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date: 28 February 2020

(p. 667) Resources: A Beginner’s Guide

(p. 667) Appendix Resources: A Beginner’s Guide

This chapter discusses the information literacy skills needed to carry out research in early modern English literature and religion. Rather than giving information for performing specific searching techniques in individual databases, the following pages provide an overview of techniques, and attempt to balance print and digital resources. The chapter concludes with an annotated list of online resources, providing a representative view of scholarly resources available for free on the Internet.

The resources and techniques for research in the field of early modern religion and literature, as with other studies, have been made both more and less difficult with the advent of electronic databases. The easier access to greater quantities of data has aided an increase in scholarship as researchers are able to find information that would have been too obscure or costly to find physically; however, the vast quantities of information digitized and made available through the Internet and databases have also made it more difficult for scholars to determine when they have found ‘enough’ information for their projects. This is one of the great problems of modern research, and it is the focus of this chapter. While ‘information overload’ has become a cliché, the ability to navigate through very valuable troves of information quickly, yet efficiently, can help a researcher have the confidence to know when the books and articles retrieved are sufficient. With this in mind, this chapter will seek to provide a framework through which to perform research that gives results that are both of high scholarly value and relevant to the study undertaken by the researcher. Additionally, there will be a short list of titles that are considered core databases or Internet sites at the end of this chapter. It is hoped that the combination of instruction in search techniques and suggested readings will provide a beginning researcher with the tools and knowledge needed to find the excellent resources that have been made more readily available through digital formats.

Much of the difficulty and confusion regarding how to perform research with print and digital means is in knowing when to use which medium and how to locate the best resources. The following is a quick rule of thumb in current humanities research: if it is a book-length treatment, print is still the primary mode of delivery, but if it is reference or a journal article, then it is best to look to digital means. Much of this is reflected in how academic and research libraries (p. 668) build their collections. Very few add new print journals, dictionaries, or encyclopedias, and most are ceasing to have dedicated space for a reference collection; rather, the books are being interfiled with the regular circulating collection, having select titles put on permanent reserve, or sending them to remote storage or special collections, depending on the value of the titles. What this means is that physical browsing is still of vital importance when it comes to books or monographs in the study of early modern religion and literature. Likewise, it is best to start with the libraries’ websites when trying to find anything that is a journal or a reference volume. Additionally, though most databases have different user interfaces, they are all built upon the same basic principles, so simply understanding the manner in which the databases’ architecture functions means that one can move easily from one database to the next, without having to spend much time learning all of the functions. Academic research will often run on the same basic principles and techniques no matter what physical or digital source is needed. To know how and when strategically to browse the physical book stacks or to use advanced Boolean searches in databases will allow one to move through the world of modern research quickly without suffering from information overload.

In order to provide a strong base upon which to build research techniques for early modern studies, it is important to focus on some of the fundamental skills and core concepts required for a researcher. The basic concepts are fairly simple and widely applicable, so even as a university or institution changes the providers for its digital collections and moves its print collections around, you need not relearn how to perform research; instead, applying the basics to the ever-changing digital world will allow you to move easily through the changes. In this, there is also a book-length treatment of academic research that can be of great help. While this chapter’s focus is on research in early modern religion and literature, there are two book-length treatments that can be helpful for library research. Jennifer Bowers and Peggy Keeran’s Literary Research and the British Renaissance and Early Modern Period is a good resource for guidance in literary research in the time period, but strongly favours plays and does not specifically deal with religion (Bowers and Keeran 2010). Thomas Mann’s The Oxford Guide to Library Research is a more general approach to library research, and it can act as an excellent reference guide for research of all types (Mann 2015).

This chapter will provide a short introduction to scholarly research before focusing specifically on the needs of the academic in religion and literature in the early modern period. Books will be discussed first, before moving on to databases, and then the open Internet.

