Literaryhistory.com is an internet library of literary scholarship that has been continuously maintained since 1998. We catalog reputable reference materials on canonical English and American writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including peer-reviewed critical articles, books, and biographies. All the materials in our library are available to the public directly through our links.
At literaryhistory.com a human editor screens and selects internet articles. The editor was all-but-dissertation for a PhD in English, has a broad background in the periods and writers covered here, and is familiar with academic editing and publishing standards. Articles that are selected were written by recognized scholars and signed, or by well-known authors commenting on other writers, or in the case of unsigned introductory articles, have been published online by reputable organizations and publishers from the print and academic world. All reference materials cataloged here have been placed online by other parties. We link to them only if we're sure they're not in violation of copyright law. We do not take advertising.
In recent years the more generous policy of JSTOR has made it possible even for those of us without passwords to a university library to delve into serious literary criticism, directly from the JSTOR web site. Literaryhistory.com can't compare to the riches available at JSTOR. We offer a mere sampling, from JSTOR and other sources, of literary criticism that is acceptable for college-level and graduate-level research. Our sampling is geared to the general educated reader, however, not the academic specialist, so we try to choose articles that are free of academic jargon, address larger questions, strike us as interesting, and are free.
Literaryhistory.com began as a demonstration project, meant to show how a free online reference site could replicate the quality and reliability of a traditional reference library and at the same time take advantage of the possibilities of the internet, linking to photos, sound files, videos, and delivering full-text at a click. Online bibliographies like this would be better if they were created or at a minimum overseen by scholars who are specialists in the authors under consideration. Because so much "reference material" on the internet is of questionable value, it requires screening by scholars. Traditional cataloging by trained librarians as is done at the MLA Bibliography or by librarians at university libraries for their lists of recommended web sites is not adequate, because some degree of peer review is needed for most web site offerings. Ideally, author webliographies created by specialist scholars will some day be compiled and available online through university and public libraries. After 20 years on the internet, literaryhistory.com demonstrates that a digital library can be easy to design and code and cheap to publish. The biggest problem in the early years of maintaining this web site was removing dead links, but this is much less of a chore now, since good material is now less likely to be moved or removed.
June 2018. I've noticed lately that Google has much improved its algorithm for selecting literary criticism. For many years the standard practice for Google was to return Wikipedia as its number one result on a search, and a bunch of garbage for sale following that. For searches on canonical authors, Google is now returning very good results. Most of the articles Google returns at the top of its list these days are ones literaryhistory.com has also chosen or would choose. Except that Google continues to return Wikipedia as its number one or number two result for major literary figures, which is totally inappropriate. Wikipedia is great on subjects having to do with popular culture, and it's a commendable and generous project. But it is very poor on covering subjects in the humanities, in literature, history, philosophy, fields where there's a long history of learning and often centuries-worth of accumulation of knowledge. Too many of the Wikipedia articles on subjects in the humanities are so poorly researched that they would earn a C in a college level course, at best, with comments from the professor like "shows little understanding of the major research that has been done on this author or in this field." But other than mis-ranking Wikipedia, Google is doing such a good job on literary figures these days I feel like I could close up shop here. Hope the high quality results continue from Google.
Jan Pridmore is an independent scholar who has edited and published literaryhistory.com since 1998.
send email to jpridmore at literaryhistory dot com
1998-2018 by Jan Pridmore