Skip to Main Content

World Literature

Useful resources for researching non-English literature, language, and culture, with an emphasis on Europe and Latin America.

Find Journal Articles

Tips for Searching the MLA Database

Use these methods to get better search results in the MLA Bibliography.

1. Use the database's standard spellings for names and titles 

When looking for information on a particular author, make sure you are using the most database's standard spelling. For example, if you do a search for Leo Tolstoy in the MLA database and click on a record, you'll see that the official spelling in the database for his name is Tolstoĭ, Lev Nikolaevich. Using this spelling will give you more results. The same is true for titles, especially those that have been translated in multiple ways.

Screenshot of metadata from MLA database record

2. Use the database's standard Subject Terms 

Searching for topics can be complicated simply because of all the different words that authors might use to describe the same concept. For example, articles about gender roles in Tolstoy's novels might use very different vocabulary, like gender, women, or masculinity, and these terms might appear in multiple languages. Using more of the database's subject terms, such as marriage or female characters, can help you get more results.

3. Be creative about combining terms 

Just because your first search doesn't give you any results doesn't mean there aren't books or articles on your topic. Beware of expecting to find one source that covers all aspects of your topic. For example, even if you are looking for articles on a specific novel with a specific topical focus like gender, you might find one source that focuses in depth on the work and another source about the author that shares your focus.

Use Subject Headings to find books with literary criticism

Use subject headings to search more powerfully in the library catalog.

You can think of subject headings like "tags" that the library uses to identify works on a common topic. For example, one of the easiest way to find books of literary criticism about Miguel Cervantes is to do a subject search using the catalog's official subject heading:

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de, 1547-1616 -- Criticism and interpretation


Start your search with the name of the author and add words for criticism or interpretation. For example:

Cervantes criticism

You can also search by country and century. For example:

French fiction - 19th century - History and criticism

German literature - History and criticism

Once you've found a book that's relevant to your topic, click on one of the Subject headings/Topics in the record (for example, "War in Literature") and it will take you to more relevant books.

Follow the Scholarly Conversation

The more advanced you get in researching literary topics, the more you'll begin to see that you are not just looking for individual sources, but trying to follow the scholarly conversation: how scholars have addressed your topic and responded to one another over time. There are a few ways to get a sense of the scholarly conversation.

1. Start with an introductory work or encyclopedia (see the Background Info page) that can map out your topic and guide you to the most important secondary sources.

2. When you've found one useful source, use its bibliography to find even more sources. Let the work already done by experts make your own job easier!

3. Use the "Cited by" feature in Google Scholar to see which sources are most cited and to find out which other books and articles have cited them.

Screenshot from Google Scholar showing "Cited by" link.