Historical criticism: a branch of history which looked at literature for evidence about the economic and political events going on at the time at which the works were produced, and that also looked at historical events to explain the content of literary works.  This way of reading literature flourished in Anglo-American universities in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century.  In addition to pursuing a work's connection to the well-known events of its era, like wars, plagues, revolutions, etc., the historical critics did much to produce more accurate pictures of the cultures which produced and consumed literature.  They scoured the Public Records Office (P.R.O.) in London for evidence of financial and criminal proceedings involving authors and people known to them, and they sought evidence from other old document hoards like the records of great baronial estates in England, plantations in the Americas, and commercial enterprises.  For instance, Leslie Hotson found evidence in the P.R.O. that finally explained how Christipher Marlowe died (murdered in a tavern brawl, possibly by government agents) and that confirmed an earlier critic's identification of Sir Thomas Malory (Le Morte Darthur) as a fifteenth-century knight often imprisoned for robbery, assault, attempted murder, and rape.  Bad historical criticism reduced the work of literature to a mere reproduction or barely concealed transcription of contemporary events, as if authors had no imaginations and were bound only to record what they saw and heard.  Modern literary biographers still carry on the research practices of the C19 historical critics, but they usually write with critical methods informed by New Historicist, Feminist, Psychoanalytic, Marxist, and other theoretical approaches.