • Google Scholar is Google's database of scholarly works. Much of the content is articles and books, but you will also see theses, dissertations, patents and other items here. When searching in Google Scholar, you'll notice that each of your results has a Cited By link followed by a number indicating how many times the result has been cited by other sources. You can click that link to get a list of those of those other sources. Aside from searching on your topic in Google Scholar, you might also use it to find out how often a source you've already found has been cited. Caveats: It's not possible to sort your results by most to least citations, and there is no filter for limiting your results to just peer-reviewed literature. Google Scholar isn't human-curated and what the included sources being defined as scholarly is based on information submitted to Google by web site publishers.  
  • Web of Science covers scholarly literature in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. It primarily includes articles and proceedings of international conferences, symposia, seminars, colloquia, workshops, and conventions. You can search on your topic or search a known article to find out how often it has been cited and by whom. Each result includes a linked Times Cited number that can be followed to a list of the citing sources. Web of Science's Times Cited numbers tend to be lower than Google Scholar's Cited By numbers probably because the scope of the literature that the database covers is narrower. However, Web of Science does allow you to sort your results by Times Cited -- highest to lowest -- and you can filter by Document Type (kind of publication). It is also human-curated and the sources included reliably scholarly.

Reference Works

Companions & Critical Editions

A companion is a handbook or guide. You'll often find these for major authors, literary periods and genres. Companions usually contain collections of essays or entries on different aspects of the topic covered, often including bibliographies of additional sources to consult. Sometimes these are flagged as seminal or important. A critical or scholarly edition of a literary work often includes not just the primary text itself, but also a selection of critical essays on the author and work. To search for companions and critical editions, use these library catalogs:

  • Five College Libraries Catalog Tip for searching for companions: The Advanced search form allows you to combine a Title Keywords search on the term "companion" with a Subject Keywords search on terms that describe your topic (e.g., Shakespeare or Renaissance drama). Tip for searching for critical editions: In the Advanced search form, combine a Keywords Anywhere search on the terms "critical edition" (in quotation marks) with a Title Keywords search on the title of the work you are researching (e.g., Duchess of Malfi or Spanish Tragedy).
  • WorldCat Can't find it in Five Colleges? WorldCat is the combined catalog of academic and research libraries across the United States as well as of some international library holdings.  You can use the MHC:Get it! & Interlibrary Loan link to request items you find here via Interlibrary Loan.

Keeping up with current criticism

Aside from seminal works, it's also important to include at least some newer scholarship in your research. The way we study literature changes over time: new schools of critical thought arise, levels of scholarly rigor vary, new techniques are found for studying literature, and new points of view are added to the conversation.  We also continue to learn new things even about works that are hundreds of years old. 

Database searching with date limiters

Most databases will allow you to limit your search to a specific date range. For example, the MLA International Bibliography's advanced search form's Search Options includes a Publication Date menu for this purpose. You can also use the Publication Date slider on the results page to target a specific date range after you've run your search.

Review articles

Review articles summarize the current (as of the time of the article's writing) research on a topic.  The author (or authors) offer their analysis of the research, too. Review articles can help you identify the scholars working on your topic, recent advances or discoveries, current debates, gaps in research, and also give you an idea of where the research might be headed next.

  • MLA International Bibliography - In the advanced search form, use the first search box to enter the terms "review article" and use the box's Select a Field drop-down menu to choose SU Subjects-All. Use the next search box (or boxes) to add keywords for your topic.
  • The Year's Work in English Studies - This annual publication that attempts "to cover all all significant contributions to English Studies." The most recent print issues are located in the Reading Room, MH Reference PE58 .E6, back issues to 1919 are located in the stacks, MH Stacks PE58 .E6. Also available online from 1996 on.
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