Chapter 17. American Literature

Table of Contents

This division includes works devoted primarily to the literatures—in whatever language—of the United States.


Researchers should also consult sections Q: American Literature/Regional Literature and Q: American Literature/Ethnic and Minority Literatures for other general reference works.

Guides to Reference Works



Brogan, Martha L. A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature. Washington: Council on Lib. and Information Sources, Digital Lib. Federation, 2005. 176 pp. PS51.B76 025.06′81. <>.

An evaluative survey of electronic resources—databases, digital archives, gateways, Web sites, and pedagogical tools—for the study of American literature. Using extensive interviews with experts in the field, Brogan illustrates the potential, pitfalls, and lacunae in digital resources. The wealth of information and astute observations have led those working with other literatures to wish for a similar guide. Although dated, it is still useful and provides a history of early-twentieth-century digital humanities literary projects and tools.


Gohdes, Clarence, and Sanford E. Marovitz. Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Literature of the U. S. A. 5th ed., rev. and enl. Durham: Duke UP, 1984. 256 pp. Z1225.G6 [PS88] 016.81.

A selective, interdisciplinary guide to reference works, histories, critical studies, and discussions of research methods (published through early 1983) important to the study of American literature and its historical background. Entries are organized in 35 divisions: general reference works, philosophy and methodology of literary and historical study, technical procedures in literary and historical research, definitions of literary and related terms, preparation of manuscripts for publication, national bibliographies, periodical indexes, American studies or civilization (including popular culture), general works on American history, specialized studies of American history, biography, periodicals, newspapers, book trade and publishing, history of ideas, psychology, philosophy (including transcendentalism), religion, women’s studies, general bibliographies of American literature, histories of American literature, poetry, drama (including theater and film), fiction, criticism, humor and other special genres (including children’s literature), seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, twentieth-century literature, themes and topics, regionalism, minorities, relations with other countries, American language, folklore, and comparative and general literature. The generally brief descriptive annotations frequently cite related works. An appendix lists the principal biographies of 135 authors. Two indexes: subjects; names. Many divisions would benefit from more refined classification or organization; some annotations have not been revised to reflect changes in scope or organization of serial publications or revised editions; and a few outdated works or superseded editions should be excised. Especially valuable for its interdisciplinary scope, this onetime standard guide to reference works and scholarship essential to research in American literature is now in need of wholesale revision and updating. Review: David Van Leer, Resources for American Literary Study 16 (1986–89): 49–52.

Less useful guides are the following:

  • Fenster, Valmai Kirkham. Guide to American Literature. Littleton: Libs. Unlimited, 1983. 243 pp. Designed for undergraduates, but untrustworthy because of numerous inaccuracies and omissions.

  • Kolb, Harold H., Jr. A Field Guide to the Study of American Literature. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1976. 136 pp. A poorly organized compilation whose annotations consist largely of quotations from prefatory matter.

  • Leary, Lewis. American Literature: A Study and Research Guide. New York: St. Martin’s, 1976. 185 pp. Designed for undergraduates and plagued by numerous errors, but more evaluative than Gohdes and Marovitz or Kolb.

See also

American Literary Scholarship (Q3265): In addition to the chapter on general reference sources, most of the other chapters evaluate reference works.

Bateson and Meserole, Guide to English and American Literature (B85).

Literary History of the United States: Bibliography (Q3300).

Marcuse, Reference Guide for English Studies (B90).

Related Topics


Perrault, Anna H., and Ron Blazek. United States History: A Multicultural, Interdisciplinary Guide to Information Sources. 2nd ed. Westport: Libs. Unlimited, 2003. 661 pp. Z1236.P45 [E178] 016.973.

A guide to reference sources (through 2002) on American history and culture to c. 2002. The 1,250 entries are listed alphabetically by title in six classified divisions: general works; politics and government; economic history; diplomatic history and foreign affairs; military history; and social, cultural, and intellectual history (with sections for genealogy, ethnic and gender issues, education, theater, and popular culture). Indexed by authors and titles. The evaluative annotations are quite full and frequently cite related works.

Because the second edition of United States History emphasizes social history, a useful complement is Francis Paul Prucha, Handbook for Research in American History: A Guide to Bibliographies and Other Reference Works, 2nd ed. (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1994; 214 pp.), which is organized by kind of reference work (with coverage extending through c. 1993). Works are described in chapters on electronic resources; library catalogs and guides; general bibliographies of American history; catalogs of books; book review indexes; guides to periodical literature; guides to manuscripts; guides to newspapers; dissertations and theses; biographical sources; oral history materials; printed documents of the federal government; the National Archives; state and local materials; legal sources; atlases, maps, and geographic guides; encyclopedias, handbooks, and dictionaries; statistics; and picture sources. Unfortunately, the second edition drops the coverage of specific topics such as political history, social history, ethnic groups, women, blacks, American Indians, religion, regional material, and travel accounts. Works are described in narrative fashion—but too rarely evaluated—a practice that makes scanning difficult; coverage of electronic resources is inadequate; and there are more errors and lapses in judgment than one would like in an introductory guide. Indexed by persons, titles, and subjects. The original edition of the Handbook was once the best guide to reference works on American history and included much of importance to literary scholarship; unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the new edition.


Sears, Jean L., and Marilyn K. Moody. Using Government Information Sources, Electronic and Print. 3rd ed. Phoenix: Oryx, 2001. 536 pp. Z1223.Z7 S4 [J83] 015.73′053.

A guide to searching United States government publications. Along with describing how to use the basic indexes, databases, and numerous Web sites, Sears and Moody explain the Superintendent of Documents Classification system and outline research strategies. Of particular interest to literary researchers are the sections on copyright, genealogy, and the National Archives. Indexed by subjects and titles. This work is the best introduction for those needing to search government publications. Prucha, Handbook for Research in American History (Q3185a), also has a useful chapter on locating printed documents of the federal government.

For a representative list of GPO publications on the humanities, see Donna L. Burton, “Government Document Resources for the Humanities: A Representative Bibliography,” Bulletin of Bibliography 49.2 (1992): 93–100.

Histories and Surveys

Useful lists of histories and surveys appear in Gohdes and Marovitz, Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Literature of the U. S. A., pp. 95–101 (entry Q3180); Kolb, Field Guide to the Study of American Literature, pp. 25–87 (Q3180a); and Leary, American Literature: A Study and Research Guide, pp. 11–27 (Q3180a). For a detailed account and assessment of major histories from 1829 through 1948, see Vanderbilt, American Literature and the Academy (Q3209); for a comparison of Columbia Literary History of the United States (Q3195), Literary History of the United States (Q3200), and Cambridge History of American Literature (Q3205a), see Hans-Joachim Lang, ““From the Old Cambridge History of American Literature to the New Columbia Literary History of the United States ”,” Reconstructing American Literary and Historical Studies, ed. Günter H. Lenz, Hartmut Keil, and Sabine Bröck-Sallah (Frankfurt: Campus; New York: St. Martin’s, 1990) 110–27.

The announcements of Columbia Literary History of the United States (Q3195) and Cambridge History of American Literature (Q3205) elicited considerable discussion of canon and approach. See, for example, the following articles in American Literature: Annette Kolodny, “The Integrity of Memory: Creating a New Literary History of the United States,” 57.2 (1985): 291–307; William C. Spengemann, “American Things / Literary Things: The Problem of American Literary History,” 57.3 (1985): 456–81; Emory Elliott, “New Literary History: Past and Present,” 57.4 (1985): 611–21; Sacvan Bercovitch, “America as Canon and Context: Literary History in a Time of Dissensus,” 58.1 (1986): 99–107.


Columbia Literary History of the United States (CLHUS). Emory Elliott, gen. ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1988. 1,263 pp. PS92.C64 810′.9.

A collaborative history of literature in English and other languages from twelfth-century painted cave narratives to the 1980s. Organized by traditional periods (the beginnings to 1810, 1810 to 1885, 1885 to 1910, 1910 to 1945, 1945 to the present), each section begins with a discussion of cultural and intellectual contexts and includes essays on genres, movements, major writers, regions, groups, or historical developments. Rather than attempt a consensus or an integrated narrative, the chapters (each by a distinguished scholar) employ a variety of critical approaches and reflect the diversity of the country’s literary heritage by treating ethnic, minority, regional, and Native American literatures and works by women as well as established writers, and popular as well as elite literature. Since many writers are discussed in several chapters, users must be certain to consult the index of subjects, persons, and titles. Admirably fulfilling the editor’s criteria for a good literary history (“that it have a good index, readable type, sensible chapter divisions, and interesting and informative essays, and that it be inexpensive, durable, and not too heavy”), this is a worthy, much-needed successor to Literary History of the United States (Q3200). Unfortunately, it includes no bibliography volume, and the essays lack documentation or a list of suggested readings. For an outline of the project, see Emory Elliott, “New Literary History: Past and Present,” American Literature 57.4 (1985): 611–21.

While the Columbia Literary History’s critical reception has been deservedly favorable, it has been criticized for its handling of regional, especially western, literature by James H. Maguire, “The Canon and the ‘Diminished Thing,’” American Literature 60.4 (1988): 643–52. Review: Larzer Ziff, American Quarterly 42.1 (1990): 102–07.

A New Literary History of America, ed. Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors (Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 2009; 1,095 pp.; Harvard UP Reference Lib.) is more a cultural history (“a reexamination of the American experience as seen through a literary glass”) than a literary one. The separately authored essays, which are arranged chronologically from 1507 to 4 November 2008, cover literary authors and works (e.g., Bradstreet, Last of the Mohicans, Emerson, Moby-Dick, Dickinson, and Frost) as well as a host of other topics (e.g., John Foster’s woodcut of Richard Mather, Charles Peale’s exhibition of mastodon bones, the siege of the Alamo, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Charlie Chaplin, Louis Brandeis’s opinion in Whitney v. California, country music, Pete Rozelle as NFL Commissioner, Linda Lovelace, and the election of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president). With one exception, essays conclude with a list of suggested readings. Indexed by persons, titles of movies, and some subjects. Although New Literary History numbers a host of major scholars among its contributors, it is ultimately a pastiche of mostly unconnected essays, several of which are tangential to literary history. Reviews: Mark Bauerlein and Priscilla Wald, Chronicle of Higher Education 6 Nov. 2009: B13–B18; Gregory Jay, Modern Language Quarterly 72.4 (2011): 537–42 .


Literary History of the United States: History (LHUS). Ed. Robert E. Spiller et al. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan; London: Collier, 1974. 1,556 pp. PS88.L522 810′.9.

A collaborative history by leading scholars and critics of the literature of the United States through the early 1970s (but emphasizing the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries) and accompanied by a separate Bibliography volume (Q3300). Organized more or less chronologically, the 11 sections include chapters on cultural and historical background, genres, major authors, regions, and movements. Except for new chapters on Emily Dickinson and literature since World War II, the fourth edition essentially preserves the text of the first (1948). The History and Bibliography are complementary volumes and must be used together (the highly selective bibliography at the end of the History is meant for the “general” reader). Indexed by persons and some subjects.

Criticized for its unevenness in scale and quality, the formulaic nature of many chapters, and emphasis on history at the expense of criticism, but recognized for many years as the indispensable literary history of the United States, LHUS exerted a major influence on scholarship for many years after its publication and served as a godsend for two generations of doctoral candidates studying for preliminary examinations. Although superseded by Columbia Literary History of the United States (Q3195), it remains a major document in the historiography of American literary history. For the inception, organization, composition, and editing of LHUS, see Robert E. Spiller, “History of a History: A Study in Cooperative Scholarship,” PMLA 89.3 (1974): 602–16, and especially Vanderbilt, American Literature and the Academy (Q3209), which also examines the academic politics behind the work, traces its critical reception, and offers a detailed assessment (pp. 413–60, 499–531, passim). Reviews: (1st ed.) Daniel Aaron, Leslie A. Fiedler, and R. A. Miller, American Quarterly 1.2 (1949): 169–83; Ralph L. Rusk, American Literature 21.4 (1950): 489–92; René Wellek, Kenyon Review 11.3 (1949): 500–06; (4th ed.) Larzer Ziff, Review of English Studies ns 27.107 (1976): 363–66.


The Cambridge History of American Literature. Sacvan Bercovitch, gen. ed. 8 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994–2005. PS92.C34 810.9. Online through Cambridge Histories Online (

  • Vol. 1: 1590–1820. 1994. 829 pp.

  • Vol. 2: Prose Writing, 1820–1865. 1995. 887 pp.

  • Vol. 3: Prose Writing, 1860–1920. 2005. 813 pp.

  • Vol. 4: Nineteenth-Century Poetry, 1800–1910. 2004. 562 pp.

  • Vol. 5: Poetry and Criticism, 1910–1950. 2003. 624 pp.

  • Vol. 6: Prose Writing, 1910–1950. 2002. 620 pp.

  • Vol. 7: Prose Writing, 1940–1990. 1999. 795 pp.

  • Vol. 8: Poetry and Criticism, 1940–1995. 1996. 545 pp.

A collaborative history of American literature from the colonial period to the 1990s. The overall organization is chronological, the approach historical and contextual rather than biographical and canonical or “totalizing or encyclopedic” with lengthy sections by major scholars (e.g., Emory Elliott on Puritan literature, Wendy Steiner on postmodern fiction, Frank Lentricchia on modern poetry, and Gerald Graff on modern criticism) who incorporate minority, popular, Native American, and ethnic literature in treating genres, themes, representative authors, and the literary marketplace. For a discussion of the broad principles underlying the History, see Sacvan Bercovitch, “America as Canon and Context: Literary History in a Time of Dissensus,” American Literature 58.1 (1986): 99–107 and “The Problem of Ideology in American Literary History,” Critical Inquiry 12.4 (1986): 631–53 (subsequently revised in The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America [New York: Routledge, 1993] 353–76).

Each volume concludes with a chronology and a virtually useless list of “especially influential” books; unfortunately, the essays lack notes, and there is no bibliography volume planned. Indexed by persons, subjects, and titles of anonymous works (the online version omits the indexes). Like so many recent literary histories, the Cambridge History of American Literature eschews continuity in favor of polyphony, pluralism, and—inevitably—imbalance. Yet the quality of the contributors ensures that it will assume an influential—perhaps canonical—place among histories of American literatures. Reviews: (vol. 1) Mitchell Breitweiser, Modern Language Quarterly 56.2 (1995): 197–206; Philip F. Gura, New England Quarterly 68.1 (1995): 118–38; William S. Spengemann, Early American Literature 29.3 (1993): 276–94; Leonard Tennenhouse, Modern Language Quarterly 56.2 (1995): 207–20; Larzer Ziff, Modern Language Quarterly 56.2 (1995): 189–96; (vol. 2) Freddie Baveystock, English 45.182 (1996): 157–63.

The New Cambridge History replaces the outdated Cambridge History of American Literature (CHAL), ed. William Peterfield Trent et al., 4 vols. (New York: Putnam’s; Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1917–21; online as The Cambridge History of English and American Literature []). For a detailed account of the genesis, editing, publication, and reception—as well as an assessment—of CHAL, see Vanderbilt, American Literature and the Academy (Q3209), pp. 3–28, 153–83, 221–36, passim.


Vanderbilt, Kermit. American Literature and the Academy: The Roots, Growth, and Maturity of a Profession. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1986. 609 pp. PS62.V28 8109.791273.

A history of the origins and development of the study of American literature in the United States from 1829 through 1948. Organized in three periods (1829–1921, 1921–39, 1939–48), chapters examine in detail the professional lives, publications, and other contributions of major scholars; the genesis, production, critical reception, and importance of major literary histories (especially Cambridge History of American Literature [Q3205a] and Literary History of the United States [Q3200]), scholarly works, and journals (particularly American Literature and PMLA); the introduction of American literature into secondary and higher education; the development of professional organizations (especially the American Literature Group of the MLA); and the academic politics that shaped the profession. An appendix lists the leaders of the American Literature Group from 1921 through 1948. Drawing extensively on unpublished materials, Vanderbilt offers a fascinating, critical (but not always impartial) account of the evolution of the academic study of American literature in the United States. Organizers of a major cooperative scholarly venture will find the accounts of CHAL and LHUS both instructive and sobering. Readers who are English literature specialists will wish for a similar history of their profession.

See also

History of Southern Literature (Q3615).

Literary History of the American West (Q3660).

Ruoff and Ward, Redefining American Literary History (Q3695).

Literary Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias


Hart, James D. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. 6th ed. with revisions and additions by Phillip W. Leininger. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. 779 pp. PS21.H3 810.9′003. Online through Oxford Reference (I530).

A wide-ranging encyclopedia, with more than 5,000 entries on authors and other persons, works, literary terms, characters, movements and groups, awards, organizations, periodicals, historical and cultural events, foreign writers, and a host of other topics related to American literature. The bulk of the entries are for authors (recording basic career information) and plot summaries of elite as well as popular works. Concludes with a chronology of literary and social history, 1578–1994. Entries for individuals in the fourth through sixth editions are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). Breadth, accuracy, judicious selection, and wealth of detail have made the Oxford Companion the essential source of quick reference for beginning student through accomplished scholar.