Call Numbers and Subject Headings

Call Numbers and Subject Headings

While electronic resources have become one of the most visible aspects of current research methods, it must be noted that even our interaction with books often begins with the Internet, as catalogues exist almost exclusively in the online environment. Although even print research begins on a computer, it is important to realize that academic libraries are often structured in a way that should promote browsing the library’s physical holdings. This is due to the fact that most academic libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System (LCCS). This uniformity of collection arrangement is of great benefit to the researcher, and it also means that familiarizing oneself with how the LCCS organizes books means that a researcher can go into any academic library and know exactly where to begin searching. The LCCS was created in such a way that books are arranged according to subject area. This was done not only to aid retrieval of materials, but to also make serendipitous finding of information an intentional aspect of research. A researcher using an academic library properly will browse the book stacks (p. 669) because she knows that this is one of the ways in which the system was designed. To use only a catalogue is to not use the collection and library to its fullest design. Browsing is not a sign of an inexperienced researcher, rather it is a sign that the researcher truly knows what she is doing. For this reason, I will provide a brief introduction to the LCCS and how and where browsing for early modern religion and literature books can be done in the best way possible.

If a researcher has a subject of focus, then that researcher need only know how the LCCS is arranged, because the classification system, especially in the study of literature, is made to allow a person to find as much information about an author or genre as easily as possible. This is because not only does the LCCS group authors according to nation and then time period and then alphabetically, but works by an author are followed by biographical works, and then critical works. In the LCCS all of this begins with the first two letters of the call number. As such, simply knowing which letters represent the subject of study is the easiest way to begin research in an academic library. For early modern literature and religion it is important to know that ‘P’ represents ‘Languages and Literature’, with ‘PR’ representing the subcategory of ‘British Literature’, so a scholar in British literature will find nearly all of her books in the ‘PR’ section of a library. Similarly, ‘B’ represents ‘Religion and Philosophy’, with the subheading of ‘BR’ representing ‘Christianity’. This means that, for our purposes, a researcher should be spending most of her time in ‘PR’ and the ‘B’s. In specific, the ‘PR’ sections that one would want to focus on are:

For general studies:

  • PR421–(429) Elizabethan era (1550–1640)

  • PR500–614 Poetry

    • PR521–614 By period

  • PR621–744 Drama

    • PR641–744 By period

  • PR750–890 Prose

    • PR767–818 By period

For specific author’s works and criticism:

  • PR2199–3195 English Renaissance (1500–1640)

Also worth considering is the ‘PN’ section, which is about literature in general. For example:

  • PN715–749 Literary History—Renaissance (1500–1700)

  • PN2171–2179 Drama—Renaissance

For the ‘B’ section, of special note is:

  • BR280 Renaissance Renaissance and Reformation

  • BR500–1510 By region or country

  • BS1–2970 The Bible

  • BT10–1480 Doctrinal Theology

  • BV1–5099 Practical Theology

(p. 670)


Anglican Communion (General)


Church of England




History. Local divisions


Special parties and movements


Church of England and other churches




Sermons. Tracts. Addresses. Essays


Controversial works


Creeds and catechisms, etc.


Liturgy and ritual




Government. Organization. Discipline


Religious communities. Conventual life.


Cathedrals, churches, etc. in England and Wales




Dissent and nonconformity


Episcopal Church in Scotland


Church of Ireland


Church in Wales

The relevant areas in ‘B’ are not subdivided in such a way that they are as easily browsed as the ‘PR’ section; however, ease of browsing can still be achieved by finding one or two books in a subject area, writing down their call numbers, and then going to the stacks and seeing what is also shelved near the titles found in the catalogue. Since the LCCS arranges books by subject, the books will be about the same subject and may have chapters or essays that would have been missed through catalogue research alone. Also, as libraries are moving more of their collections to remote storage, it is extremely important to try to preserve as many of the books in the open stacks as possible. Luckily, this is very easily done. When deciding what books to move to remote storage, libraries look at the circulation statistics of a book, and that is really the only thing considered. By simply checking out books, even if it is just for a few hours or a day or two, the book will remain in the library rather than being moved to another location.

