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English: Reference: Start Here

guide for affiliates of The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)

Key Reference Works


  • What value has a reference book?
  • Why consult a literary encyclopedia?


  • Obtain from reference works biographical information about an author, define literary terms, and track down additional sources for further reading.
  • Encyclopedias help researchers to choose, refine, and/or contextualize their topics, situating the secondary literature within scholarly debates.
  • Encyclopedias help researchers to choose effective search terms (i.e., keywords).
  • Encyclopedias are two steps removed from the primary works of literature, that is to say from creative works of drama, poetry, and prose. Encyclopedia articles, in other words, are based on or reveal secondary criticisms and therefore are sometimes referred to as tertiary sources.

The reference works listed below connect researchers with methods and sources for engaging in literary criticism. Use the tabs above to identify the appropriate national literature volume(s).

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All Periods:

Colonial, Early Republic, and Romanticism, 1600-1850:

Realism, 1865-1930:

Modernism, 1930-1965:

Post-Modernism, 1965-date:

Canadian Literature:

Irish Literature:

Postcolonial Literature:

All Periods:

Medieval, c. 450-1500:

Early Modern, c. 1500-1700:

Long 18th Century, c. 1700-1798:

Romantic, c. 1798-1832:

Victorian and Edwardian, c. 1830-1910:

Modernism, c. 1900-1940:

Post-Modernism, c. 1945-date:

American Literary Chronology:

English Literary Chronology:

Irish Literary Chronology:

Use the dictionaries, handbooks, and glossaries listed below to quickly reveal the etymology and meaning of English words, literary terms, symbols, and theory. A handbook is "a single-volume reference book of compact size that provides concise factual information on a specific subject, organized systematically for quick and easy access" (ODLIS).

Online Literary Dictionaries:

Selected Literary Dictionaries in Print:

Reference Databases

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