A good supplement because of its inclusion of numerous minor writers is W. J. Burke and Will D. Howe, American Authors and Books: 1640 to the Present Day, 3rd rev. ed., rev. Irving Weiss and Anne Weiss (New York: Crown, 1972; 719 pp.). Besides writers of all kinds, it has entries for works, literary characters, periodicals, newspapers, publishers, literary terms, associations, book collectors, libraries, places, and literature-related subjects. (Entrants are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index [J565].) The first edition—American Authors and Books, 1640–1940 (New York: Gramercy, 1943; 858 pp.)—remains useful for the numerous entries omitted in later editions.

HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, ed. George Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper, 2002; 1,126 pp.) and Encyclopedia of American Literature, ed. Steven R. Serafin (New York: Continuum, 1999; 1,305 pp.; online through Credo Reference []) offer somewhat more lengthy entries on writers, works, genres, groups, movements, and other topics than is typical in literary encyclopedias. The latter, with some 1,300 entries, is neither “a comprehensive survey” nor “the most extensive single-volume treatment of its subject available,” as its editor claims. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature, ed. Jay Parini, 4 vols. (New York: Oxford UP, 2004; online through Oxford Reference [I530]), offers even lengthier entries, but its more than 350 authors, works, movements, institutions, ethnic literatures, and literary forms are obviously chosen and written about with the targeted student or general reader in mind.


Encyclopedia of American Studies. Ed. Miles Orvell. Johns Hopkins University. Johns Hopkins UP, 2013. 11 Sept. 2013. <>. Updated quarterly.

Encyclopedia of American Studies. Ed. George T. Kurian, Miles Orvell, Johnnella E. Butler, and Jay Mechling. 5 vols. New York: Grolier, 2001. E169.1.E625 973′.03.

An encyclopedia for the student of the cultures of the United States. Ranging across folk, vernacular, elite, regional, sectarian, and mass cultures, the entries (which range from 500 to 5,000 words and which are, for the most part, written by established scholars) use an interdisciplinary approach to a topic and its relation to American culture in encompassing such areas as communication, economics, ethnicity, the arts, gender, national identity, the environment, religion, and technology—in short, virtually any area of interest to the discipline of American studies. The online version, which expands and updates the print version but does not reproduce its illustrations, can be browsed by individual entries or by broad subject areas and their subheadings. Keyword searches can be limited to full text, title, contributors, or bibliographies. Entries can be formatted for printing, or citations to entries can be saved (in MLA or Chicago style) for e-mailing. Although the database is updated quarterly, there is currently no provision for identifying new or updated entries.

Because of the broad scope of the majority of entries, readers of the print version should begin with the subject index in vol. 4 (e.g., while Amish, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Works Progress Administration lack individual entries, they are discussed under broader ones). Sporting readable discussions and aptly chosen illustrations in the print version, Encyclopedia of American Studies is a browser’s delight and a source of authoritative overviews of aspects of American culture.


The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. Ed. Cathy N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. 1,021 pp. PS147.094 810.9′9287′03. Online through Oxford Reference (I530).

A dictionary of United States women writers, literary forms (including fiction, poetry, and drama as well as such forms as travel writing, recipe books, and spiritual narratives), literary periods, regions, themes, ethnic literatures, concepts and issues associated with feminism and women writers, cultural and historical issues, and publishing. The 771 signed entries (by an impressive array of contributors) range from brief pieces to extensive essays; they usually conclude with a selective bibliography (though these are not always as current as one should expect) and, frequently, with a note on the location of the subject’s papers. A chronology of social history, everyday life, and women’s writing and a selective bibliography end the volume. Indexed by persons and subjects; entrants are also indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). The judicious selectivity, extensive coverage and quality of entries, and efficient cross-referencing and indexing give Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing pride of place among the dictionaries of women writers in the United States.


Ehrlich, Eugene, and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford UP, 1982. 464 pp. PS141.E74 917.3′04.

An illustrated dictionary and gazetteer to 1,586 cities, towns, and villages associated with more than 1,500 writers from colonial times to the present. The towns are organized alphabetically within region, then state; the entry for each locality describes its associations with writers or its use as setting and locates buildings, graves, and other sites of literary interest. Indexed by states and towns at the front, by authors at the back. Although the descriptions are not always based on firsthand investigation, some important sites are omitted, and the volume is too unwieldy to carry on a literary tour, this book is the most current and comprehensive guide to places in the United States that are associated with an author or literary work. Review: John Russell, TLS: Times Literary Supplement 10 June 1983: 608.

See also

Sec. C: Literary Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias.

Franklin, Dictionary of American Literary Characters (Q3472).



Ludwig, Richard M., and Clifford A. Nault, Jr., eds. Annals of American Literature, 1602–1983. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 342 pp. PS94.L83 810.2′02.

A chronology of important and representative literary works. The main column cites author, date of birth, title, and genre for each work. The secondary column lists historical and cultural events, the founding of serial publications, births and deaths of authors, and major foreign publications. (Beginning in 1783, this column is in two parts: American and foreign.) Although the arts are slighted in the secondary column, breadth and judicious selection make Annals of American Literature the best source for placing a work in its literary and historical context. It supersedes the treatment of American literature in Annals of English Literature (M1345).

The Chronology of American Literature: America’s Literary Achievements from the Colonial Era to Modern Times, ed. Daniel S. Burt (Boston: Houghton, 2004; 805 pp.; online through Credo Reference []), is more current (with coverage extending through 1999) and offers three- to four-sentence summaries of or commentaries on the importance of works, but the two-column layout (with works grouped by genre, type, or subject—e.g., drama and theater, poetry, nonfiction, literary criticism and scholarship, essays and philosophy, sermons and religious writing, and publications and events—and lists of births and deaths, popular books or bestsellers, and awards and prizes [including the “Noble Prize”] scattered at intervals throughout the text) and the lack of information on historical and social events make it impossible to contextualize a work (the principal purpose for which one consults a work such as this). Dates of birth and death appear only the first time an author is listed. The indexes of authors and titles exclude entries in the lists noted above unless a work also appears in the chronology proper.

Women writers and their social and historical contexts are more fully documented in Cynthia J. Davis and Kathryn West, Women Writers in the United States: A Timeline of Literary, Cultural, and Social History (New York: Oxford UP, 1996; 488 pp.).

Bibliographies of Bibliographies

Although purporting to be an evaluative history of the bibliographical control of American belles lettres, Vito Joseph Brenni, The Bibliographic Control of American Literature, 1920–1975 (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1979; 210 pp.), is too incomplete, poorly organized, inaccurately descriptive, uncritically evaluative, badly written, and inadequately indexed to be of much use.


Nilon, Charles H. Bibliography of Bibliographies in American Literature. New York: Bowker, 1970. 483 pp. Z1225.A1 N5 016.01681.

A bibliography of books, parts of books, and articles (published before 1970) that list works by and about authors, about genres, and about subjects related to literature. Entries are classified in four divisions: bibliography, authors (organized by century, then alphabetically), genres (including literary history and criticism), and ancillary subjects (including various forms, types, and topics such as children’s literature, dissertations, humor, regionalism, and travels). Occasional brief annotations comment on scope or publishing information. Indexed by titles and persons. Poor design makes scanning entries difficult. Nilon must be used with caution, since there are numerous omissions and inconsistencies in organization and since many works were not examined by the compiler. A major desideratum is an up-to-date, thorough bibliography of bibliographies of American literature. Review: TLS: Times Literary Supplement 2 July 1971: 788.

A few additional bibliographies published in periodicals are listed in Patricia Pate Havlice, Index to American Author Bibliographies (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1971; 204 pp.).

See also

Sec. D: Bibliographies of Bibliographies.

Tanselle, Guide to the Study of United States Imprints (U5290).

Guides to Primary Works



American Literary Manuscripts: A Checklist of Holdings in Academic, Historical, and Public Libraries, Museums, and Authors’ Homes in the United States (ALM). Comp. and ed. J. Albert Robbins et al. 2nd ed. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1977. 387 pp. Z6620.U5 M6 [PS88] 016.81.

A finding list of manuscripts—including journals, diaries, correspondence, galley and page proofs, documents, audio and video recordings, books with marginalia, and memorabilia—held in about 600 institutions in the United States. Among the approximately 2,800 Americans are all the major authors, selected minor ones, and several quasi-literary writers such as editors, publishers, theatrical performers and producers, literary critics and scholars, and a few public figures also known (sometimes remotely) as writers. Following each author, holdings are listed alphabetically by institutional symbol, with manuscripts identified only by type and item count. (Symbols for libraries and types of manuscripts are identified on pp. xxvii–liii.) A few institutional holdings are keyed to a list (on pp. 367–77) of calendars, inventories, checklists, and other finding aids. Concludes with two appendixes (pseudonyms and alternative names; authors for whom no holdings were reported [both should have been integrated into the main list of authors]) and a bibliography of catalogs and guides, including ones listing American manuscripts held abroad. The introduction is refreshingly frank about the limitations of the checklist, with the Notes on Coverage (pp. xxii–xxvi) listing institutions whose holdings are not covered or are incompletely reported. Although the dense pages of symbols and numbers are initially forbidding, researchers soon appreciate how much drudgery this checklist can save them. Even so, much work is left for users: they must write or visit institutions that have no published or online finding aids to determine their exact holdings, and they must consult the works listed in section F: Guides to Manuscripts and Archives to locate additional American manuscripts. Review: John C. Broderick, Review 1 (1979): 295–300.


Cripe, Helen, and Diane Campbell, comps. and eds. American Manuscripts, 1763–1815: An Index to Documents Described in Auction Records and Dealers’ Catalogues. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1977. 704 pp. Z1237.C89 [E195] 016.973.

An index to manuscript material written between 1763 and 1815 and described in catalogs of booksellers, autograph dealers, and auction houses in the United States. American Manuscripts covers selected dealers’ catalogs through 1970 but auction catalogs only before 1895, when publication of American Book Prices Current (U5415) began. Organized by date of manuscript, entries identify the catalog and note what kind of description it supplies (e.g., a summary, transcription, or reproduction). Dealers’ catalogs are keyed to a list in the back; auction catalogs are cited by the number used in McKay, American Book Auction Catalogues (U5400). Indexed by names. Although the bulk of the manuscripts are historical, Cripe and Campbell does index a considerable number of items of literary interest. Coverage of dealers’ catalogs is not comprehensive and the decision to omit auction catalogs after 1895 is unfortunate, since American Book Prices Current is far from thorough; nevertheless, American Manuscripts is an important work that will save researchers a few of the hours that must be spent in tracking down and poring through these scarce catalogs. Scholars need many more such indexes to manuscripts listed in catalogs.


Raimo, John W., ed. A Guide to Manuscripts Relating to America in Great Britain and Ireland. [Rev. ed.] Westport: Meckler for British Assn. for Amer. Studies, 1979. 467 pp. Z1236.C74 [E178] 016.973.

A guide to manuscripts and some rare printed works relating to the American colonies and the United States and held by libraries, county and local record offices, organizations, and some private collectors in Great Britain. Raimo excludes the Public Record Office, British Library, Oxford and Cambridge libraries, and London Archives, since all have separate guides (identified in the introduction). Organized alphabetically by country, then county, city, and owner, the descriptions of collections identify groups of papers or individual manuscripts and cite transcriptions, catalogs, and other finding aids. The descriptions vary in detail, but most are helpfully precise. Locations are not cited for collections identified through the National Register of Archives (F285a) to encourage scholars to consult the finding aids held there. Indexed by subjects, persons, and places. Users must remember that this work is not comprehensive and that inclusion of a collection does not mean it is accessible to researchers. Although the bulk of the papers are historical or political, Raimo locates a significant number of literary manuscripts and thus is an important preliminary source for tracking down items in British collections.


Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States. Ed. Andrea Hinding and Ames Sheldon Bower. 2 vols. New York: Bowker, 1979. Z7964.U49 W64 [HQ1410] 016.30141′2′0973.

A guide to 18,026 collections in 1,586 repositories holding manuscripts by or related to women in the United States since colonial times. Organized alphabetically by state, city, repository, and then collection title, entries record types of documents, inclusive dates, size, information on access, repository, existence of finding aids, contents, and published guides. Based on printed descriptions, responses to questionnaires, or on-site inspections, the descriptions vary considerably in sophistication, specificity, and accuracy. Indexed in vol. 2 by persons (including all forms of a woman’s name), subjects, occupations, and places. Although many libraries were unable to provide a thorough description of their holdings, Women’s History Sources is the essential guide to a wealth of little-known material, a decent portion of which is of literary interest. A revised edition—or supplement—is needed. Review: Gerda Lerner, Library Quarterly 51.1 (1981): 102–04.

See also

Sec. F: Guides to Manuscripts and Archives.

American Book Prices Current (U5415).

Book Auction Records (U5420).

Printed Works

For a survey deploring the state of the bibliography of American imprints, recommending standards and procedures, and suggesting needed research, see G. Thomas Tanselle, “The Bibliography and Textual Study of American Books,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 95.1 (1985): 113–51, with a commentary (pp. 152–60) by Norman Fiering.

Tanselle, Guide to the Study of United States Imprints (U5290) is the best source for locating works that identify or locate a particular book printed or published in the United States.


Blanck, Jacob, comp. Bibliography of American Literature (BAL). Completed by Michael Winship and Virginia L. Smyers. 9 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1955–91. Z1225.B55 [PS88] 016.81. <>. CD-ROM.

Bibliography of American Literature: A Selective Index. Comp. Winship. Golden: North American–Fulcrum, 1995. 345 pp. Z1255.B55 016.81.

Epitome of Bibliography of American Literature . Comp. Winship. Golden: North American–Fulcrum, 1995. 325 pp. Z1255.B55 016.81.

A bibliography of works by 281 authors (from the Federal period to those who died before 1931) “who, in their own time at least, were known and read” and who primarily published belles lettres. Limited to separate publications (including books, broadsides, anthologies, and ephemera) and emphasizing initial appearances, BAL excludes altogether “periodical and newspaper publications, . . . unrevised reprints . . ., translations into other languages, [and] volumes containing isolated correspondence.” First American editions (along with variant issues and states) and English-language foreign editions preceding the first American one receive a full description; briefer descriptions are accorded volumes containing the first printing of a prose work (excluding letters) or poem, textually significant reprints or revised editions, nonbelletristic works, and edited texts. Authors are listed alphabetically, with works normally organized by date of publication in three parts: first or revised editions of books wholly or substantially by an author and books by others containing the first book publication of a work; reprints of an author’s own books; and books by others containing material by an author reprinted from earlier books, followed by a selection of bibliographies, biographies, and -ana. Some authors, because of the variety or complexity of their output, require a different organization (outlined in a headnote). A full entry includes title page, imprint, pagination, type of paper, size of leaf, collation, description of binding (including variants and notes on inserted ads, endpapers, binder’s and fly leaves), publication notes (citing copyright deposit date when possible and early advertisements), locations of copies examined, and miscellaneous notes, especially dealing with publishing history. These parts are repeated as necessary within an entry for each state or issue. The entry numbers have become the standard references for identifying an edition, state, or issue. Indexed by initials, pseudonyms, and anonyms in each volume. The Selective Index covers separately published works in three indexes: titles (with separate list of main titles and series titles); dates; publishers (organized by city). Entrants in vols. 1–8 are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565).

Users must study carefully the prefatory explanation of scope, limitations, organization, terminology, and parts of an entry (especially descriptive conventions); consult the headnote to an author for information on special limitations or organization; and remember that BAL does not list everything written by an author and is not a census of copies.

The online version allows users to browse the contents or search by a combination of keyword, title, imprint, author, location of copy, date of publication, and BAL number. Searches can be restricted to principal works, reprints and contributions, or references and -ana. Citations can be marked for e-mailing, printing, or downloading; full records can be printed or saved by screen capture one at a time. The CD-ROM version is obsolete since the search interface must be installed from 3.5-inch disks.

Additions and corrections once regularly appeared in the notes section of Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America; published additions and corrections through 1969 are listed in vol. 1, pp. 163–64, in Tanselle, Guide to the Study of United States Imprints (U5290). On the form for reporting additions and corrections, see G. Thomas Tanselle, ““A Proposal for Recording Additions to Bibliographies”,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 62.2 (1968): 227–36; ““Additions to Bibliographies: With Notes on Procedure for BAL ”,” 73.1 (1979): 123–25. The BAL working papers and files, which contain much fuller descriptions and notes, additions, and corrections, can be consulted in the Manuscript Department, Houghton Library. Separately published main works are listed in the Epitome, but it does not incorporate additions or corrections to the original nine volumes.

Although not comprehensive (especially in listing reprints), inconsistent in treating some kinds of works (such as foreign editions and reprints), and emphasizing nineteenth-century authors, BAL remains—for writers not the subject of a more recent, separately published descriptive bibliography—an indispensable source for identifying and locating first editions and appearances as well as important revised editions, for obtaining details of publishing and textual history, and for dating publication. For a history of the work, see W. H. Bond, ““Jacob Blanck and BAL ”,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 86.2 (1992): 129–45. For the uses of BAL by those who are not primarily bibliographers, see Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., ““From the Bibliography of American Literature to ‘The Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography’: Our Progressive Tradition”,” Literary Research 14.1-4 (1989): 5–12; and Lawrence Buell, “The Bibliographical Conscience,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 86.2 (1992): 191–98. For the importance of BAL to British and American book-trade history, book collecting, and critical editing, see Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 86.2 (1992), a special issue that prints papers from a 1992 conference on BAL.

The meticulous examination of copies in public as well as private collections, extensive research in copyright records and publishers’ archives, and a remarkable degree of accuracy make BAL one of the monumental bibliographies of the twentieth century. Reviews: (vol. 1) John D. Gordan, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 50.2 (1956): 201–04; James D. Hart, American Literature 28.3 (1956): 378–81; (vol. 7) Joel Myerson, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 78.1 (1984): 45–56 (an important evaluation of the general strengths and shortcomings of BAL); (vols. 8–9) Richard Layman, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 87.2 (1993): 259–63.

Much less satisfactory is Matthew J. Bruccoli et al., eds., First Printings of American Authors: Contributions toward Descriptive Checklists, 5 vols. (Detroit: Gale, 1977–87), an ambitious but flawed, inadequately descriptive record of the first American and English printings of separate publications by some 336 collectible authors from the seventeenth century through the 1970s. Given the paucity of information and inconsistencies in its presentation, First Printings is only occasionally useful for those few authors not in BAL or the subject of an author bibliography. For a detailed critique of the work, see William Matheson, “American Literary Bibliography—FPAA Style,” Review 1 (1979): 173–81.


Literary Writings in America: A Bibliography. 8 vols. Millwood: KTO, 1977. Z1225.L8 [PS88] 016.81.

A reproduction of the card file prepared as a Works Progress Administration project whose goal was to compile a list of creative works and reviews published by Americans between 1850 and 1940. No record exists, however, of what or how many sources were actually examined. The approximately 250,000 cards are organized by author, then alphabetically by title within sections for bibliographies, collected works, separately published works, periodical publications, biographical sources, and critical studies (including reviews) about the author. Reviews are listed under both the reviewer and the author of the book reviewed. Each card usually records author, title, publication information (omitting publishers of books), and genre or type of work. Far from complete, haphazard in its coverage (especially of books), inconsistent in format, including numerous errors, and largely unedited, Literary Writings is only occasionally useful for identifying periodical contributions (especially of minor authors) that are not indexed elsewhere. Review: George Monteiro, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 73.4 (1979): 498–502.


Tanselle, G. Thomas. ““Copyright Records and the Bibliographer”.” Studies in Bibliography 22 (1969): 77–124. Z1008.V55.

A discussion of the value of copyright records in literary and bibliographical research. The focus is the United States, with a summary of major provisions of copyright law and description of surviving records, published and unpublished, from 1793 through the 1960s. Concludes with a brief commentary on English copyright law. A clear introduction to these underutilized records that are valuable for establishing publication dates, authorship of anonymous and pseudonymous publications, and details of nonextant works.

See also

Sec. U: Literature-Related Topics and Sources/Anonymous and Pseudonymous Works/Dictionaries.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism

Surveys of Research


American Literary Scholarship: An Annual, [1963– ] (ALS, AmLS). Durham: Duke UP, 1965– . Annual. <>. PS3.A47 810.

A selective, evaluative survey of important studies, editions, biographies, and reference works. Currently, the volumes are divided into 21 chapters, each by an established scholar: Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and transcendentalism (Fuller was added in 1994); Hawthorne; Melville; Whitman and Dickinson (the latter was added in 1967); Mark Twain; James; Wharton and Cather (since 1997); Pound and Eliot (since 1974); Faulkner; Fitzgerald and Hemingway; literature to 1800; early-nineteenth-century literature; late-nineteenth-century literature (before 1994 a single chapter covered 1800–99); fiction, 1900 to 1930s; fiction, 1930s to 1960s; fiction, 1960s to the present; poetry, 1900 to 1940s; poetry, 1940s to the present; drama; foreign scholarship (since 1973, with separate essays on various countries); and general reference works (since 1977). Some earlier volumes include chapters on folklore (1965–74), Poe (1973–96), black literature (1977–88), and themes, topics, and criticism (1966–2009). The scope of some chapters has changed over the years, and the organization varies with the subject. Two indexes: scholars; subjects.

Judicious selectivity, currency, and frank, authoritative evaluations (usually much fuller and more critical than in typical surveys of research) make ALS an indispensable guide to the year’s important scholarship and an essential source for keeping abreast of the increasing number of publications, especially in areas outside one’s immediate fields of interest. Together, the volumes offer an incomparable source for studying trends in American literary scholarship and an important complement to MLAIB (G335) and ABELL (G340), especially for the superior coverage of books.

Since vol. 35 (for 1954), Year’s Work in English Studies (G330) includes American literature; however, ALS offers much fuller, more authoritative coverage.


Duke, Maurice, Jackson R. Bryer, and M. Thomas Inge, eds. American Women Writers: Bibliographical Essays. Westport: Greenwood, 1983. 434 pp. Z1229.W8 A44 [PS147] 016.81′09′9287.

Evaluative surveys of scholarship published through c. 1981 on 24 writers: Bradstreet, Rowlandson, Knight, Jewett, Freeman, Murfree, Chopin, Wharton, Stein, Barnes, Nin, Glasgow, Porter, Welty, O’Connor, McCullers, Hurston, Rourke, Buck, Rawlings, Mitchell, Moore, Sexton, and Plath. Each of the 14 chapters, which treat individuals or groups of authors, devotes sections to bibliographies, editions, manuscripts and letters (noting locations as well as scholarship), biographies, and criticism (with the last variously subdivided). Indexed by persons. The individual essays vary in selectivity and suggest topics for further research. The volume as a whole, however, would benefit from a statement of scope and policies governing the selection of scholarship and writers.


Harbert, Earl N., and Robert A. Rees, eds. Fifteen American Authors before 1900: Bibliographical Essays on Research and Criticism. Rev. ed. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1984. 531 pp. PS55.F53 016.81′09.

Evaluative surveys of research by established scholars on H. Adams, Bryant, Cooper, Crane, Dickinson, Edwards, Franklin, Holmes, Howells, Irving, Longfellow, Lowell, Norris, Taylor, and Whittier. The original edition (1971; 442 pp.) included two additional essays, on southern literature. The surveys vary in selectivity, coverage of foreign scholarship and dissertations, currency (generally citing publications through 1980, with some as late as 1983), and organization. All have sections for bibliography, editions, manuscripts and letters, biographical studies, and criticism and offer suggestions for further research. The Dickinson essay treats recent studies separately; others incorporate new scholarship in the commentary. Unfortunately, citations do not provide full bibliographical information. Indexed by persons. An authoritative guide to winnowing the important studies from the mass published on the 15 authors. Review: David Timms, Notes and Oueries ns 33.2 (1986): 276–77.

For evaluative surveys of recent scholarship on these authors, see American Literary Scholarship (Q3265).


Kopley, Richard, ed. Prospects for the Study of American Literature: A Guide for Scholars and Students. New York: New York UP, 1997. 347 pp. PS25.P76 810.9.

Kopley and Barbara Cantalupo, eds. Prospects for the Study of American Literature (II). New York: AMS, 2009. 355 pp. AMS Studies in Mod. Lit. 28. PS25.P77 810.9.

Surveys of research that assess the current state of scholarship but emphasize studies—biographical, bibliographical, critical, historical, and archival—needed on Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Melville, Douglass, Stowe, Whitman, Twain, James, Wharton, Cather, T. S. Eliot, Hemingway, Hurston, Faulkner, and Wright (vol. 1); Cooper, Hawthorne, Fuller, Dickinson, Alcott, Howells, Norris, London, Dreiser, Fitzgerald, O’Neill, Moore, Baldwin, Ellison, and Welty (vol. 2). Additional surveys appear in the ongoing Resources for American Literary Study “Prospects” essays (some of which are revised in these volumes). Two indexes in vol. 1: persons; subjects. A single index of persons and titles in vol. 2. Written for the most part by seasoned scholars, these essays offer invaluable guides for graduate students searching for dissertation topics and for junior faculty members ready to move beyond a dissertation; as a whole Prospects for the Study of American Literature serves as an admirable model for more such collections on American and British writers.

See also

Dorson, Handbook of American Folklore (U5860).

Gaillet, Present State of Scholarship in the History of Rhetoric (U5565).

Greenblatt and Gunn, Redrawing the Boundaries (M1383).

Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture (U6295).

Serial Bibliographies


““Publications in American Studies from German-Speaking Countries, [1945– ]”.” Amerikastudien / American Studies 1 (1956)– . Title varies. Annual. E169.1 973.92′05.

An irregularly published list of German, Swiss, and Austrian scholarship on American culture. Since the bibliography for 2003 (49.2 [2004]), entries are organized alphabetically in 5 divisions: general works and bibliographies; literature and culture; history; politics, economics, and society; and education. Earlier installments included linguistics; the arts and the media; philosophy, psychology, and religion; culture; and geography. Indexed by scholars. A useful complement to American Literary Scholarship (Q3265) and the standard serial bibliographies and indexes in section G, which typically overlook much scholarship published in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

Among the defunct serial bibliographies of American literature are

  • ““Articles in American Studies, [1954–72]”.” American Quarterly 7–25 (1955–73). A selective annotated interdisciplinary list, which was succeeded in vols. 26–38 (1974–86) by a yearly bibliography issue composed of surveys of research and discussions of methodology on a theme or topic. The annual bibliographies for 1954–68 are reprinted with cumulative scholar and personal name indexes as Hennig Cohen, ed., Articles in American Studies, 1954–1968: A Cumulation of the Annual Bibliographies from American Quarterly , 2 vols. (Ann Arbor: Pierian, 1972; Cumulated Bibliog. Ser. 2).

  • ““A Selected, Annotated List of Current Articles on American Literature”.” American Literature 54–62 (1982–90). A timely and rigorously selective guide to the most important recent scholarship. Its predecessor, ““Articles on American Literature Appearing in Current Periodicals”” (vols. 1–53 [1929–82]), offered a much fuller classified list, whose entries through 1975 are incorporated in Leary, Articles on American Literature (Q3295).

See also

Sec. G: Serial Bibliographies, Indexes, and Abstracts.

ABELL (G340): Entries on American writers and literature are dispersed throughout.

MLAIB (G335): American Literature division in the volumes for 1922 to the present. Researchers must also check the headings beginning “American” in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

Other Bibliographies


Jones, Steven Swann. Folklore and Literature in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography of Studies of Folklore in American Literature. New York: Garland, 1984. 262 pp. Garland Reference Lib. of the Humanities 392: Garland Folklore Bibliogs. 5. Z1225.J66 [PS169.F64] 016.81′09′3.

A bibliography of books, articles, master’s theses, and doctoral dissertations through 1980 that explicitly examine the influence of folklore on American literature and demonstrate “clear folkloristic competence.” Jones includes a few works whose titles erroneously suggest that they treat folklore but excludes discussions of organized religions and general works on literary humor. Listed alphabetically by scholar, entries are accompanied by full descriptive annotations, a few of which point out shortcomings in folklore methodology. (Most theses are not annotated.) Six indexes: literary authors; folklore genres; general theoretical studies (a single list with no headings); regional and ethnic studies (with headings only for African American and general regional and ethnic studies); humor (a single list with no headings); dialect, themes, and characters (again, with no headings). Although selective, Folklore and Literature gathers and clearly annotates studies that are not readily identifiable in the standard serial bibliographies and indexes in section G and that are frequently omitted from folklore bibliographies. Unfortunately, the utterly inadequate subject indexing means that users in search of studies of other than specific literary authors must skim all entries.


Leary, Lewis. Articles on American Literature, 1900–1950. Durham: Duke UP, 1954. 437 pp. Comp. Leary, with Carolyn Bartholet and Catherine Roth. 1950–1967. 1970. 751 pp. Comp. Leary and John Auchard. 1968–1975. 1979. 745 pp. Z1225.L49 016.81.

A bibliography of periodical articles, significant reviews, and review articles compiled from “Articles on American Literature Appearing in Current Periodicals” (Q3285a), MLAIB (G335), other bibliographies, and some journals not covered by the preceding. The 1900–50 compilation is limited primarily to English-language studies; the later volumes admit more foreign language articles but are also more selective. Entries are listed alphabetically in divisions for individual authors; almanacs, annuals, and gift books (1900–50 only); American literature, aims and methods; serial bibliographies; other bibliographies; biography (in the 1968–75 edition, the four preceding divisions became subdivisions—along with ethnic groups—under American literature); fiction; foreign influences and estimates; frontier; humor; Indian literature (in 1968–75, a classified section under American literature); language and style (added in 1950–67); libraries and reading; criticism; literary history; literary trends and attitudes (added in 1950–67); Negro literature (in 1968–75, a classified section under American literature); newspapers and periodicals; philosophy and philosophical trends; poetry; printing, publishing, and bookselling; prose (1900–50 only); regionalism; religion; science; social and political topics; societies; theater; and women (added in 1968–75). Since each volume includes additions and corrections to the preceding one(s), all three must be used together. There are numerous errors and inconsistencies (especially in recording dates and essential issue numbers), and articles treating more than one author or topic do not always receive multiple entries. (Thaddeo K. Babiiha discusses these problems in ““The Faulkner Section in Leary’s Articles on American Literature, 1968–1975”,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 75.1 [1981]: 93–98, but his generalizations are not completely accurate.) Although access would be enhanced by a more refined and detailed classification system, the volumes are a time-saving compilation. Because of their limitations, however, they must be supplemented by American Literary Scholarship (Q3265) and the serial bibliographies and indexes in section G. Review: (1950–67) J. Albert Robbins, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 65.4 (1971): 417–19.


Literary History of the United States: Bibliography (LHUS). Ed. Thomas H. Johnson and Richard M. Ludwig. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan; London: Collier, 1974. 1,466 pp. (The fourth edition consists of corrected reprints of the 1948 bibliography and the supplements of 1959 and 1972, with a cumulative index.) PS88.L522 810′.9.

A series of selective, usually evaluative bibliographical essays organized in four extensively classified divisions: general resources and reference works, general literature (with subdivisions for periods, background studies, American language, folk literature, Indian lore and antiquities, and popular literature), movements and influences, and 239 individual authors (covering primary works, editions, biographies, criticism, bibliographies, and public collections of manuscripts). Throughout, the emphasis is on guiding readers to the best editions and studies; in addition, many essays point out topics needing study. The supplements are keyed to the original volume, and the Bibliography must be used in conjunction with the History (Q3200), even though the organization frequently differs. Indexed by authors, titles, and some subjects. Confusingly organized, with numerous errors, badly dated, and largely superseded by author, subject, and period bibliographies, LHUS is now principally useful as a guide to older scholarship. Review: R. A. Miller, American Quarterly 1.2 (1949): 180–83.


Oxford Bibliographies Online: American Literature. Ed. Jackson R. Bryer, Richard Kopley, and Paul Lauter. Oxford UP, 2014– . 15 Jan. 2015. <>.

Oxford Bibliographies Online are peer-reviewed, concisely annotated, expertly selected bibliographic citations. Each of the articles within a bibliography, written by scholars in the field, consists of an introduction that covers the history behind the field or subfield, followed by a categorized list of useful academic publications (e.g., introductions, textbooks, journals, handbooks and guides, reference works, primary texts or documents) and secions on debates and controversies, criticism, genres, and more. The lists of citations are highly selective, chosen to represent the best scholarship in a given field. Some articles include links to full text or Web content.

American Literature includes articles covering the American Renaissance, Anne Sexton, Benjamin Franklin, copyright laws, Cotton Mather, the Dawes Severalty Act, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Jonathan Edwards, Native American oral literatures, realism and naturalism, westerns, and scores of other subjects.

Content is browsable, and users can search the database with the option of limiting by resource type. Searches can be saved, and users can receive e-mails alerting them to new additions.

See also

Sec. U: Literature-Related Topics and Sources/Folklore and Literature/Guides to Scholarship and Criticism.

Bailey and Burton, English Stylistics (U6080).

Flanagan and Flanagan, American Folklore: A Bibliography, 1950–1974 (U5870).

Gohdes, Literature and Theater of the States and Regions of the U. S. A. (Q3570).

Haywood, Bibliography of North American Folklore and Folksong (U5875).

Horner, Historical Rhetoric (U5600).

Huddleston and Noverr, Relationship of Painting and Literature (U5160).

Literary Writings in America (Q3255).

Ross, Film as Literature, Literature as Film (U5800).

Schwartz, Articles on Women Writers (U6605).

Tanselle, Guide to the Study of United States Imprints (U5290).



America: History and Life. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1964– . 5/yr., including a cumulative index. Z1236.A48 016.917. <>. Updated monthly.

Abstracts of articles and citations to book reviews and dissertations in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (H465) on the history and culture of the United States and Canada, including some studies of American, Native American, and Canadian literature and language. A retrospective volume (designated vol. 0) covers 1954–63 (1972), and a Supplement (2 vols., 1980) adds entries to vols. 1–10. Because of changes in organization over the years (especially beginning with vol. 26 [1989]), the online version offers the best approach to listings. For the EBSCO interface, see I512. An important source for identifying literary and language scholarship in historical journals, few of which are covered by the standard serial bibliographies and indexes in section G.

Dissertations and Theses


Howard, Patsy C., comp. Theses in American Literature, 1896–1971. Ann Arbor: Pierian, 1973. 307 pp. Z1225.H67 016.8109.

A list of baccalaureate and master’s theses accepted by American and some foreign institutions. Howard covers a limited number of institutions (whether completely is unclear) and apparently only theses devoted to an identifiable author. Entries are organized alphabetically under literary authors, with cross-references for studies of multiple authors. Two indexes: subjects (inadequate); thesis authors. Although marred by a completely inadequate explanation of scope and coverage, Theses in American Literature will save some hunting through elusive institutional lists. Theses on southern writers are more fully covered in Emerson and Michael, Southern Literary Culture (Q3630). A companion volume is devoted to Theses in English Literature (M1395).


Woodress, James. Dissertations in American Literature, 1891–1966. Rev. and enl. Durham: Duke UP, 1968. 185 pp. Z1225.W8 016.8109.

A bibliography of American, British, French, New Zealand, Indian, German, Austrian, and Canadian dissertations, completed or once in progress. The approximately 4,700 entries, most of which are taken from standard national dissertation bibliographies or other published lists, are organized alphabetically by author in 34 divisions: individual authors; almanacs, gift books, and annuals; American Revolution; Civil War; criticism; drama; economic studies; education and scholarship; fiction; fine arts; folklore; foreign relationships; humor and satire; Indians; language; libraries and reading; literary history; literary nationalism; lyceum; Negro literature; nonfictional prose; periodicals and journalism; philosophy and intellectual history; poetry; politics and government; printing, publishing, and censorship; psychology and literature; Puritanism; regionalism; religion; science and technology; transcendentalism; travel; and writers and writing. Those for genres, foreign relationships, language, literary history, periodicals and journalism, and regionalism are further classified. Each division or section concludes with cross-references to related dissertations. An entry cites author, title, institution, department (if other than English), and year and indicates when a dissertation has been published. Indexed by dissertation writers. Although not comprehensive and citing dissertations never completed, this is a time-saving compilation from standard bibliographies (especially because of the inclusion of studies accepted by departments other than English). It must be supplemented, however, by works listed in section H: Guides to Dissertations and Theses.

See also

Sec. H: Guides to Dissertations and Theses.

Related Topics

For other bibliographies of American history, see the chapter on general bibliographies in Prucha, Handbook for Research in American History (Q3185a).


Basler, Roy P., Donald H. Mugridge, and Blanche P. McCrum. A Guide to the Study of the United States of America: Representative Books Reflecting the Development of American Life and Thought. Washington: Lib. of Congress, 1960. 1,193 pp. Basler and Oliver H. Orr, Jr. Supplement, 1956–1965. 1976. 526 pp. Z1215.U53 016.9173.

A selective, albeit extensive, annotated bibliography of books published through 1965 that are important to the understanding of the United States. The approximately 9,400 entries—most accompanied by extensive descriptive annotations that typically cite related works—are classified in 32 chapters covering all aspects of history; culture; the humanities; the arts; and social, natural, and physical sciences. The best approach to the contents is through the extensive index of persons, titles, and subjects. Although dated, this study remains the fullest general guide to works essential for investigating life and thought before 1965 in the United States. Review: Times Literary Supplement 8 Sept. 1961: 594.


Harvard Guide to American History. Ed. Frank Freidel. Rev. ed. 2 vols. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 1974. Z1236.F77 016.9173′03.

A guide to important primary and secondary works published to 30 June 1970 on the political, social, constitutional, economic, cultural, and diplomatic history of the United States. The books and articles, selected on the basis of “potential usefulness,” are variously organized in divisions for research methods and materials (with sections on reference works, printed public documents, and unpublished primary sources), biographies and personal records (with sections on travels and descriptions and on biographies), comprehensive and area histories (with a section on regional, state, and local histories), and numerous subjects. The first division consists of a narrative interspersed with lists of works; the other divisions are made up of classified lists. Two indexes: authors (with titles following each author); subjects. Once a standard resource, Harvard Guide to American History is now useful primarily as a guide to studies published before mid-1970. Review: Justus D. Doenecke, History Teacher 8.2 (1975): 317–21.


Salzman, Jack, ed. American Studies: An Annotated Bibliography. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. 1984–1988. 1990. 1,085 pp. Z1361.C6 A436 [E169.1] 016.973.

An annotated bibliography of English-language books and collections of essays through 1988 on the culture of the United States. Salzman excludes journal articles, theoretical and methodological studies, and reference works, as well as most studies of single authors and, in 1984–1988, books published outside the United States. In the three-volume compilation, the 7,634 entries are listed alphabetically by author in 11 variously classified divisions: anthropology and folklore (including sections on minorities, ethnic groups, and linguistics); art and architecture; history (with sections on women, ethnicity, black history, and Native Americans); literature (with sections on general surveys, historical periods, and themes); music; political science; popular culture (with sections on general studies, literature, various genres and types of popular fiction, comics, entertainment, film, media, and material culture); psychology; religion; science, technology, and medicine; and sociology. Introducing each division are a brief overview of important reference works (including some published as late as 1986) and, in too few instances, a discussion of criteria determining scope and selection. All but a few annotations are full and accurate descriptions of content. Three indexes in vol. 3: authors; titles; subjects.

The supplement for 1984–88 separates anthropology and folklore, adds a division for autobiographies and memoirs, omits science, lacks the introductory overviews of reference sources, offers a brief statement of general editorial policy but an inadequate explanation of the scope of individual divisions, and inexplicably omits several entries that appeared in the continuation of the original bibliography in Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 10–11 (1987). Two indexes: scholars; titles (with numbers referring to pages rather than entries). The lack of a subject index is inexcusable, especially since so many of the books (each of which is listed in only one section) cover several topics. The volumes for journal articles and books published outside the United States never appeared. Although divisions vary considerably in quality and authoritativeness (with many lacking a clear focus and effective organization), the work offers the most extensive general guide to books through 1988 on several aspects of American culture. Review: (1986 ed.) Lawrence H. Fuchs, American Quarterly 39.2 (1987): 292–95.

Salzman’s compilation does not completely supersede its parent, Murray G. Murphey, gen. ed., American Studies: An Annotated Bibliography of Works on the Civilization of the United States, 4 vols. (Washington: US Information Agency, 1982), which lists articles in several divisions but which is not widely available in the United States. Basler, Mugridge, and McCrum, Guide to the Study of the United States of America (Q3325), remains useful for its breadth and inclusion of many earlier books. The same cannot be said for David W. Marcell, American Studies: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale, 1982; 207 pp.; Amer. Studies Information Guide Ser. 10), which is incomplete, poorly organized, and uninformatively annotated.


Writings on American History, [1973–90]: A Subject Bibliography of Articles. Washington: Amer. Historical Assn.; Millwood: Kraus, 1974–91. Annual. Z1236.L331 016.97.

Writings on American History, 1962–73: A Subject Bibliography of Articles. 4 vols. Washington: Amer. Historical Assn.; Millwood: KTO, 1976. Z1236.W773 [E178] 016.973.

Writings on American History, 1962–73: A Subject Bibliography of Books and Monographs. 10 vols. Washington: Amer. Historical Assn.; White Plains: Kraus, 1985. Z1236.W773 [E178] 016.973.

Writings on American History, [1902–61]. Millwood: KTO, 1904–78.

A bibliography of scholarship on all aspects of American history. Until the volumes for 1962–73, the work annotated books, articles, and dissertations, but subsequent volumes are unannotated and limited to journal articles and dissertations (with the majority of the former taken from Recently Published Articles [Washington: Amer. Historical Assn., 1976–90], which originally appeared in various forms in each issue of American Historical Review 1–80.3 [1895–1975]). The volumes for 1904–05 and 1941–47 were never published. In the volumes for 1962–1985/86, entries are listed by scholar in three classified divisions: periods (including a section for bibliographies), regions, and subjects (including sections for literature, theater, and popular culture). Later volumes have an additional division for general works (with the bibliography section relocated to here) and a section for language in the subjects division. Several works receive multiple listings. Indexed by authors. Earlier volumes are variously organized, with the later ones having a tripartite division: the historical professions; national history (with literature, theater, and folklore sections in the cultural history subdivision); and regional, state, and local history. Indexed by names, places, and subjects (although not all volumes have subject indexing); cumulative index, 1902–40: Index to the Writings on American History, 1902–1940 (Washington: Amer. Historical Assn., 1956; 1,115 pp.). Although the post-1961 volumes would benefit from a more refined classification system in the first two divisions as well as subject indexing, this work includes literary studies from periodicals not covered by the standard bibliographies and indexes in section G. For historical studies, it must be supplemented by the other bibliographies and abstracts in section U: Literature-Related Topics and Sources/Social Sciences and Literature/History and Literature/Guides to Scholarship.


Guides to Scholarship

Surveys of Research

Needed Research in American English (1983). Publication of the American Dialect Society 71 (1984): 76 pp. PE2841.A75 427.

Needed Research in American Dialects. Ed. Dennis R. Preston. Publication of the American Dialect Society 88 (2003): 261 pp. PE2841.N44 427′.973.

Collections of reports on the state of research and projects needed in linguistic geography, regional speech, usage, new words, proverbs, non-English American languages, the history of American English, discourse studies, social variation, slang, folk speech, and language change. Particularly valuable are Raven I. McDavid, Jr., “Linguistic Geography” (pp. 4–31 in American English), and William A. Kretzschmar, Jr., “Linguistic Atlases of the United States and Canada” (pp. 25–48 in American Dialects), which offer overviews of publications, work in progress, location of archives, and status for each of the regional linguistic atlases.

Serial Bibliographies

ABELL (G340): See the Dialect section of the English Language division in the volumes for 1920–26, the American English section in the volumes for 1927–33, the English Dialects section in the volume for 1934, the American English section in the volumes for 1935–72, and the Dialects/Dialects of [North] America section in later volumes.

MLAIB (G335): English Language and Literature division in the volumes for 1922–25; American Literature I: Linguistics in the volumes for 1926–40; English Language and Literature I: Linguistics in the volumes for 1941–55; English Language and Literature I: Linguistics/American English in the volumes for 1956–66; Indo-European C: Germanic Linguistics IV: English/Modern English/Dialectology in the volumes for 1967–80; and Indo-European Languages/Germanic Languages/West Germanic Languages/English Language (Modern)/Dialectology in later volumes. Researchers must also check the headings beginning “American English” in the subject index to volumes since 1981 and in the online thesaurus.

Other Bibliographies

Leary, Articles on American Literature (Q3295).

Literary History of the United States: Bibliography (Q3300).

McMillan and Montgomery, Annotated Bibliography of Southern American English (Q3635).

Salzman, American Studies: An Annotated Bibliography (Q3335).


For a history of major American dictionaries, see Sidney I. Landau, “Major American Dictionaries,” The Oxford History of English Lexicography, ed. A. P. Cowie, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon–Oxford UP, 2009) 182–229; for regional dictionaries, see Richard W. Bailey, “National and Regional Dictionaries of English” (279–301), in the same volume.


Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). Ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall. 6 vols. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 1985–2013 . PE2843.D52 427′.973. <>. An online version is now available at

A dictionary of more than 60,000 words and phrases of folk usage or whose form or meaning is confined to a region or regions of the United States or to a social group. Includes Black English, Gullah, Hawaiʻian pidgin, and the language of children’s games, but excludes artificial forms, criminal argot, trade jargon, and restricted occupational vocabularies. Information is drawn from 1,002 lengthy DARE questionnaires, other oral sources, and written works, with the heaviest reliance on the last. A typical entry consists of headword, part of speech, pronunciation, variant spellings, etymology for words not treated in standard dictionaries, geographic distribution, usage labels (including frequency, currency, type of user, and manner of use), cross-references, definition, and illustrative quotations from printed and oral sources. Some entries are accompanied by maps that illustrate regional distribution. The admirably clear introduction in vol. 1 outlines the history of the dictionary; explains the editorial policy, maps, and regional labels; discusses language changes especially common in American folk speech; provides a guide to pronunciation; and prints the questionnaire and data about the informants. Vol. 6 includes a series of maps illustrating social and geographic distribution, a summary of data from the questionnaires, the DARE questionnaire, and an index by region, usage, and etymology. For explanations of the regional and social labels, see Luanne von Schneidemesser, ““Regional Labels in DARE ”,” Dictionaries 18 (1997): 166–77, and George H. Goebel, ““Social Labels in DARE ”,” Dictionaries 18 (1997): 178–89; for a comparison of DARE and Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (R4675), see Stefan Dollinger and von Schneidemesser, “Canadianism, Americanism, North Americanism: DARE and DCHP as Dialectological Research Tools,” American Speech 86.2 (2011): 115–51. Invaluable access to DARE entries is offered by An Index by Region, Usage, and Etymology to the Dictionary of American Regional English, Volumes I and II (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P for Amer. Dialect Soc., 1993; 178 pp.; Pub. of the Amer. Dialect Soc. 77) and von Schneidemesser, An Index by Region, Usage, and Etymology to the Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume III (Durham: Duke UP for Amer. Dialect Soc., 1999; 82 pp.; Pub. of the Amer. Dialect Soc. 82); a combined index for vols. 1–5 is available on the DARE Web site (as are copies of DARE Newsletter). Justifiably praised by reviewers for its substantial scholarship, DARE is a major contribution to dialect studies, sociolinguistics, and areal linguistics in the United States; an essential source for the explication of regional and folk terms in American literature; and a delight to browse. On the myriad uses of DARE and its underlying data, see Hall, “DARE: The View from the Letter Z,” Dictionaries 31 (2010): 98–106. On the future of DARE, see Goebel, “DARE—on beyond Zydeco,” Dictionaries 33 (2012): 156–63. Reviews: (vol. 1) Hugh Kenner, TLS: Times Literary Supplement 9 May 1986: 490–91; Walt Wolfram, American Speech 61.4 (1986): 345–52; (vol. 2) Thomas L. Clark, American Speech 69.3 (1994): 306–11; (vol. 3) Natalie Schilling-Estes, Dictionaries 21 (2000): 125–35.

Although the entries online are the same as those in the printed volumes, the online dictionary includes such enhancements as interactive maps, audio recordings for over 4,000 terms, and the ability for users to browse by region. The search feature can search headwords as well as definitions, etymologies, and regions.

For a survey of the status (as of 1983) of the regional linguistic atlas projects in the United States, see Raven I. McDavid, Jr., “Linguistic Geography,” Needed Research in American English (Q3345), and William A. Kretzschmar, Jr., “Linguistic Atlases of the United States and Canada,” in Needed Research in American Dialects (Q3345).


A Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles (DAE). Ed. William A. Craigie and James R. Hulbert. 4 vols. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1938–44. PE2835.C72 427.9.

A dictionary of words originating in the United States, having greater currency in that nation than elsewhere, or “denoting something which has a real connection with the development of the country and the history of its people.” Slang and dialect terms are limited to early or prominent examples. Although the cutoff date for new words is the end of the nineteenth century, illustrative quotations extend to c. 1925. A typical entry consists of headword, definitions arranged by part of speech, illustrative dated quotations from printed sources for each meaning, combined forms, and, occasionally, pronunciation and etymology. Vol. 4 concludes with a bibliography of sources. Although far from complete, this pioneering work remains an essential source for the history of American English and the explication of American literary works. It must be complemented by Dictionary of Americanisms (Q3360), which is more current and accurate, and Dictionary of American Regional English (Q3350). Supplemented by Joseph A. Weingarten, Supplementary Notes to the Dictionary of American English (New York: n.p., 1948; 95 pp.); additions, corrections, and antedatings are also indexed in Wall and Przebienda, Words and Phrases Index (U6025).

For an account of the genesis, compilation, and editing of DAE, see Craigie, ““Sidelights on the Dictionary of American English ”,” Essays and Studies 30 (1944): 100–13. For a different perspective, however, see M. M. Mathews, ““George Watson and the Dictionary of American English ”,” Dictionaries 7 (1985): 214–24, with a response by Allen Walker Read, ““Craigie, Mathews, and Watson: New Light on the Dictionary of American English ”,” 8 (1986): 160–63.


A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (DA). Ed. Mitford M. Mathews. 2 vols. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1951. PE2835.D5 427.9.

A dictionary of words originating in the United States, other words with a particular American meaning, and foreign terms adopted in American English through c. 1950. A typical entry consists of headword, pronunciation and etymology for words originating in the United States and foreign terms, definitions organized by part of speech, dated illustrative quotations from printed sources for each meaning, combined forms, and occasionally a line drawing. Vol. 2 concludes with a bibliography of sources. Some additions, corrections, and antedatings are indexed in Wall, Words and Phrases Index (U6025). More restrictive than other dictionaries in defining “Americanism” (and unfortunately vague in delineating criteria governing inclusion of certain kinds of words), this work corrects several attributions of Americanisms in Dictionary of American English (Q3355), Oxford English Dictionary (M1410), and English Dialect Dictionary (M1415). Although DA is generally more accurate in recording Americanisms than the preceding, these dictionaries are complementary and, along with Dictionary of American Regional English (Q3350) and updates in The Barnhart Dictionary Companion (Q3365a), essential sources for the historical study of American English and explication of American literary works. Much remains to be done, however, before we have an adequate record of Americanisms. Reviews: Norman E. Eliason, Modern Language Review 47.4 (1952): 565–67; Archibald A. Hill, Virginia Quarterly Review 28.1 (1952): 131–35.

The abridgment as Mathews, Americanisms: A Dictionary of Selected Americanisms on Historical Principles (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966; 304 pp.), is of little value for scholarly research.


Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (Webster’s Third). Ed. Philip Babcock Gove. Springfield: Merriam, 1961. 2,662 pp. PE1625.W36 423. (New edition in progress, with new and revised entries incorporated into the online edition.) Online through Literature Online (I527) and as Merriam-Webster Unabridged (; CD-ROM.

A dictionary “of the current vocabulary of standard written and spoken English,” especially in the United States. The approximately 450,000 words blend entries from the second edition with new words and meanings, but unlike its predecessor the third edition omits proper names that are not generic, terms obsolete before 1775, and “comparatively useless or obscure words.” A typical main entry includes selected variant spellings; pronunciation, with variants used by educated speakers; part of speech; inflectional forms; a note on capitalization practices; etymology; status label; subject label; definitions, in historical order; illustrative quotations largely from twentieth-century sources; usage notes; cross-references; synonyms; and combined forms. Those consulting the third edition for more than a quick definition must study the detailed prefatory explanation of parts of a main entry. The preliminary matter also includes a section on forms of address.

Some later printings list additions before the main alphabet. These words are incorporated into the online versions and into occasional supplements, the most recent of which is 12,000 Words: A Supplement to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Springfield: Merriam, 1986; 212 pp.). Other sources for new words and meanings include the following:

  • Ayto, John. The Longman Register of New Words. 2 vols. Harlow: Longman, 1989–90. Covers new words and phrases, 1986–90, primarily in American and British English.

  • The Barnhart Dictionary Companion: A Quarterly of New Words. Springfield: Merriam, 1982–2001. Quarterly. Updates a variety of standard dictionaries, including, at various times, the preceding, Dictionary of Americanisms (Q3360), Dictionary of American English (Q3355), Dictionary of American Regional English (Q3350), New Dictionary of American Slang (see below), Oxford English Dictionary (M1410), Oxford Dictionary of New Words (see below), Random House Dictionary of the English Language (see below), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (see below), and 12,000 Words (see above). Index: vols. 1–4, David K. Barnhart, The Barnhart Dictionary Companion Index (1982–1985) (1987; 102 pp.).

  • The Barnhart Dictionary of New English since 1963. Ed. Clarence L. Barnhart, Sol Steinmetz, and Robert K. Barnhart. Bronxville: Barnhart, 1973. 512 pp. Continued by: The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (1980; 520 pp.); Third Barnhart Dictionary of New English (Bronx: Wilson, 1990; 565 pp.).

  • The Oxford Dictionary of New Words. Ed. Elizabeth Knowles. [New ed.] Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. 357 pp.

Webster’s Third has received a decidedly mixed reception, with the popular press generally condemning the work but linguists and lexicographers considerably more positive toward many of its innovations (especially definition style) and departures from the venerable second edition. Features that have drawn the most criticism include the typographical design; the lowercasing of all proper names (except one sense of God) used as headwords, with some confusing notes on capitalization practices; unnecessary citations; deletion of obsolete words; flaws in etymologies; omission of usage labels (the major criticism of those who mistakenly think that a dictionary should arbitrate usage); a confusing system for recording pronunciation; and definitions that are frequently too abridged.

However one judges its lexicographical practices, Webster’s Third is an essential, if flawed, source for the study of the vocabulary of its time (especially in the United States). For the explication of American literary works, it must be used with the unsuperseded second edition, Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language (Webster’s Second), ed. William Allan Neilson, 2nd ed., unabridged (Springfield: Merriam, 1934; 3,210 pp.). Reviews: R. W. Burchfield, Review of English Studies ns 14.55 (1963): 319–23; Robert L. Chapman, American Speech 42.3 (1967): 202–10; Albert H. Marckwardt, “The New Webster Dictionary: A Critical Appraisal,” Readings in Applied English Linguistics, ed. Harold B. Allen, 2nd ed. (New York: Appleton, 1964) 476–85; James Sledd, College English 23.8 (1962): 682–87. Several reviews in the popular press are reprinted in James Sledd and Wilma R. Ebbitt [eds.], Dictionaries and THAT Dictionary: A Casebook on the Aims of Lexicographers and the Targets of Reviewers (Chicago: Scott, 1962; 274 pp.). Reviews and responses to Webster’s Third are listed in Ted Haebler, ““The Reception of the Third New International Dictionary ”,” Dictionaries 11 (1989): 165–218. For an overview of the controversy, of its place within the history of lexicography, and of the editorial decisions underlying the edition, see Herbert C. Morton, The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994; 332 pp.); on changes in language and attitudes to it, developments in linguistic theory, and conception of the function of a dictionary that occasioned the controversy, see David Skinner, The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published (New York: Harper–Harper Collins, 2012; 351 pp.).

As an authority for spelling, most American publishers and style manuals (including Chicago [U6395] and MLA [U6400]) recommend Webster’s Third and the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (currently the 11th ed. [Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2003; 1,623 pp.; also published on CD-ROM and searchable online at]).

Important complementary dictionaries and other works include the following:

  • Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd ed. New York: Random, 1998. 2,230 pp. (A revised, updated edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Ed. Stuart Berg Flexner, 2nd ed., unabridged [New York: Random, 1987; 2,478 pp.; CD-ROM].) This has much fuller notes on usage; however, the standard general guide to usage in American English is Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage (M1410a).

  • Dictionary of American Slang. Ed. Barbara Ann Jipfer. 4th ed. New York: Collins–HarperCollins, 2007. 592 pp.

  • New Oxford American Dictionary. Ed. Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 2,018 pp. (Available through Oxford Reference [I530].) Emphasizes the modern American lexicon, including numerous quotations illustrating terms in actual use.

See also

English Dialect Dictionary (M1415).

Oxford English Dictionary (M1410).

Studies of Language


Mencken, H. L. The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States. 4th ed., corrected, enl., and rewritten. New York: Knopf, 1936. 769 pp. Supplement I. 1945. 739 pp. Supplement II. 1948. 890 pp. The fourth edition and its supplements are abridged and updated by Raven I. McDavid, Jr. (New York: Knopf, 1963; 777 pp.). PE2808.M4 427.9.

A detailed account of the development of American English and its divergence from British English. The multitude of examples are loosely organized in chapters on historical developments, influences on American English, its relationship with British English, pronunciation, spelling, the common speech, proper names, slang, and the future of American English. Supplement I updates chapters through the relationship with British English; Supplement II, from pronunciation through slang. Non-English dialects are briefly discussed in an appendix to the fourth edition. Two indexes in each volume: words and phrases; persons, subjects, and titles. Stylistically entertaining but hardly impartial, full of errors, weak in organization, and emphasizing description and accumulation of examples rather than analysis, American Language has had a mixed reception. (For the origins, evolution, and reception of the work, see Raymond Nelson, ““Babylonian Frolics: H. L. Mencken and The American Language ”,” American Literary History 11.4 [1999]: 668–98.) It remains the fullest account of American English, even if one disagrees with Mencken’s argument for its status as a language. Reviews: (supplements) Raven I. McDavid, Jr., Language 23.1 (1947): 68–73; 25.1 (1949): 69–77.

Biographical Dictionaries


American National Biography Online (ANB). Amer. Council of Learned Socs.–Oxford UP, 2000–10. 3 Jan. 2013. <>. Updated quarterly. CD-ROM.

American National Biography (ANB). Ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Supplement 1. Ed. Paul Betz and Carnes. 2002. 926 pp. Supplement 2. Ed. Carnes. 2005. 835 pp. CT213.A68 920.073.

A biographical dictionary of more than 17,400 individuals who died before 1996 and whose achievement, fame, or notoriety occurred while living in what is now the United States or who “directly influenced the course of American history.” Entries, which range from 750 to 7,500 words, chronicle the subject’s life and career; most conclude with a note on the location of the individual’s papers and a selected bibliography. Four indexes: biographees; contributors (with a list of contributions); state or country of birth; occupation or realm of renown. Supplement 2 ends with a cumulative, updated index of occupations or realms of renown classified under 17 topical areas. Biographees are also indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). The supplements include individuals who died after 1996 (admitting “a few people of admittedly ephemeral significance”) as well as notable persons overlooked in the main volumes.

The online version is updated quarterly with new biographies, illustrations, internal and external hyperlinks, and revisions to existing entries and bibliographies; unfortunately, the Web site does not identify revised articles. (A 6 July 2006 e-mail communication from Carnes suggests that revisions will be limited to factual matters.) Quick Search allows for a keyword search of full text. In Advanced Search, users can search by a combination of full-text keyword, name, realm of renown, occupation, birth date, death date, United States state of birth, country of birth outside the United States, and contributor; searches can be restricted to the text of an article or to a bibliography, to articles with illustrations or online resources, and by gender and update. Articles can be printed or e-mailed. An impressive editorial achievement that numbers a legion of major scholars among the contributors, American National Biography is a fully worthy successor to Dictionary of American Biography (Q3380) and will remain the country’s standard national biography for the foreseeable future. Review: Edmund S. Morgan and Marie Morgan, New York Review of Books 9 Mar. 2000: 38–43.

African American National Biography (Q3770) is an essential complement to American National Biography.


Dictionary of American Biography (DAB). Ed. Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone. Corrected rpt. 11 vols. New York: Scribner’s, 1964. (A corrected reprint of the original 20 volumes and the first 2 supplements, 1928–58.) E176.D563 920′.073.

  • Supplement One: To December 31, 1935. Ed. Harris E. Starr. 1944. 718 pp.

  • Supplement Two: To December 31, 1940. Ed. Robert Livingston Schuyler and Edward T. James. 1958. 745 pp.

  • Supplement Three: 1941–1945. Ed. James et al. 1973. 879 pp.

  • Supplement Four: 1946–1950. Ed. John A. Garraty and James. 1974. 951 pp.

  • Supplement Five: 1951–1955. Ed. Garraty. 1977. 799 pp.

  • Supplement Six: 1956–1960. Ed. Garraty. 1980. 769 pp.

  • Supplement Seven: 1961–1965. Ed. Garraty. 1981. 854 pp.

  • Supplement Eight: 1966–1970. Ed. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 1988. 759 pp.

  • Supplement Nine: 1971–1975. Ed. Kenneth T. Jackson. 1994. 952 pp.

  • Supplement Ten: 1976–1980. Ed. Jackson. 1995. 928 pp.

  • Comprehensive Index. 1996. 1,091 pp.

  • The preceding are online through Gale Biography in Context (J572).

A biographical dictionary of dead individuals who have resided in what is now the United States and “have made some significant contributions to American life.” British officers serving in the colonies after the Declaration of Independence are excluded. The 19,173 entries encompass the eminent and the notorious, although the scope is less catholic than that of its model, the Dictionary of National Biography (M1425a). Written by established authorities, the sketches range from 500 to 16,500 words in the original dictionary, but are limited to 5,000 words after the fourth supplement; combine factual information and interpretation based on extensive original research; and conclude with a short list of sources, which frequently locates unpublished materials. With Supplement Five, much of the extensive family and other personal data are recorded only on forms stored in the DAB archives in the Library of Congress. Errata to the original 20 volumes are printed in vol. 1, pp. xxii–xxxvi, of the 1964 reprint, which also makes some corrections within entries. The Comprehensive Index indexes the corrected reprint and the supplements by biographees, contributors, birthplaces, schools and colleges, occupations, and topics. The history of the work is outlined in vol. 1, pp. vii–xvi, of the 1964 reprint. Although there are errors and notable omissions (especially of women, who account for only 625 of the 13,633 entries in the original 20 volumes) and although the American National Biography Online (Q3378) supersedes many entries, the DAB remains useful for its historical perspective and for the biographies of individuals not included in the ANB. Reviews: Arthur M. Schlesinger, American Historical Review 35.1 (1929): 119–26; 35.3 (1930): 624–25; 36.2 (1931): 402–05; 37.2 (1932): 353–56; 38.2 (1933): 336–38; 39.2 (1934): 337–38; 40.2 (1935): 343–47; 41.2 (1936): 344–46; 41.4 (1936): 761–63; 42.4 (1937): 769–73.

The following are important, if much less trustworthy, sources for information on persons excluded from DAB or ANB:

  • Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography. Ed. James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. 6 vols. and supplement. New York: Appleton, 1887–1900. The Cyclopedia of American Biography: Supplementary Edition. Ed. James E. Homans, L. E. Dearborn, and Herbert M. Linen. Vols. 7–10. New York: Press Assn., 1918–26. Because of numerous fictitious biographies and fabricated publications, the original six volumes must be used with caution; see Margaret Castle Schindler, “Fictitious Biography,” American Historical Review 42.4 (1937): 680–90, and John Blythe Dobson, ““The Spurious Articles in Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography—Some New Discoveries and Considerations”,” Biography 16.4 (1993): 388–408, for accounts of these deliberate falsifications.

  • The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. 76 vols. Clifton: White, 1898–1984. Includes a considerable number of persons not in the DAB. Because of the nonalphabetic organization, the cumulative Index (1984; 576 pp.) is essential for locating entries.

The DAB, its supplements, Appleton’s Cyclopædia, and National Cyclopedia are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565).


Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Ed. Edward T. James. 3 vols. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 1971. Available online through Credo Reference (

Notable American Women: The Modern Period: A Biographical Dictionary. Ed. Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 1980. 773 pp. Available online through Credo Reference (

Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Ed. Susan Ware. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 2004. 729 pp. CT3260.N57 920.72′0973. Available online through Credo Reference (

A biographical dictionary of American and foreign-born residents who died before 31 December 1999 and who achieved more than local eminence or notoriety. Wives of presidents are the only women included on the basis of a husband’s credentials (and only in 1607–1950). The 2,262 entries, ranging from 400 to 7,000 words, are based on extensive research and combine factual information with interpretation. Each entry concludes with a list of sources that typically locates manuscript and archival material. A classified list of occupations, avocations, groups, and interests concludes each Dictionary. Entrants are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). Although there are some notable omissions, Notable American Women is the most authoritative biographical dictionary of American women (many of whom receive their first and only scholarly discussion here) and a valuable source for literary scholars because of its inclusion of so many authors. Reviews: Ray Ginger and Victoria Ginger, Canadian Historical Review 55.4 (1974): 106–09; Helen Vendler, New York Times Book Review 17 Sept. 1972: 11; Barbara Welter, William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 30.3 (1973): 518–22.

For basic biographical data (including addresses) for living women, see Marquis Who’s Who on the Web (Q3395).


American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Ed. Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf. 2nd ed. 4 vols. Detroit: St. James–Gale, 2000. Online through Gale Virtual Reference Library (I535). PS147.A4 810′.9′9287′03.

A dictionary of about 1,300 women writers of belles lettres as well as popular forms, diaries, letters, autobiographies, and children’s books. Listed under the name used by the Library of Congress, the signed entries, which range from one to five pages, provide biographical information, an overview of major works, a general critical estimate, a “complete” bibliography of primary works, and a selected list of studies. (Neither bibliography cites full publication information, however.) Indexed in vol. 4 by persons and subjects (including vocations and ethnic groups). Entrants in the second edition—as well as those in the first edition and its Supplement (see below)—are also indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). The second edition updates some entries and adds a few new ones but for the most part merely reprints entries from the first edition (ed. Lina Mainiero and Langdon Lynne Faust, 4 vols. [New York: Ungar, 1979–82] and the Supplement (ed. Carol Hurd Green and Mary Grimly Mason, 2 vols. [New York: Continuum-Ungar, 1994]), in many instances not even revising the bibliographies. The second edition in no way bears out the claim that “the explosion of feminist scholarship has enriched each subsequent edition of American Women Writers”; indeed, the entries for Nella Larsen and Frances Watkins Harper—two writers singled out as examples of how much new information has been discovered about women writers—are unchanged from the first edition (but for updated bibliographies). The essays vary considerably in quality (with many full of errors and hardly penetrating in analysis). Once the most inclusive single guide to female writers in the United States, it is now useful only for those few writers not profiled in other biographical dictionaries.


Marquis Biographies Online. Marquis, 2013. 15 Mar. 2013. <>. Updated daily. (Also online through Gale Biography in Context [J572] and Credo Reference [].)

Who’s Who in America, [1899– ]. New Providence: Marquis, [1899– ]. E176.W642 920.073. CD-ROM.

A biographical database of citizens of the United States, Canada, and Mexico (and some other countries) who are (or were) nationally prominent for their positions or achievements and who were listed since 1985 in Who’s Who in America, [1899– ] or one or more of the complementary regional or topical Who’s Who. In addition, the database includes entries from Who Was Who in America: With World Notables, [1897– ] (1943–) and Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume, 1607–1896, rev. ed. (1967), 689 pp.

The compact entries—largely compiled from information supplied by entrants—supply basic biographical, family, and career data; a list of significant publications and awards; and home or office address.

Quick Search allows users to search by keyword or name. In Advanced Search, users can limit name or keyword searches by the city of mailing address, state or province of mailing address, zip or postal code, country (outside the United States), occupation, company or organization, gender, birth year, birthplace, college or university, degrees, year of graduation, hobbies and special interests, political party, or religion; all of the preceding fields can also be searched separately.

Although the entries offer minimal information and are not always accurate or complete, Marquis Who’s Who on the Web is among the best sources for current information and addresses of prominent Americans. For many entrants, however, American National Biography Online (Q3378) offers fuller, more accurate information.

See also

Sec. J: Biographical Sources.

Allibone, Critical Dictionary of English Literature (M1430).

Dictionary of Literary Biography (J600).

Hart, Oxford Companion to American Literature (Q3210).


Histories and Surveys


Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines, [1741–1930]. 5 vols. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1930–68. PN4877.M63 051′.09.

  • Vol. 1: 1741–1850. New York: Appleton, 1930. 848 pp.

  • Vol. 2: 1850–1865. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1938. 608 pp.

  • Vol. 3: 1865–1885. 1938. 649 pp.

  • Vol. 4: 1885–1905. 1957. 858 pp.

  • Vol. 5: Sketches of 21 Magazines: 1905–1930. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard UP, 1968. 595 pp.

A history of the development of English-language periodicals in the United States to c. 1905, with individual studies of important magazines through 1930. Excludes newspapers and annuals but otherwise surveys a representative sample of magazines. Vols. 1 through 3 include a chronological list of periodicals mentioned in the text. Indexed in each volume by persons, titles, and subjects; however, the cumulative index in vol. 5 is more thorough. For a history of the project, see “Unfinished Story; or, The Man in the Carrel” (vol. 5, pp. 341–50). Justly praised for its erudition and style, Mott is the monumental history of periodicals in the country. Vols. 2 and 3 were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History (1939). Some literary magazines are more fully described in Chielens, American Literary Magazines (Q3410).

For a more succinct and current history, especially of mass market publications, see John Tebbel and Mary Ellen Zuckerman, The Magazine in America, 1741–1990 (New York: Oxford UP, 1991; 433 pp.), which emphasizes social and cultural history in chapters on such topics as magazines for women, African American periodicals, male audiences, and pulp and science fiction magazines.

Guides to Primary Works

Union Lists

United States Newspaper Program National Union List. 5th ed. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Lib. Center, 1999. Microfiche.

A bibliography and union list of newspapers derived from the database being compiled by participants in the United States Newspaper Program and the National Digital Newspaper Program, which are attempting to catalog and eventually microfilm or digitize the more than 300,000 newspapers published in the United States and its territories. (For a description of the programs and their respective status, see and Listed alphabetically by title, entries include publication information and exact holdings. Four indexes: date; subjects; geographic area; place of publication or printing. Entries can also be searched by title through WorldCat (E225), whose records are more current than the published version. The National Union List is especially useful for locating runs and identifying newspapers by locale.

This work largely supersedes Winifred Gregory, ed., American Newspapers, 1821–1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada (New York: Wilson, 1937; 791 pp.); for newspapers before 1820, Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers (Q4035), frequently supplies fuller information and locations.

See also

Sec. K: Periodicals/Union Lists.


Chielens, Edward E., ed. American Literary Magazines: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York: Greenwood, 1986. 503 pp. Hist. Guides to the World’s Periodicals and Newspapers. Z1231.P45 A43 [PS201] 810′.9′003.

———. American Literary Magazines: The Twentieth Century. Westport: Greenwood, 1992. 474 pp. Hist. Guides to the World’s Periodicals and Newspapers. Z1231.P45 A44 [PS221] 016.8108′005.

A collection of separately authored profiles of 168 of the most important American magazines that print a significant amount of literature (including criticism) or are otherwise important in literary history. The essays, organized by periodical title, typically discuss publishing history, audience, and significant literary content, and conclude with a list of studies, indexes, reprints, and a few locations, as well as details of publishing history (including title changes, numbering and dating of volumes and issues, frequency, publishers, and editors). Each volume concludes with an annotated list of minor literary magazines (and in the earlier volume nonliterary ones that have literary content) and with a chronology of American literary magazines and literary and social events; the later volume also prints a valuable overview, by Willard Fox, of little-magazine collections in the United States and Canada. Indexed by persons, magazine titles, and subjects. Although the essays vary in quality, American Literary Magazines is a useful compendium of information on the publishing history and contents of a small group of significant literary magazines.

See also

Kelly, Children’s Periodicals of the United States (U5510).


Although many clipping files and unpublished indexes exist for local and regional newspapers, there is no trustworthy guide to these important sources. Because Anita Cheek Milner, Newspaper Indexes: A Location and Subject Guide for Researchers, 3 vols. (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1977–82), is incomplete, poorly organized, inadequately indexed, and full of errors, researchers attempting to locate a clipping file or an unpublished index cannot depend on the work as a guide. Instead, they will usually have to contact the newspaper office and area libraries and historical societies. For other indexes, bibliographies, and union lists of newspapers, see the chapter on guides to newspapers in Prucha, Handbook for Research in American History (Q3185a). For a convenient guide to online indexes, archives, and morgues see U.S. News Archives on the Web (; last updated 19 Aug. 2008).


The New York Times Index. Ann Arbor: ProQuest, 1913– . Current Ser. Monthly, with quarterly and annual cumulations. Prior Ser. [covering Sept. 1851–1912]. 15 vols. 1967–74. AI21.N45 071′.47′1.

A subject index with abstracts of articles and features in the late city edition and regional Sunday supplements. Abstracts are listed chronologically under a heading; reviews appear under “Books and Literature” (“Book Reviews,” in earlier volumes), “Theater,” and “Movies” (“Motion Pictures,” in earlier volumes) with cross-references to authors and directors. Besides providing excellent access to the contents of the country’s leading newspaper, the Index can be used to determine the approximate date of stories in newspapers not indexed. The Index is hardly complicated enough to require anyone to endure the wretched prose and belabored explanation of Grant W. Morse, Guide to the Incomparable New York Times Index (New York: Fleet, 1980; 72 pp.). Issues since 1851 can be searched at; other online providers—including ProQuest (I519) and 19th Century Masterfile (Q4147)—offer full-text access to the Times.

Four specialized indexes also provide access to the Times:

  • Falk, Byron A., Jr., and Valerie R. Falk. Personal Name Index to The New York Times Index, 1851–1974. 22 vols. Verdi: Roxbury Data Interface, 1976–83. 1975–2006 Supplement. 11 vols. Sparks: Roxbury Data Interface, 2010– . The supplement includes names overlooked in the index to 1851–1974.

  • New York Times Book Review Index, 1896–1970. 5 vols. New York: Arno, 1973.

  • The New York Times Obituaries Index, 1858–1968. New York: New York Times, 1970. 1,136 pp. The New York Times Obituaries Index, II: 1969–1978. 1980. 131 pp.

  • The New York Times Obituary Index, [1988]. Westport: Meckler, 1990. (The index was to be annual, but it apparently lasted only one year.)

See also

Literary Writings in America (Q3255).


Most works in section L: Genres are useful for research in American literature.


Most works in section L: Genres/Fiction are important to research in American fiction.

Histories and Surveys

The Columbia History of the American Novel. Emory Elliott, gen. ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 905 pp. PS371.C7 813.009.

A collection of separately authored essays on the development of the novel in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Organized within four chronological divisions (the beginnings to the mid-nineteenth century, the late nineteenth century, the early twentieth century, the late twentieth century), the chapters emphasize a thematic rather than biographical approach, treating such topics as autobiography and the early novel, the book marketplace, romance, race and ethnicity, realism, gender, popular forms, regions, and movements. Varied in their approaches, the essays—all by established scholars—range from broad surveys to extended examinations of representative works, and they encompass the well-known as well as the newly discovered novelists. Concludes with brief biographies of about 200 novelists and a selected bibliography of criticism (more useful, however, would be a selected bibliography accompanying each chapter). Indexed by persons and subjects. Although generally authoritative and provocative, the Columbia History does not fulfill the pressing need for a unified history of fiction in the United States. Reviews: Paul Bauer, Russell J. Reising, and Ellen Weinauer, Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1992 (1993): 178–86; Marc Dolan, Modern Fiction Studies 38.2 (1993): 459–61.

Although now dated, the following general histories remain useful:

  • Chase, Richard. The American Novel and Its Tradition. Garden City: Doubleday, 1957. 266 pp. A critical survey from Brown to Faulkner that emphasizes major writers in exploring the relationship of the romance to the development of the American novel.

  • Cowie, Alexander. The Rise of the American Novel. New York: American Book, 1948. 877 pp. Amer. Lit. Ser. A critical history of the evolution of the American novel during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a concluding chapter on the first four decades of the present century. Organized chronologically, chapters on groups and major authors also treat representative minor writers. Indexed by titles and authors. Although now dated, this is among the fuller surveys and remains useful for its detailed consideration of several minor novelists.

  • Quinn, Arthur Hobson. American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey. New York: Appleton, 1936. 805 pp. A critical history of American fiction from the eighteenth century to the 1930s, excluding juvenile, dime, and detective fiction as well as works by authors who were first published after 1920. Although it is dated, offers some questionable evaluations, and is superseded in many parts by specialized surveys, Quinn remains one of the few works covering both novels and short fiction. Review: Fred Lewis Pattee, American Literature 8.4 (1937): 468–70.

  • Wagenknecht, Edward. Cavalcade of the American Novel from the Birth of the Nation to the Middle of the Twentieth Century. New York: Holt, 1952. 575 pp. A critical history through the 1940s.

A major desideratum remains an adequate history of fiction in the United States.

Literary Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Franklin, Benjamin, V, ed. Dictionary of American Literary Characters. 2nd ed. rev. 2 vols. New York: Facts on File, 2002. Amer. BookWorks Corp. PS374.C43 D5 813.009′27′03.

A dictionary of “major characters” from “significant American novels,” “some uncelebrated ones,” and a “sampling of best-sellers” published between 1789 and 2000; the second edition adds more “literary, popular, and genre fiction.” Ranging from 10 to approximately 100 words (those added in the second edition lack the terseness of the original edition), entries identify a character and the novel in which he, she, or it appears. Two indexes in each volume: titles; authors (for users who cannot recall a character’s name, the author index lists novels and then characters included under each author). Although misleadingly titled, lacking any explanation of the criteria employed to define “major” characters or select the “uncelebrated” novels and best sellers through 1979 (the cut-off date of the first edition; the revised edition relies on best-seller and award lists and “several literature professors” for additions and deletions), and including few major scholars in the list of contributors, the Dictionary is a convenient source of factual details about several thousand fictional characters.

Entries are incorporated into Sollars, Dictionary of Literary Characters (M1507a), which includes more recent novels (and adds short stories and plays and broadens coverage to literature worldwide); however, H. C. Williams (Choice 48 [May 2011]: entry 48-4825 []) found “several worrisome inaccuracies.”

Guides to Primary Works

Davis, Gwenn, and Beverly A. Joyce, comps. Short Fiction by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers. London: Mansell, 1999. 413 pp. Bibliogs. of Writings by Amer. and British Women to 1900 4. Z1229.W8 D4 [PS374.W6] 016.813′01089287.

A bibliography of short fiction—including novellas, short stories, prose characters, “narrative tracts and brief stories intended to teach religious lessons,” sketches, “moral tales, collections of legends and folklore, prose allegories, and proverb stories” of less than 150 pages and directed to an adult audience—published separately, for the most part, before 1900 by American and British women writers. The 6,185 entries (listed alphabetically by author) typically provide alternative forms of an author’s name, nationality, birth and death dates, title, publication information for the first edition, source(s) for the entry, and a brief annotation (that sometimes notes forms, genres, subject matter, and revised editions). Authors are sorted into chronological groups in an appendix; however, beginning with 1850, the groupings are too broad to be of much value. Indexed by subjects. As in the other volumes in this series—Drama by Women to 1900 (Q3513), Poetry by Women to 1900 (Q3534), and Personal Writings by Women to 1900 (Q3545a)—the indexing is too unrefined to allow adequate access to the entries. Although based primarily on other sources—notably National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints (E235), the British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books (see E250a), and WorldCat (E225)—rather than firsthand examination of copies, Short Fiction by Women to 1900 at least offers a starting place for identifying fiction written by women writers before 1900.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism

Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction through 1865. Ed. Kent P. Ljungquist. New York: Facts on File, 1994. 326 pp. Z1231.F4 F33 016.813.

Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction, 1866–1918. Ed. James Nagel and Gwen L. Nagel. New York: Facts on File, 1993. 412 pp. Z1231.F4 B46 [PS377] 016.813′4.

Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction, 1919–1988. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman. 2 vols. New York: Facts on File, 1991. Z1231.F4 B47 [PS379] 016.813′508.

Separately authored bibliographies of important works by and about established and popular United States writers born before 1 January 1941. Coverage of primary and secondary works extends through 1988, but later publications are included in each volume’s prefatory lists of reference works essential to the study of United States literature and of general studies, reference works, and journals important to the authors in the volume. Assignment to a period is determined by the date of the author’s first major work. Writers are listed alphabetically; following a headnote describing the author’s reputation or influence are sections for bibliographies, first and revised second editions of separately published works (except for pamphlets and ephemera) written in or translated into English, standard editions, major repositories of manuscripts, concordances, biographies, interviews, and the most important studies (subdivided into books, collections of essays, special issues of journals, and essays). Each volume ends with a chronology, list of journal acronyms, and index of scholars. There are numerous inconsistencies in citation form and some disconcerting editorial practices, such as the omission of periods after initials and abbreviations and the reduction of the subject author’s name to initials in book and article titles. Both the trustworthiness and degree of the selection vary widely from bibliography to bibliography: some are written by “scholar-specialists” (as the series introduction claims); many, though, are signed by persons whose names do not appear in the list of studies on the author, some are contributed by graduate students, and at least one is by the subject author. Despite these shortcomings, Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction offers a convenient starting place for research on American fiction writers; indeed, many minor writers find their most complete bibliographies in these volumes.

Some bibliographies from Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction have been adapted and updated for the series Essential Bibliography of American Fiction, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman:

  • Modern African American Writers. 1994. 92 pp.

  • Modern Classic Writers. 1994. 99 pp.

  • Modern Women Writers. 1994. 100 pp.

The volumes of Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction were the only ones published of the Facts on File Bibliography Series, a project designed to fulfill the long-standing need for a general bibliography—comparable to New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (M1385)—for the literature of the United States.


Gerstenberger, Donna, and George Hendrick. The American Novel, 1789–1959: A Checklist of Twentieth-Century Criticism. 2nd ed. Denver: Swallow, 1961. 333 pp. Swallow Checklists of Criticism and Explication. Z1231.F4 G4

———. The American Novel: A Checklist of Twentieth-Century Criticism on Novels Written since 1789. Vol. 2: Criticism Written, 1960–1968. Chicago: Swallow, 1970. 459 pp. Z1231.F4 G4 016.813′03.

Glitsch, Catherine, comp. American Novel Explication, 1991–1995. North Haven: Archon–Shoe String, 1998. 319 pp. 1969–1980. 2000. 575 pp. Z1231.F4 G58 [PS371] 016.813009.

A selective checklist of articles, parts of books, and bibliographies published between 1900 and 1980 and between 1991 and 1995. Gerstenberger and Hendrick favor standard works and periodicals but exclude general literary histories and almost all reviews. Entries are organized in two divisions: authors and general studies. Under each author are sections for individual novels, general studies (of two or more works but with no cross-references under specific titles), and bibliographies. The second part has sections for general studies and centuries. Entries for parts of books and essays from collections are keyed to a list at the back. The two Checklists are time-consuming, frustrating works to use because of the lack of cross-references and indexing and a layout that prevents easy identification of sections. Highly selective in coverage and now dated, The American Novel is principally useful for the indexing of parts of books published before 1969. Superior coverage of articles is offered by Leary, Articles on American Literature (Q3295).

American Novel Explication indexes books and articles, primarily in English, that explicate (i.e., interpret “the significance and meaning” of) novels by United States and English- and French-Canadian writers. Entries are organized alphabetically by novelist and then by novel; entries for parts of books are keyed to a list at the back. Indexed by novelists and titles of novel. Although lacking a sufficient explanation of the criteria governing selection, American Novel Explication is useful for its indexing of single-author monographs.


Weixlmann, Joe. American Short-Fiction Criticism and Scholarship, 1959–1977: A Checklist. Chicago: Swallow–Ohio UP, 1982. 625 pp. Z1231.F4 W43 [PS374.S5] 016.813′01′09.

A classified list of English-language articles, interviews, and bibliographies from some 325 journals and of sections in about 5,000 books on the short fiction of more than 500 authors from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. Weixlmann makes an effort to include minority writers. Entries are organized in divisions for general studies and individual authors; under the latter are sections for individual works, general studies, interviews, and bibliographies. The omission of page references in entries for parts of books and the lack of an index mar this otherwise useful compilation.

Weixlmann continues the coverage of American writers in Jarvis Thurston, O. B. Emerson, Carl Hartman, and Elizabeth B. Wright, Short Fiction Criticism: A Checklist of Interpretation since 1925 of Stories and Novelettes (American, British, Continental), 1800–1958 (Denver: Swallow, 1960; 265 pp.; Swallow Checklists of Criticism and Explication), which is only marginally useful because of its exclusion of studies “dealing with the ‘environmental’ circumstances of literature (biography, genesis, source, etc.).”