Subject Headings

Subject Headings

In addition to the call number arrangement of the LCCS, the organizational system is also heavily supported by the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). While it has become common to use keyword searches in databases and catalogues, many have what is called ‘controlled vocabulary’ which can be used in research, and when used properly these can be amongst the most powerful searches in a scholar’s retinue. While Thomas Mann provides an excellent discussion of LCSH (Mann 2015: 17–61), it is helpful to know the difference between keyword and controlled vocabulary searches and there follow here some specific examples that can be of assistance for early modern religion and literature research.

The default search in any online catalogue or database is a keyword search. This has some great advantages, in that it searches the bibliographic record or full text of a work to find where the terms may exist. This is an excellent way to get a lot of titles returned, but it can also result in a lot of false returns. A good example of this is searching for ‘George Herbert’. While a keyword search will bring back books and articles on the poet ‘George Herbert’, you will also get results for ‘George Herbert Palmer’, ‘George Herbert Walker Bush’, ‘Herbert George Wells’, and any co-authored or multi-authored texts in which authors have a name ‘George’ or ‘Herbert’, as (p. 671) well as any full text result in which a ‘George’ or a ‘Herbert’ is mentioned at least once. However, there is a way around this problem—subject headings, with most catalogues using Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

A subject heading attempts to pull together all of the books and articles that are about a particular subject through using a set list of vocabulary, and a researcher can use this to her advantage by using a combination of keyword and subject searches to narrow and strengthen search queries. For example, an author’s subject heading in LCSH is always ‘Lastname, Firstname’. Therefore, a subject search for criticism on the writings of Richard Hooker would mean choosing the subject option from the drop-down search options and typing ‘Hooker, Richard’. This would ensure that all titles returned would have to be about Richard Hooker. Combining this with a keyword, such as ‘ceremony’ would mean that the results from the search would have to be about Richard Hooker and also have the word ceremony somewhere in the bibliographic information or the full text of the work. Through beginning the search with Richard Hooker as a subject rather than a keyword, a researcher will have fewer titles brought back from the query, but the results that do appear will be more likely to contain information about the actual subject being studied, thereby cutting down on information overload and time lost to Internet searching. Finding subject headings that are not authors’ names can be more difficult; however, in most online catalogues and databases subject terms are provided in the bibliographic information that appears with the record provided when clicking on an individual result. Furthermore, the subject terms are often hyperlinked so as to return all other titles that share that subject heading when the term is clicked on. By finding one book or article needed for a research project, a researcher can gain access very easily to all other works that share that subject heading and become familiar with the subject headings in her field of study.

When using subject headings, especially LCSH, it is wise to begin with a broad search and then narrow based upon the results. This will allow you a better perspective of what is being used as subject headings and will prevent you from narrowing your results too quickly, possibly missing out on some valuable titles. In using John Donne as an example, it is helpful to note that, in performing a LCSH search in the library catalogue at the University of Houston, my search returned fifty-nine different subject headings beginning with ‘Donne, John’. Some examples of these returns are:

  • Donne John 1572 1631

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Aesthetics

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Appreciation France

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Bibliography

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Characters Women

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Concordances

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Correspondence

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Criticism And Interpretation

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Criticism And Interpretation Bibliography

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Criticism And Interpretation History

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Ethics

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Exhibitions

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Family

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Fiction

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Holy Sonnets

  • Donne John 1572 1631 In Literature

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Influence (p. 672)

  • Donne John 1572 1631 John Donne

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Knowledge And Learning

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Knowledge Art

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Knowledge Literature

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Knowledge Psychology

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Knowledge Theology

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Literary Style

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Manuscripts Facsimiles

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Marriage

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Musical Settings

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Philosophy

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Poems Selections

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Poetry Early Works To 1800

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Political And Social Views

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Prose

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Quotations

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Religion

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Style

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Symbolism

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Technique

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Translations Into French History And Criticism

  • Donne John 1572 1631 Travel Netherlands

This clearly shows that there can be both broad and narrow criteria used for what may fall under a given area of Donne studies. Moving out from an author LCSH search, it is helpful to note that the term ‘Renaissance’ is largely used for the visual art movement in continental Europe, whereas ‘Early Modern’ is primarily used as a way in which to subdivide a larger subject heading, and is used to denote aspects of literature and culture that are not the ‘high’ Renaissance of the popular usage. In this, subject heading strings will begin with entries such as:

  • English Literature Early Modern 1500 1700

  • English Drama Early Modern

  • English Poetry Early Modern

Similarly, the term ‘Church of England’ is distinguished from ‘Episcopal’ which represents the Church of England in the United States after its independence.



