Because students deserve better online reference materials
Literaryhistory.com is a free, public service web site for online literary criticism that I've maintained since 1998. It was begun as a demonstration project, meant to show one way that an online reference site might take advantage of the resources available on the internet. (It also demonstrates that such a site can be easy to design, easy to code, and cheap to publish, since this editor does all those tasks herself.) Since options for academic research on the internet change rapidly, with new offering becoming available and previously available ones withdrawn, the best examples of the current state of online literary reference will always be found on our most recently updated pages, which are listed on our home page.
I started this project with the hope that cataloging the best open-access articles on the canonical English and American writers would help people who don't have the opportunity to use proprietary reference materials, that is, the bibliographies and journals available by password only in university libraries. The site is aimed at an audience of college students, graduate students, college graduates, high school teachers, and curious readers the world over who want to study the major works of nineteenth and twentieth-century English and American literature. It will be of use, in a pinch, to advanced scholars. For serious academic research no open-access internet resource can compare to a university library, of course. However, almost all college students lose their library passwords, and their access to professionally published online reference materials, when they graduate. As college graduates they join the ranks of high school teachers and the rest of us who fend for ourselves in the world of unreliable open-access internet content.
[Update: in 2012, one of the major distributors of scholarly journals began offering some access to individuals, including alumni of a handful of colleges. See JSTOR For Individuals for details.]
There needs to be better information on the internet, and there also has to be a better way of finding the credible information that does exist. At literaryhistory.com the editor screens internet articles, cataloging some and rejecting others based on our explicit selection criteria. It's an approach similar to the traditional "recommended reading list" in college classes, but only as good as the scholarship of the person making the recommendations. Literaryhistory.com does not have an advisory committee of subject specialists; the recommendations here come from the general editor. In an ideal world, specialist scholarly editors would select the links in internet bibliographies, in the same way they have traditionally recommended critical articles and books. If internet bibliographies were supervised by subject specialists, the most glaring problem of doing research on the internet, the lack of quality control, might be solved.
We invite our users, especially those of you who are teachers, professors, or librarians, to compare the links on any of our author pages with the results of a Google search on the same author. If you do, you will see that the sites at the top of a Google search are mostly ones that are associated with Google itself, are paying for advertisments on Google, or have something to sell. Many of those sites tell you little or nothing about who publishes them, who makes decisions about content and quality, who their editor is, or what their standards are. Some do nothing more than reprint a famous poem, surrounded by a lot of ads of course. There is better material on the internet than you would know from a quick Google search. At literaryhistory.com we catalog signed articles, authored by specialists in literature, often published in peer-reviewed journals, web sites created by English faculty, articles published at scholarly societies, research libraries, and similar high-quality literary criticism and analysis, and some top-flight journalism from sources like the UK Guardian and public broadcasting. We exclude the commercial, the ungrammatical, the anonymous, the illegal, and do everything we can to weed out the unreliable.
LiteraryHistory.com and Copyright
All of the articles indexed at literaryhistory.com have been placed online by other parties. We make every effort to avoid linking to material that may be posted in violation of copyright.
Jan Pridmore is a Boston-based independent scholar. She studied at Boston University in the English department and the Editorial Institute, has an M.A. in English, and was all-but-dissertation for a Ph.D. in English. She has worked as a writing instructor, editor, indexer, abstractor, and business manager. In 1998 she began publishing literaryhistory.com, which is now in its fifteenth year.