See also

Leary, Articles on American Literature (Q3295).

Drama and Theater

Most works in section L: Genres/Drama and Theater are important to research in American drama and theater.

Histories and Surveys

Meserve, Walter J. An Emerging Entertainment: The Drama of the American People to 1828. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1977. 342 pp. PS332.M39 812′.009.

———. Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People during the Age of Jackson, 1829–1849. New York: Greenwood, 1986. 269 pp. Contributions in Amer. Studies 86. PS343.M47 812′.3′09.

The only volumes published of a projected six-volume critical history of plays written and published in America from its colonization to the present. After a discussion of what constitutes American drama, chapters survey the plays of a period, emphasizing their “relationship . . . to the cultural and historical progress of the country,” offering a brief synopsis of each work and biographical information on important authors, and tracing “the development of American drama as a literary genre and its contribution to American theatre.” Each volume concludes with a selective bibliography that (depending on the volume) lists studies of the cultural and historical background, theater histories, general bibliographies and studies, works on individual dramatists, periodicals and newspapers, manuscript and theater collections, and dissertations. The second volume lists playwrights and plays of the period in appendixes. Indexed by names and plays (separately in the first volume). Although plagued by numerous factual errors, the thoroughness of coverage and attention to the social and political conditions affecting drama make Meserve’s work the best general history of American drama through 1849. Reviews: (Emerging Entertainment) Thomas F. Marshall, American Literature 50.3 (1978): 519–21; Kenneth Silverman, Early American Literature 14.1 (1979): 125–26.

Because it treats popular and “paratheatrical forms,” The Cambridge History of American Theatre, ed. Don B. Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998–2000; online through Cambridge Histories Online []) is an important complement to Meserve. Chapters are devoted to such topics as management, plays and playwrights, actors, directors, theatrical groups, musical theater, stagecraft, and popular entertainment; many contributors are among the leading scholars in the field. Unlike so many recent multiauthored literary histories, Cambridge History of American Theatre provides a bibliographical survey at the end of each chapter (although full citations can be found only in the bibliography that concludes each volume). In addition, a useful chronology is hidden away after the front matter to each volume. Indexed in each volume by persons, subjects, and titles (the online version omits the indexes).

Because of their emphasis on theater, the preceding works do not completely supersede Arthur Hobson Quinn, A History of the American Drama from the Beginning to the Civil War, 2nd ed. (New York: Crofts, 1943; 530 pp.) and A History of the American Drama from the Civil War to the Present Day, rev. ed., 2 vols. in 1 (1936; 296 and 432 pp.).

See also

Revels History of Drama in English (M1530).

Literary Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. Ed. Don B. Wilmeth. 2nd hardcover ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 757 pp. PN2221.C37 792′.0973.

Emphasizes American theater “in the broadest possible terms” from its beginnings through 11 June 2006. Since the new edition deletes about 50 entries (listed on p. xiv), shortens or combines many entries to accommodate new ones, and eliminates sources at the ends of entries, the updated paperback edition (ed. Wilmeth and Tice L. Miller, 1996; 463 pp.) remains useful. Like Bordman and Hischak, Oxford Companion to American Theatre (Q3500), the Cambridge Guide includes entries on performers, theatrical personnel, theaters, organizations, minstrelsy, vaudeville, circus, and individual works (many taken from Cambridge Guide to Theatre [L1125]). Although generally more concise than those in the Oxford Companion, entries in the Cambridge Guide are signed. Indexed by persons who do not have separate entries. In general, the Cambridge Guide offers broader, more balanced, and more accurate coverage of American theater than does the Oxford Companion, but ultimately the two must be used together.


Bordman, Gerald, and Thomas S. Hischak. The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. 681 pp. PN2220.B6 792′.0973′03. Online through Oxford Reference (I530) and North American Theatre Online (Q3512).

Although still emphasizing popular Broadway theater (through early 2003) in entries on plays, musicals, actors, actresses, producers, directors, designers, other notable theatrical people, theaters, organizations, and periodicals, the 3rd edition extends its reach outside New York City to include regional theatrical companies and historic theater buildings, admits more off-Broadway and regional works, adds people from the earlier days of American theater, but shortens many entries from the 2nd edition (1999; 735 pp.) to make room for the new ones. In less depth, Bordman and Hischak covers other entertainment, such as minstrelsy, vaudeville, circus, and Wild West and tent shows. The bulk of the entries are for plays (with length of New York run the main criterion governing selection), recording place and date of original production, length of run, and cast and providing a brief synopsis and critical commentary. Entries for people give an overview of career. Entrants in the original edition (1984; 734 pp.) are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). The first two editions are plagued by numerous inaccuracies, and the emphasis on popular Broadway entertainment distorts the picture of the American theatrical scene; nevertheless, the Oxford Companion is the single fullest handbook designed for quick reference. It does not offer the balance one expects in an Oxford Companion, however, and it must be used in conjunction with Cambridge Guide to American Theatre (Q3499). Reviews: (1st ed.) John Simon, TLS: Times Literary Supplement 26 Apr. 1985: 477 (an important discussion of weaknesses); Don B. Wilmeth, Theatre History Studies 5 (1985): 116–19.

A useful supplement for plays is Edwin Bronner, The Encyclopedia of the American Theatre, 1900–1975 (San Diego: Barnes, 1980; 659 pp.), which covers plays written or adapted by Anglo-American authors and produced on and off Broadway. Entries cite date and place of original production, length of run, cast, producer, director, and screen adaptations and include a brief synopsis.

For American musical theater, see Hischak, The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008; 923 pp.; online through Oxford Reference [I530]).


Durham, Weldon B., ed. American Theatre Companies, 1749–1887. New York: Greenwood, 1986. 598 pp. 1888–1930. 1987. 541 pp. 1931–1986. 1989. 596 pp. PN2266.A54 792′.0973. All are online through North American Theatre Online (Q3512).

A collection of separately authored discussions of theatrical companies that produced more than one nonmusical play while in residence in one place for a minimum of 20 consecutive weeks. Organized alphabetically by company (with cross-references for alternative names), entries consist of two parts: a discussion of the history, commercial and artistic significance, and repertory of the company; lists of personnel (including managers, designers, technicians, and performers), works produced (selective if a full list has been published), and selected scholarship and manuscript or archival material. Each volume concludes with two appendixes: a chronology of theater companies; a list by state. Indexed in each volume by persons and play titles. Although the essays vary in quality and some companies are more extensively treated in separate studies, American Theatre Companies is the fullest single compendium of information on American theater companies. Review: (1749–1887 and 1888–1930) Walter J. Meserve, Theatre Survey 28.2 (1987): 108–10.


Odell, George C. D. Annals of the New York Stage. 15 vols. New York: Columbia UP, 1927–49. PN2277.N5 O4 792′.097471. Online through North American Theatre Online (Q3512).

A narrative calendar of theatrical entertainment (including opera, ballet, vaudeville, minstrelsy, circus, and concert) in New York City from 1699 through 1894. Organized by season, then by theater or troupe, the commentary draws on newspapers, unpublished manuscripts and archival materials, autobiographies, playbills, and other documents to record performances (along with cast lists) as well as discuss critical reception, performers, and theater architecture. Indexed in each volume by persons, titles, subjects, and theaters; the numerous illustrations are indexed in Index to the Portraits in Odell’s Annals of the New York Stage (N.p.: Amer. Soc. for Theatre Research, 1963; 179 pp.). Odell offers a full, if at times discursive, record of activity in the country’s major theatrical center. Reviews: Arthur Hobson Quinn, American Literature 1.1 (1929): 89–92; 3.3 (1931): 335–39; 8.4 (1937): 472–74; 9.3 (1937): 382–84; 10.3 (1938): 362–64; 12.1 (1940): 123–24; 13.2 (1941): 177–78; 14.4 (1943): 453–55; 22.1 (1950): 88–89; Modern Language Notes 61.2 (1946): 138–39.

Complemented by Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1869–1914 (New York: Oxford UP, 1994; 793 pp.), Bordman, 1914–1930 (1995; 446 pp.), Bordman, 1930–1969 (1996; 472 pp.), and Thomas S. Hischak, 1969–2000 (2001; 504 pp.), a narrative of nonmusical plays produced in New York City. Like Odell, American Theatre draws on a range of documents to discuss cast and reception. Two indexes: plays (with a subsection for sources of plays); persons. Unfortunately, theaters are not indexed. All four volumes are searchable in North American Theatre Online (Q3512).


Norton, Richard C. A Chronology of American Musical Theater. 3 vols. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. ML1711.8.N3.N67 782.1′4′097471.

A chronicle of the “popular American Musical Theatre as presented on first-class stages in New York City [i.e., Manhattan]” with selective coverage from 1750 to 1850 and full coverage from 1850 through 2001. Musical theater is broadly defined to include such forms as operetta, dance drama, and rock opera and is not limited to English-language works. Productions are listed chronologically by season; when possible, each entry includes title, opening and closing dates, venue changes, number of performances and details of revivals, author (and relationship to literary works), production credits, full cast list (with only notable changes recorded), descriptions of acts and scenes, and a list of songs or other musical sketches. Three indexes: titles; names (limited to principal performers); titles of songs (those within double quotation marks in the entries). Based on an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and extensive examination of opening night programs, advertisements, sheet music, and reviews, Chronology of American Musical Theater offers a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of detail; unfortunately, the restrictions on indexing will leave users hopelessly frustrated by being unable to extract efficiently information about production personnel, venues, genres or forms, authors, composers, and adaptations of literary works. This is an impressive resource that stands ready to encourage important research on Broadway musical theater, but to do so the data herein must be available in an electronic format.

Guides to Primary Works
Bibliographies and Indexes

North American Theatre Online (NATO). Alexander Street Press. Alexander Street, 2005. 3 Jan. 2013. <>. Updated quarterly.

A database of reference works that treat North American theater, texts of plays (along with bibliographic records for those the publisher cannot license), a bibliography of published and unpublished plays, image files, biographical data on theater personnel, details of major North American productions, and information on theaters and acting companies. As of early 2013, the database included data on more than 30,000 plays. Coverage of the United States is far more extensive than that for Canada and the rest of North America. Users can browse indexes of people, theaters, acting companies, “resources” (i.e., images), plays, productions, dates, reference works (an uncritical listing of separate chapters or entries from reference works, with hundreds of lines beginning “Chapter” or “Entry”), places, and subjects; several of the preceding include subindexes and sort options, but the only way to search is through a Web browser’s search function. Users can also search (via Quick Search or Search [i.e., Advanced Search]) subsets of data: people, scenes, theaters, production companies, plays, characters, productions, and resources and reference works. Each subset allows searchers to combine a variety of fields and limit searches; for example, the Advanced Search screen for searching plays has fields for full text keyword, title, availability of full text, unpublished plays, date of composition, playwright, gender, nationality, race, translator, lyricist, composer, librettist, author of book for a musical, conceiver, all contributors, publication date, year of first production, medium, genre, original language, setting, performers, character names, theater, production company, subject, and record code; that for characters has fields for full-text keyword, character name, gender, occupation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, marital status, person on whom a character is based, type, author, play title, genre, year of composition, performer, record code. Most of the preceding have lists associated with them, but some lists are alphabetized by first name or initial or with an initial definite article not inverted.

Although the source of the full text of a play can be identified only in the bibliographical record (search or browse Plays) and although some indexes are created by an uncritical sorting of record fields, the indexing of the data herein allows for some very precise and sophisticated searches.


Davis, Gwenn, and Beverly A. Joyce, comps. Drama by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1992. 189 pp. Bibliogs. of Writings by Amer. and British Women to 1900 3. Z1231.D7 D38 016.812.

A bibliography of published (both separately and in collections), unpublished, and nonextant English-language dramatic works (including dramatic poems and poems intended for recitation) written by British or American women before 1900. The 2,828 entries (listed alphabetically by author) typically provide alternative forms of an author’s name, nationality, birth and death dates, title, publication information for the first edition, source(s) for the entry, and a brief annotation (that sometimes notes forms, genres, subject matter, and revised editions). Playwrights are sorted into chronological groups in an appendix; however, beginning with 1850, the groupings are too broad to be of much value. Three indexes: actresses; subjects (including genres, forms, and a few historical persons); translations and adaptations. As in the other volumes in this series—Short Fiction by Women to 1900 (Q3473), Poetry by Women to 1900 (Q3534), and Personal Writings by Women to 1900 (Q3545a)—the indexing is too unrefined to allow adequate access to the entries. Although based primarily on other sources—notably National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints (E235), the British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books (see E250a), and WorldCat (E225)—rather than firsthand examination of copies, Drama by Women to 1900 at least offers a starting place for identifying dramatic works written by women writers before 1900.

Coverage is continued—at least cursorily—by Frances Diodato Bzowski, comp., American Women Playwrights, 1900–1930: A Checklist (Westport: Greenwood, 1992; 420 pp.; Bibliogs. and Indexes in Women’s Studies 15), which lists published and some unpublished plays alphabetically by author, with entries including date of production or publication, type of play, number of acts, and locations in anthologies, periodicals, or libraries. Indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). The lack of full bibliographical information and of title and subject indexes—coupled with the secondhand nature of much of the information—makes this little more than a place to begin identifying plays by American women of the period.

Text Archives

American Drama, 1714–1915. Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections. ProQuest, 1996–2013. 12 Sept. 2013. <>.

An archive of rekeyed texts of more than 1,500 English-language dramatic works by American playwrights (including African Americans). The About American Drama, 1714–1915 is uncharacteristically silent about the criteria used to select editions for rekeying. Simple keyword, title, and author searches can be limited by speaker, place of first performance, date of first performance, publisher, publication date, genre, gender, nationality, and ethnicity and to verse or prose drama, notes, and parts (e.g., epilogues, stage directions). Searchers can also browse author and title lists of the contents of the database. Results appear in ascending alphabetical order and cannot be re-sorted. Citations (but not the full text) can be marked for e-mailing, downloading, or printing; each citation includes a durable URL to the full text.

Some works are rekeyed from textually unsound editions; however, the bibliographic record for each work identifies the source of the text and any omissions (e.g., preliminary matter). Besides being a useful source for identifying an elusive quotation or half-remembered line, the scope of American Drama’s text archive makes feasible a variety of kinds of studies (stylistic, thematic, imagistic, generic, and topical).

The contents of American Drama, 1714–1915 can also be searched through LiOn (I527).

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism
Surveys of Research

For an evaluative survey of histories and general studies (mostly after 1950), see Charles A. Carpenter, “American Drama: A Bibliographical Essay,” American Studies International 21.5 (1983): 3–52.

See also

American Literary Scholarship (Q3265): Chapter on drama.

Other Bibliographies

Archer, Stephen M. American Actors and Actresses: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale, 1983. 710 pp. Performing Arts Information Guide Ser. 8. Z5784.M9 A7 [PN1998.A2] 016.79143′028′0922.

A bibliography of English-language scholarship on actors and actresses who were associated with the legitimate stage, had substantial careers, and have been the subject of scholarly study. Some foreigners important to the American theatrical tradition or who had substantial careers in the country before 1900 are included; most living persons are omitted. Archer excludes dissertations, theses, newspapers, fan magazines, and reviews of specific performances. The 3,263 entries are organized alphabetically in seven divisions: general reference works; bibliographies and indexes; general histories, surveys, and regional studies; books that discuss several performers; articles that treat several performers; biographies and autobiographies of performers not among those in the next division; 226 individual performers. The lists for individual performers conclude with cross-references to the general divisions. The brief (but adequate) descriptive annotations sometimes offer evaluative comments. Three indexes: persons; titles; subjects (including performers). Although selective, American Actors and Actresses offers the fullest single compilation of scholarship on significant American actors and actresses.


Silvester, Robert. United States Theatre: A Bibliography from the Beginning to 1990. New York: Hall; Romsey: Motley, 1993. 400 pp. Motley Bibliogs. 2. Z5781.S55 [PN2221] 016.792′0973.

A bibliography of separately published works (through 1990) on English-language and Native American drama and theater in the United States and on the musical in other countries. Includes theses and dissertations; periodicals not in Stratman, American Theatrical Periodicals (Q3530), or C. Edwards, World Guide to Performing Arts Periodicals (London: Intl. Theatre Inst., 1982; 66 pp.); and texts of plays with substantial historical or biographical material. Entries, which cite the best or most recently revised edition, are organized chronologically by date of edition cited in three classified divisions: theater; drama; music. The first has variously classified sections for general reference works; federal and state intervention; religion; theater arts; theater history; regional studies; theater companies, clubs, and societies; biography; criticism; revue, vaudeville, and showboats; community and university theater; and pedagogy. The second has sections for general studies, history, foreign influences, and biography and criticism. The third is devoted to the musical. Users should study the admirably clear explanation (pp. 6–8) of the scope and coverage of individual sections. Some entries are accompanied by brief annotations that provide bibliographical information, list contents, or elucidate an obscure title; for all but the most obscure works, locating the copy described at one of 16 institutions is superfluous. Two indexes: subjects; authors. Although it excludes periodical articles, includes little beyond proper nouns in the subject index, and omits numerous non-English-language titles, United States Theatre is especially valuable for its coverage of publications of limited distribution, is attractively printed, and offers the best general list of separately published works on all aspects of United States theater. Review: Don B. Wilmeth, Theatre Survey 35.1 (1994): 143–46.