When it comes to journals for early modern literature and religion research, the majority of them will be searched through online databases, but it is important to remember that often a database will not carry all of the volumes and issues of a title. Usually databases will not go much further back than ten to fifteen years. It is expensive to digitize journals, and the older the issue the less demand there tends to be and the less likely that an electronic copy of it will exist. For this reason, it is often the case that only the most recent research can be fully searched in a database, though the database may allow for indexing back to earlier issues. The main exception to this is JSTOR, which always begins a journal with volume one and issue one. Due to these limitations of journal coverage, it is important to make sure that both electronic and print journals get searched.

(p. 673) Among the journals most often cited in bibliographies for early modern English literature and religion are titles such as English Literary Renaissance, English Literary History, and Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900; however, there are many smaller journals that are especially important to the field of early modern literature and religion studies, and often these are publications that can be put out by literary societies that celebrate an author. Milton Studies, The George Herbert Journal, Reformation, and The John Donne Journal are examples of these, with The John Donne Journal being an excellent title that does not appear to be available in full text through any database. Additionally, titles such as The John Donne Journal and The George Herbert Journal are known to do special issues dedicated to authors, critics, or themes that make them invaluable not just for the articles they provide on the author the journal ostensibly celebrates, but also for providing criticism on authors or subjects that may not have a society devoted to them, such as the John Donne Journal’s special issue dedicated to Richard Crashaw which begins with an excellent annotated bibliography by John R. Roberts (Roberts 2005) or the George Herbert Journal’s special issues dedicated to Robert Herrick, and the possible writings of George’s brother, Henry (1990–1, 1996–7, 2001–2). Some of these issues are either not available electronically or are difficult to find, so searching both the print and electronic is always recommended. While I will be discussing the databases and how to best approach them, it is important to be reminded that in searching the physical journals, it is not only helpful to find articles through citation searching (following articles that seem interesting in someone else’s work), but that very good annotated bibliographies are still available and should be consulted. Some of these are being created as online databases, such as the excellent Christopher Marlowe bibliography, but there are also the print bibliographies, and in particular those by John R. Roberts. Roberts has created some of the best annotated bibliographies available. There is a single volume edition for George Herbert (Roberts 1988), a one volume edition for Richard Crashaw (Roberts 1985) (to which he then added the previously mentioned bibliography in the special issue of the John Donne Journal), and a four-volume edition on John Donne (Roberts 1973, 1982, 2004, 2013), all of which the John Donne Society has made available through their website, Digital Donne. This allows for the Donne bibliographies to be consulted in print, or downloaded for free from the Digital Donne website. The advantage of annotated bibliographies, such as the Marlowe bibliography or those created by Roberts, are that they provide very powerful searches, in that they already provide a narrow focus, and the indexes and abstracts actually allow a researcher to have a more informed search as she knows what the article is primarily about, and the search process actually tends to provide better results in less time. I still consult annotated bibliographies (whether in print or electronically) first when beginning my research, and then move on to the larger databases. This way of searching appears to provide the best results in the shortest amount of time, and with the fewest frustrations.

Journals have probably been the area of research that has been best aided by the arrival of online databases. Their shorter length and more varied content has been perfect for a technology that allows a researcher to search a broad area for information that is returned in a text that is short enough that it can be printed or read with relative ease on a computer screen. The only drawback is that journal databases are so good and so convenient that the print-only journals are not consulted as often as they should be. There is a real concern that it is only the journals that are able to be carried by large aggregators who help to populate the most frequently purchased or subscribed-to databases that will dictate much of the future research in any field. As libraries are being asked to cut costs year after year, they are cutting print subscriptions and allowing electronic databases that come with large and inflexible packages of journals (for what are usually interdisciplinary coverage) to replace them. This can leave smaller titles behind. (p. 674) Many of the print-only or smaller journals can still be found in the book stacks holding the print journals, and the more that they are used, the more likely it is that the library will keep the copies even when pressed for space. Also, through retaining use of journals that may not be covered by the big databases (which will be discussed below) this also allows for possibly more outside and dissenting opinions to flourish. It is therefore vital that, in the research of early modern literature and religion, both print and electronic journals are searched. This allows not only for greater research and scholarship, but also for more voices to contribute to the discussion of the field.



It is in the databases that most research is now conducted, and while this is not a surprise to any of us, it does indicate that there has been a great break from the past manner in which journal articles were found and read. Rather than researchers finding a few journals that they enjoy consulting for research, it appears that now scholars have a few databases that they enjoy using. Furthermore, when collections were primarily print, and research was done with physical resources, indexes and annotated bibliographies ruled the day. Although these resources are still of the utmost importance in research, the index has been, basically, entirely moved online, and the annotated bibliography has been nearly, and unfortunately, eliminated in the research process as the full text database has become the default search and retrieval method. This can have an interesting and normalizing effect on research. The databases that are subscribed to by academic libraries are making library collections largely generic in nature as every library has to subscribe to roughly the same databases, and the databases sell content in journal packages, meaning that libraries are now largely providing access to the same issues of the same journals. However, in doing this libraries are now provided with access to journals that they may not have purchased in the past, and searches in databases can return results from subject journals outside one’s discipline. What this may be doing is both creating a common base from which most scholars will pull, and allowing deeper searches into the discipline’s journals that may have never been consulted otherwise. This could potentially create a strong common core of articles consulted and discussed, or lead to a further narrowing of research as scholars keep plumbing the depths of ‘new’ journals and articles, creating a situation in which very few scholars practising outside of a narrowly defined area of study will ever be familiar with the scholarship being discussed.

While it will be of great interest to see how the current model of database subscriptions influences the scholarship of any given discipline, there are three databases that are advised to consult first when performing research for early modern literature and religion. WorldCat, MLA Bibliography, and ATLA are perhaps the most important starting points. The reasons for this is that WorldCat is the world’s largest database of books and journals, MLA Bibliography is the official database of the Modern Language Association, and ATLA is the official database of the American Theological Library Association. Through beginning one’s research with these three databases, one is likely to find most of the core and major supplementary writings on a given topic in the religion and literature field. One thing to keep in mind is that these three databases were initially created as indexes designed to provide bibliographic information about resources, not the full text of the resources themselves. This is especially true in the case of WorldCat which only consists of bibliographic data. Through the use of these three databases, much of the initial research can be performed fairly quickly, and any additional books or articles will most likely be found through the various texts being studied and following up on citations of interest in footnotes and bibliographies. Additionally, these databases use subject terms similar to those used by the Library of (p. 675) Congress, so the combined use of keyword and subject heading searches is also of great value when searching these resources.

While WorldCat, MLA, and ATLA will catch much of the initial scholarship that a researcher will need, the use of databases such as Project Muse, JSTOR, and LION can give deeper results that can complement what has already been found. While these three databases do not seek to be as comprehensive as the others, they do provide full-text searching and results, and this can provide good articles that indexes may miss. Additionally, Project Muse and JSTOR often work together in filling holes in each other’s collections, usually with JSTOR linking to Project Muse. This means that beginning one’s search with JSTOR can allow for a search to be performed in both databases, thus saving time. Also, Early English Books Online (EEBO) provides access to primary texts, and can facilitate wide searches in texts published in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. However, EEBO does not have the best scans of the works, and the poor quality scans can make the texts illegible or unsearchable; therefore, results in this database can be of great value, but they are not comprehensive, and just because a search for a word or phrase yields no results does not mean that the word or phrase in question does not exist in English books from the time period.

