Popular Culture

Although “popular culture” embraces multifarious aspects of culture, this section is limited to reference sources that focus on written works.

Guides to Primary Works

Guides to Collections


Geist, Christopher D., et al. Directory of Popular Culture Collections. Phoenix: Oryx, 1989. 234 pp. E169.1.D54 973′.025.

A guide to collections held by libraries, institutions, businesses, organizations, and some individuals in the United States and Canada. Organized by country, state or province, city, then owner, entries provide address, information on accessibility and special requirements for admission, and a description of holdings. Two indexes: subjects; institutions and collection titles. Based on questionnaires, the descriptions vary considerably in thoroughness and sophistication. Although far from complete, Geist et al. offers the best guide to collections in the field and (because it ranges beyond libraries and museums) is an important complement to Ash and Miller, Subject Collections (E205).

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism

There is no satisfactory general guide to scholarship and criticism in popular culture, and, given the breadth and eclecticism of the field, there likely never will be. Researchers interested in a particular kind of popular literature will do better to consult reference works devoted to genres or periods.


The Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture. Ed. M. Thomas Inge and Dennis Hall. 4 vols. Westport: Greenwood, 2002. E169.1.H2643 306.4′0973.

A survey of research devoted to selected aspects of mass culture in the United States. Among the topics are a considerable number that are of literary interest: children’s literature, film, Gothic novels, illustration, verse and popular poetry, pulps, science fiction, the western, best sellers, romantic fiction, popular literature, minorities in popular culture, and magazines. Each essay provides a historical outline of its subject; surveys important reference sources, research collections, and scholarship; and concludes with a selected bibliography (through c. 1999) and list of periodicals. Indexed by persons. Although the surveys vary considerably in completeness, rigor of evaluation, and overall quality, many offer the best introductions to research in their respective topics. Collectively, they form the most trustworthy and systematic guide to reference sources and studies in the major areas of popular culture. The two works that Greenwood Guide revises—Inge, ed., Handbook of American Popular Culture, 2nd ed., rev. and enl., 3 vols. (New York: Greenwood, 1989), and Inge, ed., Handbook of American Popular Literature (New York: Greenwood, 1988; 408 pp.)—remain useful for their coverage of detective and mystery novels, musical theater, stage entertainments, historical fiction, and women in popular culture. The following works are occasionally worth consulting:

  • Landrum, Larry N. American Popular Culture: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale, 1982. 435 pp. Amer. Studies Information Guide Ser. 12. The 2,173 descriptively annotated works—few of them published after 1979 and some inaccurately described—are organized in divisions for general bibliographies, indexes, and abstracts; general studies; anthologies and collections; aspects of everyday life; ideology; heroes and celebrities; material culture; games; sports; music; dance; public art; advertising; theater; entertainments; literature (classified by types of popular literature); and media. The lack of clear principles of selection and organization turns American Popular Culture into a conglomeration that omits numerous important works and indiscriminately mixes reference works, histories, critical studies, anthologies, and miscellaneous publications in most divisions.

  • Wertheim, Arthur Frank, ed. American Popular Culture: A Historical Bibliography. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1984. 246 pp. Clio Bibliog. Ser. 14. The 2,719 abstracts are listed alphabetically by author in seven divisions: popular culture in historical perspective; popular arts (including sections on literature and theater); mass media and communications; folk culture; customs, behavior, and attitudes; science and religion; and theory, research, and pedagogy. A miscellaneous, poorly organized hodgepodge that is completely dependent on the America: History and Life (Q3310) database for 1973–80, Wertheim is useless for any systematic guidance to popular culture scholarship and doesn’t even come near to being the “comprehensive research tool” that the preface claims. Similarly miscellaneous is the short-lived Abstracts of Popular Culture: A Biannual Publication of International Popular Phenomena, 7 nos. (Bowling Green: Bowling Green U Popular P, 1976–82).

See also

Fishburn, Women in Popular Culture (U6590).

MLAIB (G335): See the “Popular Culture” heading in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

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

Writings on American History (Q3340).

Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory (U6133) sometimes devotes a chapter to popular culture.