Eddleman, Floyd Eugene, comp. American Drama Criticism: Interpretations, 1890–1977. 2nd ed. Hamden: Shoe String, 1979. 488 pp. Supplement I. 1984. 255 pp. Supplement II. 1989. 269 pp. Supplement III. 1992. 436 pp. Supplement IV. Comp. LaNelle Daniel. 1996. 239 pp. Z1231.D7 P3 [PS332] 016.812′009.

A selective bibliography of studies published between 1890 and 1993 on plays by Americans (along with a few works by Canadian and Caribbean writers whose plays were performed in the United States). Eddleman initially excludes interviews, biographical studies, and author bibliographies; however, Supplement IV admits nearly anything (even master’s theses), including much that hardly merits being called criticism. Under each playwright, plays are organized alphabetically by title, with each play followed by a list of studies and then reviews (Supplement IV mixes studies and reviews indiscriminately). The supplements add a section of general studies for each author. Entries for parts of books are keyed to a list at the back. Four indexes: scholars; adapted works and their authors; titles of plays; playwrights. Excluding most author bibliographies until Supplement IV (which would lead users to fuller lists of scholarship), plagued by numerous errors, and consisting largely of unverified entries copied from other sources, American Drama Criticism is primarily useful for its identification of parts of books that discuss a play and as an incomplete (and in Supplement IV erratic) compilation of entries from several of the standard bibliographies and indexes in section G.

Even more unsatisfactory is Rosalie Otero, Guide to American Drama Explication (New York: Hall-Simon, 1995; 431 pp.; Reference Pub. in Lit.), a guide to explications—including some reviews, interviews, and dissertations published in or translated into English between 1942 and 1994—of “American” (i.e., United States) drama. Entries are organized alphabetically by playwright, then by play, and then by critic; entries for books including five or more explications are keyed to a list of sources consulted at the end of the book. The criteria governing selection of dramatists and studies are inexcusably vague (“those that most effectively use explication as a critical tool, those that seem to us most essential to scholars as well as students in the field, and those that might be difficult to find in existing bibliographies”), and most of the entries have been gleaned from readily available sources (although the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature [G340] is conspicuously absent from the list of indexes consulted). But the guide—like others of its ilk—is useful for identifying discussions of plays buried in single-author monographs.

Fuller, more accurate coverage of scholarship published between 1966 and 1980 on twentieth-century American drama is offered by Carpenter, Modern Drama Scholarship (M2875); of post-1980 scholarship, by “Modern Drama Studies” (M2870); and of scholarship before c. 1977 on plays before 1900, by Meserve, American Drama to 1900 (Q4200).

An adequate annotated bibliography of studies of twentieth-century American drama is a major desideratum.


Wilmeth, Don B. The American Stage to World War I: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale, 1978. 269 pp. Performing Arts Information Guide Ser. 4. Z1231.D7 W55 [PN2221] 016.792′0973.

A highly selective annotated guide to English-language scholarship (through c. 1974) on the legitimate professional stage to c. 1915. Wilmeth excludes newspaper articles, popular magazines, works exclusively on playwrights or plays, dissertations, theses, and general histories of the theater. The 1,480 entries are listed alphabetically by author in 13 divisions: general reference works; bibliographies; indexes; general histories, surveys, and regional studies; state and local histories (listed by state); general sources on actors and acting on the American stage; individuals in American theater (listed by person); scenery, architecture, and lighting; foreign language theater in America; paratheatrical forms; guides to theater collections; suspended periodicals and serials; current periodicals and serials. The brief descriptive annotations are frequently accompanied by evaluative comments, but many annotations inadequately describe content or establish the significance of a work. Three indexes: authors; titles; subjects. Wilmeth is occasionally useful only as a preliminary guide, since most topics are more fully covered in other sources, including Stratman, American Theatrical Periodicals (Q3530); Gohdes, Literature and Theater of the States and Regions of the U. S. A. (Q3570); Larson, American Regional Theatre History (Q3575); Meserve, American Drama to 1900 (Q4200); and Archer, American Actors and Actresses (Q3515).

For a highly selective guide to reference works and scholarship (through April 1978) on popular theater and other live entertainments established before motion pictures, see Wilmeth, American and English Popular Entertainment: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale, 1980; 465 pp.; Performing Arts Information Guide Ser. 7); continued by Wilmeth, “Stage Entertainment,” vol. 3, pp. 1297–328, in Inge, Handbook of American Popular Culture (U6295a). It emphasizes American forms in covering circus and Wild West exhibitions, outdoor amusements, variety forms, optical and mechanical entertainments, musical theater and review, pantomime, music hall, and popular theater. There are, however, numerous inaccuracies and omissions.

See also

Gohdes, Literature and Theater of the States and Regions of the U. S. A. (Q3570).

Larson, American Regional Theatre History to 1900 (Q3575).

Leary, Articles on American Literature (Q3295).

Stratman, Bibliography of the American Theatre Excluding New York City (Q3580).

Biographical Dictionaries

Wearing, American and British Theatrical Biography (L1175).

Guides to Primary Works

Stratman, Carl J., C. S. V. American Theatrical Periodicals, 1798–1967: A Bibliographical Guide. Durham: Duke UP, 1970. 133 pp. Z6935.S75 016.7902.

A preliminary bibliography of some 685 periodicals and newspapers published in the United States and devoted to the theater (defined broadly to encompass most stage entertainment, including folk performance, magic, opera, puppetry, and vaudeville but excluding television, cinema, and radio). Although the focus is American theater, Stratman includes periodicals that cover other countries as well. Organized chronologically by year of first publication, entries provide (when available) original title; editor(s); publication information; number of volumes or issues; date of first and last issues; title changes; frequency; miscellaneous notes on content, bibliographical matters, or source of information for works not examined; and locations, with exact holdings of incomplete runs. Additions are printed on pp. 86–87. A tabular overview of publication spans in the appendix offers a convenient means of identifying periodicals published during a period. Indexed by titles, subtitles, cities of publication, and sponsoring organizations. Although not comprehensive, it is the fullest single list of theatrical periodicals published in the United States.


Most works in section L: Genres/Poetry are useful for research in American poetry.

Histories and Surveys

The Columbia History of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. 894 pp. PS303.C64 811.009.

A collection of thirty separately authored essays on groups, forms, and individual poets that consider poetry in the United States from Anne Bradstreet to Charles Wright. Employing a variety of critical approaches, the contributors examine neglected and well-known poets; each essay concludes with suggestions for further reading. Indexed by authors, subjects, and titles. Sporting a distinguished roster of contributors, the Columbia History demands the attention of those interested in the relation of poetry to American culture. But it is poorly proofread and marred by some rather surprising omissions; it also concentrates on the twentieth century and, like other recent literary histories, subordinates history to other concerns. Reviews: Ed Folsom, American Literature 66.4 (1994): 832–33; Mark Jarman, Hudson Review 47.4 (1995): 641–47; John Piller, Virginia Quarterly Review 71.2 (1995): 362–66; Jed Rasula, Resources for American Literary Study 23.2 (1997): 263–67; Willard Spiegelman, Kenyon Review 17.3–4 (1995): 219–24.

The following, while dated, are important complements to the Columbia History:

  • Pearce, Roy Harvey. The Continuity of American Poetry. 3rd printing, with corrections and revisions. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1965. 442 pp. A critical survey, from the seventeenth century through Wallace Stevens, that emphasizes cultural history in chapters on periods, forms, and major writers.

  • Waggoner, Hyatt H. American Poets from the Puritans to the Present. Rev. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1984. 735 pp. A critical survey of representative writers, from the Puritans through the 1970s, that argues for the centrality of Emerson to the development of American poetry.

Guides to Primary Works
Bibliographies and Indexes

Davis, Gwenn, and Beverly A. Joyce, comps. Poetry by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1991. 340 pp. Bibliogs. of Writings by Amer. and British Women to 1900 2. Z2013.5.W6.D38 [PR508.W6] 016.821008′09287.

A bibliography of separately published first and extensively revised editions of English-language poems or poetry collections published between 1573 and 1900 by American and British women writers. The 6,017 entries, listed alphabetically by author, typically provide alternative forms of an author’s name, nationality, birth and death dates, title, publication information, source(s) for the entry, and an annotation (that sometimes notes subject matter or revised editions). Authors are sorted into chronological groups in an appendix; however, beginning with 1750, the groupings are too broad to be of much value. Indexed by a few general subjects and poetic forms. Although based primarily on other sources—notably National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints (E235), the British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books (see E250a), and WorldCat (E225)—rather than firsthand examination of copies, Poetry by Women to 1900 at least offers a starting place for identifying separately published books of poetry by women writers before 1900. What is needed, however, are works such as Smith and Cardinale, Women and the Literature of the Seventeenth Century (M2007), for other periods of British and American literature.

Text Archives

American Poetry. Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections. ProQuest, 1996–2013. 12 Sept. 2013. <>.

A text archive of rekeyed texts of about 40,000 English-language poems by American poets from the colonial era to the early twentieth century. Editions were selected according to the following criteria: editions “contemporary with their authors were preferred, and, when available, collected editions”; “reliable later editions” in the case of “poets whose established canon could not be covered by contemporary printings.” Poets were chosen on the basis of their inclusion in Blanck, Bibliography of American Literature (Q3250), or the recommendation of the editorial board.

Simple keyword, first line or title, and author searches can be limited by date during an author’s lifetime, gender, ethnicity, literary period, rhymed or unrhymed poems, and parts of a poem (e.g., epigraphs, notes). Searchers can also browse author or title and first-line lists of the contents of the database; the title and first-line lists actually include keywords throughout the poems and notes. Results appear in ascending alphabetical order and cannot be re-sorted. Citations (but not the full text of poems) can be marked for e-mailing, downloading, or printing; each citation includes a durable URL to the full text.

Some works are rekeyed from textually unsound editions; however, the bibliographic record for each work identifies the source of the text and any omissions (e.g., preliminary matter), and the site is refreshingly forthcoming in its explanations of editorial procedures and revision history. Besides being a useful source for identifying an elusive quotation or half-remembered line, the scope of American Poetry’s text archive makes feasible a variety of kinds of studies (stylistic, thematic, imagistic, and topical).

The contents of American Poetry Database can also be searched through LiOn (I527).

Continued by Twentieth-Century American Poetry (Q4333).

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism

Brogan, English Versification, 1570–1980 (M1600).


Most works in section L: Genres/Prose are useful for research in American prose.

Biography and Autobiography
Histories and Surveys

Kagle, Steven E. American Diary Literature, 1620–1799. Boston: Twayne, 1979. 203 pp. Twayne’s United States Authors Ser. 342. PS409.K3 818′.103.

———. Early Nineteenth-Century American Diary Literature. 1986. 166 pp. Twayne’s United States Authors Ser. 495. PS409.K33 818′.203.

———. Late Nineteenth-Century American Diary Literature. 1988. 177 pp. Twayne’s United States Authors Ser. 524. PS409.K33 818′.403′09.

A study of the diary tradition in America that attempts to establish a canon of works of literary merit and a methodology for their study. The volumes are organized by type of diary (e.g., spiritual journals, travel diaries, diaries of romance and courtship, war diaries, life diaries, transcendentalist journals), with each chapter offering an extended analysis of selective examples. Each volume concludes with a selected annotated list of diaries and scholarship. Indexed by persons and a few subjects. Although it is highly selective in coverage, Kagle’s work is valuable for its methodology of the literary study of diaries. Review: (1620–1799) Richard C. Davis, Canadian Review of American Studies 12.3 (1981): 301–11.

Guides to Primary Works

Arksey, Laura, Nancy Pries, and Marcia Reed. American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals. 2 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1983–87. Z5305.U5 A74 [CT214] 016.92′0073.

  • Vol. 1: Diaries Written from 1492 to 1844. 1983. 311 pp.

  • Vol. 2: Diaries Written from 1845 to 1980. 1987. 501 pp.

A bibliography of approximately 6,000 English-language diaries or journals (including translations) written between 1492 and 1980 (and published as late as 1986) by American citizens anywhere in the world and by foreigners while resident in what is now the United States or treating events regarded as American. Along with traditional diaries and journals, American Diaries includes some expedition narratives and ships’ logs that record more than weather or position. Except for some Canadian diaries, this work incorporates everything in William Matthews, American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of American Diaries Written Prior to the Year 1861 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1945; 383 pp.). Organized by year of initial entry, then alphabetically by author, entries provide title, publication information, and annotation, which typically notes dates of coverage, place of birth or residence, major emphases, categories of persons discussed, occupations, historic events, modes of travel, religious affiliation, people, places, ships, customs, social milieu, and type of diary or journal. Annotations taken from Matthews frequently add comments on language and the quality of the work. Three indexes in each volume: names of writers and persons mentioned in annotations; subjects; places. The thorough annotations and detailed subject indexing make American Diaries an invaluable source for locating diaries on a topic or associated with a specific place, event, or group. It offers the fullest coverage of published American diaries, many of which appeared in limited editions or obscure periodicals. Many of the entries in Arksey, Pries, and Reed and in Matthews are repeated or revised in Handley, An Annotated Bibliography of Diaries Printed in English (M1615a). Review: (vol. 1) Steven E. Kagle, Early American Literature 20.2 (1985): 174–77.

A few additional published diaries are listed in Patricia Pate Havlice, And So to Bed: A Bibliography of Diaries Published in English (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1987; 698 pp.); however, the best feature of this work is its combined index of diarists in Matthews, American Diaries (see above), British Diaries (M1615), and Canadian Diaries (R4765).

For a list of about 5,000 unpublished diaries and journals held in libraries and other institutions, see William Matthews, American Diaries in Manuscript, 1580–1954: A Descriptive Bibliography (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1974; 176 pp.). The entries are organized chronologically by initial date of entry (with a separate alphabetical list of undated works) and note location along with a brief description of content; unfortunately, works are indexed only by author. Many manuscript diaries are listed in National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (F295) and in other works in sections F: Guides to Manuscripts and Archives and Q: American Literature/General/Guides to Primary Works/Manuscripts.

A rekeyed full text of some of the diaries, print and manuscript, listed in the preceding works can be searched in North American Women’s Letters and Diaries: Colonial to 1950 ( In the current version, c. 150,000 pages can be browsed by author, source, date of composition, geographic location, historical event, and personal event; unfortunately, the source list is organized in no apparent order. Sources, authors, letters, and diaries can also be searched separately through fielded search screens. The Advanced Search screen allows users to combine a number of fields—full-text keyword, author, age when writing, marital status, maternal status, age at marriage, number of marriages, age at first childbirth, number of children, nationality, race, religion, occupation, year of composition, month of composition, document type, where written (setting, geographic region), historical events, personal events, and subjects—in order to construct very sophisticated searches. Search results can be printed or saved only through a Web browser’s print or save functions. Although the selection criteria and plans for expanding the content could be more precisely explained, this archive—if it continues to grow—will provide unprecedented access to the documents herein.


Kaplan, Louis, comp. A Bibliography of American Autobiographies. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1961. 372 pp. Z1224.K3 016.920073.

Briscoe, Mary Louise, ed. American Autobiography, 1945–1980: A Bibliography. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1982. 365 pp. Z5305.U5 A47 [CT220] 016.92′0073.

Together, these two volumes provide a bibliography of more than 11,000 separately published autobiographies (through 1980) of American citizens and foreigners resident for an appreciable time in the United States. Kaplan excludes Indian captivity, travel, and slave narratives; journals; diaries; collections of letters; manuscripts; genealogical works; fiction; and general reminiscences. Briscoe, however, broadens the scope to admit published memoirs, journals, diaries, and nonfiction works that include substantial autobiographical material. Briscoe also includes reprints of autobiographies published before 1945 as well as some works omitted in Kaplan. Kaplan cites the most convenient edition; Briscoe typically refers to the first edition. Entries, organized alphabetically by author, include birth date (and death date in Briscoe), title, publication information, pagination, location of one copy (only in Kaplan), and annotation. Kaplan’s annotations rarely extend beyond occupation and principal areas of residence, but Briscoe’s are much fuller, typically offering an evaluative comment and citing occupation, main focus, precise geographic locations, and important persons and events. In Briscoe, an asterisk denotes a female author. Both offer valuable subject indexes that cite occupations, places, historical events, names, and ethnic and religious groups; however, Briscoe’s index is more precise, detailed, and effectively organized. Together, Kaplan and Briscoe list the majority of the separately published autobiographies of American citizens and long-time foreign residents.

Additional separately published autobiographical works (in print by 1900) are listed in Gwenn Davis and Beverly A. Joyce, comps., Personal Writings by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers (Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1989; 294 pp.), with most entries drawn from WorldCat (E225), National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints (E235), and the British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books (see E250a). Concludes with an appendix listing writers by chronological period and an index of places, occupations, types of works, and a few miscellaneous topics. For details of the unsatisfactory coverage of pre-1800 works, see the review by Alexandra Barratt, Library 6th ser. 12.4 (1990): 360–62.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism

Leary, Articles on American Literature (Q3295).