In addition to the paid databases to which most academic libraries subscribe, there are many open web databases and websites that can greatly enhance the research of any early modern scholar. Though these databases are more prone to be poorly maintained or to disappear (due to the fact that they are often associated with one or two people at an institution, and can cease to exist when those people leave, or that the institution’s small or non-existent budgets make it difficult to fund the infrastructure and work required), there are still many places that are well worth trying when gathering information for a project. It would be impossible for me to discuss all of them, due to the nature of the Internet, but it is very important to note that with the growth of the Open Access movement and Institutional Repositories, more money and resources are being put into building better and more permanent scholarly websites and free databases on the Internet. As these are in a constant state of growth and change, I will not spend much time discussing them directly; however, I have included several of the more established Internet resources available in the bibliography at the end of this chapter, with light annotation.

Resources to Consult

Resources to Consult

The goal of this final section is not to provide an exhaustive list of digital resources to consult, but to highlight some open Internet materials that will be of benefit to one studying early modern literature and religion. As the field is changing rapidly, and universities are creating new institutional repositories and digital humanities resources at speed, it would be foolish to try to provide an exhaustive or comprehensive list. For this reason, I have chosen to highlight a few resources as examples of websites that have survived for enough time to have become dependable. Furthermore, many of these websites maintain links to the ever-expanding world of online resources. Often these websites are tied to academic societies or institutions; therefore, it is highly recommended that one visit the website of a given author’s association or a professional society for the time period (i.e. Renaissance Society of America) when beginning research. Often these websites either provide digital resources or links to them.

Luminarium (

Luminarium (

This website was created in 1996 and has grown to be an excellent resource. It provides access to works, bibliographies, and criticism for a majority of the early modern writers studied in academia today. Luminarium also provides access to the University of Oregon’s Renascence Editions.

English Short Title Catalogue (

(p. 676) English Short Title Catalogue (

This database is maintained by the British Library and provides the Short Title Catalogue in a searchable format.

Voice of the Shuttle (

Voice of the Shuttle (

This website is a directory to resources for academic research created and maintained by Alan Liu at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Of particular interest are the sections for Renaissance and early modern literature ( and religious studies (

Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (

Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (

Run by the University of Toronto, the website for the centre offers a particularly helpful collection of links to resources which can be found in the web resources section (

Digital Donne (

Digital Donne (

This website is an excellent example of what academic associations are doing. Digital Donne is associated and maintained by the Donne Variorum project and the John Donne Society. It provides an expanding collection of digitized editions of Donne’s works, as well as concordances, annotated bibliographies, and other resources of interest to Donne scholars.

Lexicons of Early Modern English (

Lexicons of Early Modern English (

Maintained by the University of Toronto, the Lexicon is a searchable database of dictionaries and lexicons from 1480–1702.

HRI Online (

HRI Online (

This is the main directory for the many projects being supported or hosted by the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield. Of particular interest are ‘The Hartlib Papers’, ‘Bess of Hardwick’s Letters’, ‘Renaissance Cultural Crossroads’, and ‘The Acts and Monuments Online’—a fantastic digital resource comprising the four editions published during John Foxe’s life and critical resources to assist scholars of any level in their studies of the work.

Project Canterbury (

Project Canterbury (

This database is devoted to Anglican history and provides editions of works from many major figures in Anglican history, including those by Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Hooker, and George Herbert. The website also provides some critical writings.

Early Modern Literary Studies (

(p. 677) Early Modern Literary Studies (

This is a peer-reviewed journal that provides scholarly articles on all aspects of early modern literature. It also provides links to works by major authors of the time period. The website is published and supported by the Humanities Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library (

Christian Classics Ethereal Library (

Currently maintained by Calvin College, this database provides access to primary works from numerous Christian writers throughout the history of the Church.

Map of Early Modern London (

Map of Early Modern London (

This website provides an annotated edition of the so-called ‘Agas map’. There are additional critical materials to assist in the study of London in the early modern period, and the resource is maintained by the University of Victoria. (p. 678)