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Humanities Research: Sources and Strategies: Critical reception

What is "Critical Reception"?

The term "critical reception," or "reception history," refers to:

  • How a creative work (book, film, music, etc.) has been "received" -- that is, how audiences have reacted to it over time.
  • How a historical figure or event has been viewed over time.

This kind of research is done on:

  • Literary figures, artists
  • Historical figures and events

It's done in order to:

  • Trace various views of, and critical approaches to, the person or event over time
  • When editing an early document: need to research critical views of it
  • Graduate programs often specialize in a specific critical approach

Tips for Critcal Reception research


  • Places the work (book, film, dance performance) into a context
  • How  it fits with previous scholarship  
  • How it is different, what does it contribute  
  • What it is lacking, gets wrong

Review essays:

  • Articles that review multiple works  
  • Give an overview of recent scholarship on a topic



  • May or may not be scholarly
  • Can help trace how an idea/book/film was understood or received over time: something that today is considered an important work might not have been when it first appeared. Can also help a researcher trace the arc of an artist's or scholar's work, compare early works with later ones
  • Or the opposite, can help you understand the critics who examined the work



  • Gale Literature (available on our Databases page) includes excerpts or entire early reviews
  • The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism
  • Encyclopedias devoted to individual critical approaches, e.g. Encyclopedia of Feminist Criticism, Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Thought, etc
  • Bibliographies on an individual person or critical biographies (part biography, part critical study)



  • Search library catalogs for collections of reviews (an example: The Romantics Reviewed: Contemporary Reviews of British Romantic Writers). Add to your search terms "Reviews" or  "Book reviews."
  • Use search terms to convey a critical approach, e.g. Whitman AND masculinities
  • Bibliographies may include reviews. Add to your search terms "Bibliography."
  • Some library catalogs link to reviews, or allow you to limit your search to reviews.

Databases and reviews:

  • JSTOR (journals included are retrospective to first volumes published)
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers
  • Many databases let you limit your search to reviews
  • Web of Science to track responses to seminal articles, books via "Cited Reference" searching
  • Subject-specific databases for art, music, dance, theater include reviews of performances, exhibitions

Citation indexes:

  • Web of Science (database) to track repsonses to seminal articles, books



The following may make useful search terms:

  • Archetypal
  • Postcolonial
  • Postmodernism
  • Multiculturalism
  • Deconstructivist
  • Feminist
  • Marxist
  • Socialist
  • Gender and masculinities
  • New criticism (work viewed in isolation)
  • New historicism (work viewed within historical context)
  • Ecocriticism
  • Structuralism
  • Psychoanalytic
  • Reader response (Derrida, Levi-Strauss, Heidigger, Freud, Bakhtin)
  • Allegorical
  • Literal
  • Historical
  • Textual
  • Form
  • Tradition
  • Oral
  • Sociological
  • Source
  • Redaction
  • Genre
  • Rhetorical
  • Narrative
  • Canonical
  • Myth
  • Practical


Critical Reception: Resources

Mindmap: Reference Resources

Mindmap: Sources of a creative work

Mindmap: Useful Keywords for searching library catalogs

Mindmap: Humanities Literature: How it's Published



  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers
  • Times of London (on both our "Find a Journal" and "Find a Database" pages)
  • America: History and Life
  • Historical Abstracts
  • Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL)
  • Web of Science (citation indexing)


Literary criticism:

Gale Literature (available on our Databases page) includes the following subsets:

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC)
  • Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism (TCLC)
  • Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism
  • Literature Criticism 1400-1800
  • Hispanic Literature Criticism
  • Classical and medieval literature criticism (CMLC)
  • Short Story Criticism
  • Poetry Criticism
  • Drama Criticism

The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism


Critical Reception: Should I do a Broad or Narrow Search?

Much critical literature focuses on a single work (for example, a book review) or on the works of a specific person (for example, their early or late works, or a theme in their works). You'll want to narrow your search accordingly.

Compilations of critical literature tend to be organized around a particular critical approach (feminist, etc.), genre (plays, etc.) or subject area, often limited to a geographical region or time period (twentieth-century English literature). Use keywords of this type in your search.