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Research Guide to the Great Books
Research Guide to the Great Books

The Great Books are certain classics of literature, philosophy, history, and science that are believed to contain the basic ideas of Western culture. These include works by Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus, Thomas Aquinas, William Shakespeare, Blaise Pascal, Immanuel Kant, J. S. Mill, and Charles Darwin, among many others (Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, 1995). A list of the Great Books authors can be found at http://faculty.ccc.edu/colleges/wright/greatbooks/Program/CoreAuthList.htm.

This module is a guide to finding information on Great Books texts and authors in libraries, electronic databases, and on the Internet. This information can be found in books, journals, and in a variety of electronic sources, including databases and web sites. A wide array of sources can be used to obtain information on Great Books authors, their works, and topics associated with them. The resources listed in this guide can be valuable aids to research, study, writing papers and essays, and teaching the Great Books, and can even help in pinpointing free online versions of Great Books texts.

Table of Contents

The contents of this module are as follows:

Finding Information on the Great Books in Libraries

In this section, you will find recommendations on finding information in print and electronic resources that may be available at your college library. Remember to always ask reference librarians at your individual college for help.

Library Lingo, Buzzwords, and Definitions

For information on these, see: http://www.ala.org/ala/acrlbucket/is/publicationsacrl/multilingualglossarydefinitions.htm

Using Keywords to Find Information

Think of keywords or terminology that describes Great Books as you are searching for books and journal articles. The Library of Congress Subject Headings, a reference work available in all libraries, can help you determine appropriate terminology and keywords.

Suggested Keywords

  • Great Books of the Western World
  • Paideia Project
  • Literature -- History and criticism.
  • Classical literature -- History and criticism.
  • Greek literature -- History and criticism.
  • Bible as literature -- History and criticism.
  • Neoclassicism (Literature)
  • Modernism (Literature)
  • American literature -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- History and criticism.
  • European literature -- Renaissance, 1450-1600.
  • Literature, Medieval -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Modern -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Modern -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Modern -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Philosophy, Asian
  • Philosophy
  • Existentialism in literature
  • Critical thinking
  • Mortimer Adler

Refining your Search: Using Boolean Logic

For information on this topic, see: http://www.ithaca.edu/library/course/expert.html

Finding books

Consult your college library’s catalog first, and seek help from a librarian if necessary. When looking for books, search by authors’ names, keywords, and subjects. Since college library collections support the curriculum, consider suggesting books for purchase to help with collection development. Also, if the library does not own the materials you want, it can obtain them through interlibrary loan.


This database is the OCLC online catalog, an integrated catalog of library records of most books, journals, and nonprint materials available in the United States and throughout the world. It contains over 43 million records describing library holdings. Coverage: Includes records from the earliest printed works up through new, not-yet-published titles.

NetLibrary Ebooks

This is used for finding full-text electronic books online.

Finding journals

Search for magazine and journal articles using library electronic databases. These databases are not freely available through the Internet, but are subscribed to through commercial firms who assemble and market these databases to libraries for a fee and furnish licensed access to them. Remember that all libraries do not subscribe to the same electronic databases. Search these databases by keyword, author, title, and a variety of other fields.

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Representative Electronic Databases for Research

Academic Search FullTEXT Premier (via EBSCOhost)

Academic Search Premier contains indexing and some full text for over 4,000 journals. This scholarly collection provides journal coverage for nearly all academic areas of study - including social sciences, humanities, education, computer sciences, engineering, physics, chemistry, language and linguistics, arts and literature, medical sciences, and ethnic studies.

Annee Philologique (alternative name: Database of Classical Bibliography)

This database provides an article index to literature on ancient Greek and Latin language and linguistics, Greek and Roman history, literature, philosophy, art, archaeology, religion, mythology, music, science, early Christian texts, numismatics, papyrology, and epigraphy. Books, editions of ancient texts, collected works, serials, dissertations, and book reviews and summaries are indexed.


This database indexes articles from the tables of contents of nearly 12,500 journals, along with a list of libraries holding the journal title. Publisher: OCLC / FirstSearch.


This is a searchable database of more than 300,000 images applicable to different times, cultures, and disciplines. A combination of images, data, and texts provides comprehensive art-related teaching, learning, and researching capabilities. The user can view and analyze images through features such as zooming and panning.

Biography Resource Center Reference

An online biographical reference database in the fields of literature, science, business, entertainment, politics, sports, history, current events, and the arts. Biographical information on over one million people throughout history, around the world. Publisher: Gale Group.

Dissertation Abstracts

Contains abstracts of dissertations on a wide range of academic subjects, including literature. from 1861 to the present.

Early English Books Online

Full images of books published in English from 1475 to 1700. Publisher: ProQuest.

Eighteenth Century Collection Online

Full-text searchable facsimile page displays of approximately 150,000 books published in Britain and its colonies during the eighteenth century. Publisher: Gale Group.

Essay and General Literature Index

Cites essays and articles contained in collections of essays and other works published in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. Also indexed are more than 20 annual and serial publications. Includes full bibliographic information for the titles in which the collected works are found. Focuses on humanities and social sciences literature.

Expanded Academic ASAP (via Gale)

From arts and the humanities to social sciences, science, and technology, this database meets research needs across all academic disciplines. With access combining indexing, abstracts, and full text, this database offers balanced coverage available through 3,000 indexed and 1,900 full-text titles in a wide variety of disciplines, including social science journals, humanities journals, science and technology journals, national news periodicals, general interest magazines, newswires, the New York Times, and many others. More than 1,400 journals are peer reviewed, and more than 20 years of backfile coverage are included: scholarly journals, news magazines, and newspapers, many with full text and images.

FactsonFile: Ancient History and Culture

Africa, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesoamerica, and Mesopotamia from the early hominids of three to five million years ago through 1522 CE, and including subject entries, biographies, primary sources, images, maps and charts, and timelines. Covers the six ancient centers of civilization.

FactsonFile: World History Database Center

Civilizations and cultures of world history from prehistoric times through the modern era, including biographies, maps, primary source documents, and timelines, all searchable by topic, era, and activity.

Gerritsen Collection: Women’s History Online, 1543-1945

Full text of more than over 4,000 books and periodicals from continental Europe, the United States, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, dating from 1543 to 1945, and covering the study of international women's history and the feminist movement.

Historical Abstracts

Complete reference guide to the history of the world from 1450 to the present (excluding the United States and Canada). Publisher: ABC-CLIO.

Humanities Abstracts

Bibliographic citations from more than 450 periodicals in topics such as archaeology, art, classics, film, folklore, journalism, linguistics, music, the performing arts, philosophy, religion, world history, and world literature. Records added since 1994 have abstracts, and many citations have links to the full text of the article. The database is searchable by keyword, author, title, and a variety of other fields. Publisher: H.W. Wilson.

Humanities International Index

Collection of bibliographic references to literary, scholarly, and creative journals covering the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe. This database provides citation information for articles, essays, and reviews, as well as for original creative works such as poems and fiction. Citations to articles in over 200,000 records indexed from the complete runs of more than 400 scholarly journal titles. Also will be encompassing over 46,000 records of monographs, material published in monographs, and collected essays. Users may search by subject, author, title, keywords, and publication date. Time-span: 1843 to the present. As records are added to the database, coverage will extend back to 1700. Publisher: Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto.


Provides electronic access to back issues of core scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences. Articles have been digitized, providing full-image access to the complete runs of over 100 journals. Users may browse by journal and issue, or may search the full text of the articles. Since JSTOR is intended to be an archive, it does not include the current issues of journals nor the most recent four or five years of them.

Literature Online

A fully searchable library of more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama, and prose, plus biographies, bibliographies, and key criticism and reference resources.

Literature Resource Center

Access to biographies, bibliographies, and critical analyses of authors from every age and literary discipline. Combining Gale Group’s core literary databases in a single online service, the Literature Resource Center covers more than 120,000 novelists, poets, essayists, journalists, and other writers, with in-depth coverage of 2,500 of the most-studied authors. It includes reference works such as Contemporary Authors, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Scribner’s Writers Series, and Twayne’s Author Series.

Magill’s Online Literature Plus

Source for editorially reviewed critical analyses and brief plot summaries of the most studied works in the history of literature. Also provides access to information on notable authors from 15 complete Salem Press sets containing a total of 62 volumes. This database has images for many well-known authors, and embedded hyperlinks refer readers to related author essays.

MLA International Bibliography

Detailed bibliography of journal articles, books, and dissertations. Subjects consist of literature, language and linguistics, folklore, literary theory and criticism, and dramatic arts, as well as the historical aspects of printing and publishing. Publisher: EBSCO.

Periodical Abstracts (via OCLC FirstSearch)

Database covering general and academic journals, with many full-text articles.

Philosophers Index

Bibliographic database with informative author-written abstracts covering scholarly research in the fifteen fields of philosophy, published in journals and books since 1940.

Project Muse

Launched in 1995 by the Johns Hopkins University Press, this database offers the full text of John Hopkins University Press scholarly journals via the World Wide Web. In 1999 the project published online 46 Johns Hopkins titles in the humanities and social sciences.

TOC (Table of Contents) Premier (via EBSCOhost)

Up-to-date table-of-contents information for over 22,000 journals. Provides users with a comprehensive, unduplicated list of 22 million citations, some linked to full-text articles.


Provides indexed and abstracted records with accompanying full text in periodicals from General Science Abstracts, Humanities Abstracts, Readers’ Guide Abstracts, Wilson Business Abstracts, and many other databases produced by H.W. Wilson.

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Selected Reference and Research Resources: Book and Online

The following sources are available at libraries and through subscriptions.

Cambridge History of English and American Literature

Contains over 303 chapters and 11,000 pages, with essay topics ranging from poetry, fiction, drama, and essays to history, theology, and political writing. The set encompasses a wide selection of writing on orators, humorists, poets, newspaper columnists, religious leaders, economists, Native Americans, song writers, and even non-English writing, such as Yiddish and Creole. See http://www.bartleby.com/cambridge/.

Dictionary of Literary Biography

Systematically presents career biographies and criticism of writers from all eras and all genres through volumes dedicated to specific types of literature and time periods.

Drama Criticism

Contains biographical and critical information on the most widely studied dramatic works of the world’s literature. Has cumulative author and title index as well as a nationality index.

Drama for Students

Provides students with easy access to information about drama. The entries for each title include author biography, plot summary, character profiles, discussion of themes and style, historical context, critical overview, and three critical essays.

Literature and Its Times

Profiles of 300 notable literary works and the historical events that influenced them.

Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800

Contains excerpts from criticism of the works of fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth-century novelists, poets, playwrights, philosophers, and other creative writers, from the first published critical appraisals to current evaluations.

Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism

Contains excerpts from criticism of various topics in nineteenth-century literature, including literary and critical movements, prominent themes and genres, anniversary celebrations, and surveys of national literatures.

Novels for Students

Provides students with easy access to information about novels. The entries for each title include author biography, plot summary, character profiles, discussion of themes and style, historical context, critical overview, and three critical essays.

Oxford Reference Online Subject Collections

This is an online collection of research resources. Some examples of its resources are the following:

A Dictionary of Shakespeare (Oxford)

This dictionary offers up-to-date information on all aspects of Shakespeare in his own time and on his impact and influence on later ages. It includes entries on the plays and the major characters; on Shakespeare’s life and his contemporaries; on actors from Edmund Kean and Ellen Terry to Peter O'Toole and Kenneth Branagh; on theaters, including the new Globe in London; on directors such as Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, Deborah Warner, and Adrian Noble; and comments on Shakespeare by later authors such as Jane Austen, Dr. Johnson, and Bernard Levin.

A Dictionary of Writers and their Works

This guide to authors and their works focuses on the general canon of British literature from the fifteenth century to the present. There is also some coverage of nonfiction such as biographies, memoirs, and science, as well as of major American and Commonwealth writers. There are 3,000 entries for writers with their nationality and birth/death dates, followed by a listing of their titles arranged chronologically by date of publication; 26,000 title entries with date of publication and author's name; and 2,000 entries on characters found in authors’ major works.

The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare

This guide contains 3,000 entries on Shakespeare topics. From the conjectured identity of the Dark Lady of the sonnets to the misprints in the First Folio, from Shakespeare’s favorite figures of speech to the staging of Othello in South Africa, a team of 100 internationally renowned scholars provides a lucid, stimulating, and authoritative guide to Shakespeare’s plays and poems, and to their interpretation around the world over the last four centuries. Special feature entries on every play are included.

Poem Finder

Continually updated, this resource has citations to over 500,000 poems, including over 30,000 offered in full-text format. Citations are international in scope and are taken from more than 2,000 anthologies, 3,500 single-author works, and over 4,000 periodical issues. Over 70,000 poets are included. Users may search by any word in a poem title, first line, last line, book title, author, or by subject. Publisher: Thomson Gale.

Poetry Criticism

Provides biographical information and critical excerpts from the most widely studied poets of world literature.

Poetry for Students

Provides students with easy access to information about poetry. The entries for each title include author biography, plot summary, character profiles, discussion of themes and style, historical context, critical overview, and three critical essays.

Short Story Criticism

Provides criticism of works of major short story writers of all eras and nationalities.

Twentieth Century Literary Criticism

Series presenting substantial excerpts from the best criticism on the major literary figures and nonfiction writers, including novelists, poets, playwrights, and literary theorists, of 1900 to 1999.

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Great Books Collections on the Internet

Access the Great Books

This is a compilation of over 240 great authors and their works. This list devotes notable attention to works of philosophy and science. It is well organized, has excellent background, and provides biographical content on the authors listed.

Electronic Text Center

This site, hosted by the University of Virginia, provides electronic texts in several languages and subjects. Online archive includes over 45,000 classic texts in 12 languages.


This was formerly The English Server, hosted by the English Department at Carnegie-Mellon University. This site offers over 20,000 works covering a variety of interests (from art to philosophy and more).

Great Books

Here you will find links to classic works of religion, philosophy, politics, science, history, and literature from both East and West, spanning nearly 4,000 years of human history. Works are indexed alphabetically by author or title, and chronologically by author (or work, if anonymous). There are also separate indexes for works included in various reading lists, and works which are available in languages other than English.

Great Books Index

An index to online Great Books in English translation.


A useful site containing a general search engine for the Internet, plus links to specific databases and bibliographies. The site is hosted by the University of Florida.


Very useful listings of classics resources. Host: University of Reading.

Internet Classics Archive

Offers works of classical literature by mainly Greco-Roman authors (and some Chinese and Persian), all in English translation. The archive is searchable, and includes a list of links to other resources.

Internet Public Library

This is an important site for educators. It includes extensive directories of online texts, newspapers, magazines, and reference materials; plus an exhibit hall and other special sections.

Literature Post

The Literature Post web site includes hundreds of classic books, plays, poems, and stories that you can read online. New works are being added on a regular basis.

Lives: The Biography Resource

Contains links to thousands of biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries, letters, narratives, oral histories, and more; and provides individual lives of the famous, the infamous, as well as group biographies.

MIT Internet Classics Archive

The Internet Classics Archive contains over 441 works (mostly Greek and Roman) from 59 different authors. Visitors may contribute to forum-style discussions of the various works.

Online Books Page

This is a listing of over 25,000 free books on the Web. The site is searchable by author, title, new listings, serials, or by Library of Congress subject category. This is an outstanding resource for anyone in the literature department, student or teacher. If it’s out there on the Internet, then it’s most likely here (books, that is). There are special exhibits such as "Banned Books Online" and "A Celebration of Women Writers," as well as a long list of other English resources on the web. The site is hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.


Roman gazetteers, texts, dictionaries, atlases, and more.


Digital library from the Department of Classics at Tufts University. Perseus is a multimedia interactive library that will advance the ways in which ancient Greek literature, history, art, and archaeology can be examined. This database provides a solid introduction to Greek antiquity for beginning students in many fields, as well as advanced tools and resources for specialists.

Project Bartleby

This is a site to bookmark and return to savor. The great collection of literature available on it is well chosen and rich in thought-provoking content. The site originated at Columbia University in 1994 and then expanded into its own commercial site in 1997. The sites are now linked to each other and have similar collections of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature, including works of Dickinson, Keats, Melville, Shelley, Whitman, Wilde, and Wordsworth. The site also has an extensive poetry archive of works dating from 1250 to 1920.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books (or eBooks) in the public domain. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.

Voice of the Shuttle

Web page for humanities research, containing numerous links to humanities and humanities-related resources on the Internet. Its mission has been to provide a structured and briefly annotated guide to online resources that both respects the established humanities disciplines in their professional organization and points toward the transformation of those disciplines as they interact with the sciences and social sciences and with new digital media.

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Great Books Web Sites for Further Research

Center for the Study of Great Ideas

The Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, founded by Dr. Mortimer Adler and Dr. Max Weismann, has two main purposes: to "awaken citizens from their moral and intellectual slumbers and to understand why philosophy is everybody's business"; and to "promulgate the insights and ideals embedded in Dr. Adler's lifelong intellectual work in the fields of philosophy, liberal education, ethics, and politics."

Great Books Foundation

The Great Books Foundation "is an independent, nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to provide people of all ages with the opportunity to read, discuss, and learn from outstanding works of literature." Established in 1947, the foundation has helped thousands of people to begin their own Great Books discussion groups.

Paideia Center

The National Paideia Center improves the ability of adults and students to think and communicate so that each individual can become a proactive citizen of the world, earn a decent livelihood, and lead a good life. The National Paideia Center aims to become a campus for learning dedicated to the exploration of ideas in support of active lifelong learning.

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Teaching the Great Books

Library of Congress Website



Literature teachers will find this a valuable free resource. The teacher's guides include a synopsis of an important work of literature; teaching suggestions; activities to be used before, during, and after the reading; extension ideas; and bibliographies. The sixteen projected titles will include such favorites as Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, The Odyssey, and The Prince and the Pauper. The reader's guides include "enlightening introductions that set the works within a historical and literary context." Each guide gives an overview, information about the author, discussion questions, and related titles. Ten titles are currently available, including Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, and The Age of Innocence. Included are links to web sites on the authors and a brief biography of Shakespeare.


The World Lecture Hall is your entry point to free online course materials from around the world, and is sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin.

Professional Development and Teaching Shared-Inquiry Methods


According to the National Staff Development Council and the National Education Association, research shows that Great Books staff development is important "to increase student achievement."

Finding and Sharing Research

All Academic

"All Academic is an academic index. It is designed to provide scholars and researchers with useful online source information about scholarly works. Links are direct from source citations to scholarly publications. All Academic catalogs are free publications only. Links to commercial and fee-based scholarly publications are not included in this database."

New Directions for Community Colleges


Keeping Connected: Professional Organizations

AACC (American Association of Community Colleges)

Teacher Information and Resources

Community College Humanities Association


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Web Search Engines and Directories

Different search engines index different collections of websites. For updates on search engine features, see the Internet Scout Report, at scout.wisc.edu; Direct Search, at www.freepint.com/gary/direct.htm; and the Tool Kit for the Expert Web Searcher, at http://www.lita.org/ala/lita/litaresources/toolkitforexpert/toolkitexpert.htm.

The Schaumburg Public Library has a great list of recommended search engines, including scholarly search engines.

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Searching the Web by Subject

Academic Info


Digital Librarian

A librarian’s choice of the best of the Web.


Librarian’s Index to the Internet

Open Directory Project

WWW Virtual Library

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Citing What You Find



Chicago Style






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Great Books Online Resources

Syntopicon Index and Table of Contents

Online The Syntopicon.

Online Great Books texts

Great Books Index

Great Books Downloadable Online from the Access Foundation


Ideas for short readings for course construction

Online The Great Ideas Program
Gateway to the Great Books tables of Contents
Sample readings from the Syntopicon from Great Ideas Web site

From the Center for the Great Ideas.

General Great Books Resource

Online Great Books Of The Western World

Great Books Ideas Program (downloadable readings and authors)

See the Index for links to electronic texts and other information about the authors.


  1. A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education
  2. The Development of Political Theory and Government
  3. Foundations of Science and Mathematics
  4. Religion and Theology
  5. Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence
  6. Imaginative Literature I: from Homer to Shakespeare
  7. Imaginative Literature II: from Cervantes to Dostoevsky
  8. Ethics: The Study of Moral Values
  9. Biology, Psychology, and Medicine
  10. Philosophy

More Sites for Great Books primary texts

Great Books from the East, Middle and Near East.

Gateway To The Great Books



Malespina Great Books

Excellent, easily-searched site with pictures, biographies, and research links on nearly 150 GB authors


Pepperdine University

Online Journal with articles on teaching great books


Concordia University, Montreal

News article about their goals and trials over 25 years establishing a GB College within the University


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