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Comparative Literature 111: Biographical Context

The Nature of Narrative
Professor Gail Newman
Fall 2019

Searching for biographical information

You can gather biographical information for a variety of sources, including: 

  • individual biographies (book length) 
  • collective biographies (e.g. encyclopedias or dictionaries) 
  • interviews (written and/or audio/film) 
  • obituaries 
  • news story / profile

Search strategies and the search tools you use will vary. You may use a library catalog to find book-length profiles, but would need a databaase to search for obituaries.   

The search strategies on this page are only starting point - if you want to learn more, schedule an appointment with the Comparative Literature librarian. 

Databases

Reference Sources

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography
    300+ volume set, each focusing either on a literary genre, or time period. Includes lengthy biographical essays authored by scholars in the field. Each essay includes a bibliography for further reading. 
  • World Authors 
    Covering 1950-Present. Biographical articles on novelist, poets, dramatists. Includes bibliographies for further research. 
  • Current Biography
    Covering 1940-Present. Biographical profiles of 'people in the news' 

Library Catalog Search Strategies

Library catalogs, such as the Williams Library Catalog and Worldcat will help you identify and locate biographical information published in book format: 

  •  full-length biographies
  • collections of biographical essays
  • biographical dictionaries 
  • biographical encyclopedias  

There are two prevalent search strategies when using a library catalog 

  1. Keyword searching
    In this type of search, you can explore widely, experimenting with a variety of keywords
    This casts a wide net and will help you get a sense of the scope of your topic 

    Suggested word combinations: 
    • Author's name + biography
    • Literary genre + biography 
    • Country or region + biography 
       
  2. Subject searching
    In this search, you use standardized subject terms assigned by the Library of Congress. 
    Each book in a library catalog is assigned subject headings. This allows you to run 
    thematic searches that retrieve items on the same subject.

    To find subject headings, you can either: