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HIST 2C: World History from 1700 to the Present (Spickard, Spring 2024): UC Library Search: Keywords vs. Subject Headings

Survey of the peoples, cultures, and social, economic, and political systems that have characterized the world’s major civilizations in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania from 1700 to present


Unlike Subject Headings which use a precise, controlled vocabulary, Keywords are your own search terms that best express the essence of your topic. 

Advantages to using keywords:

  • they allow you to combine different concepts. Each concept is separated by AND (opium war* AND british empire). 
  • you can add synonyms and like terms to increase your search results (industry OR market OR trade OR commerce OR econ*)
  • you will retrieve items that may be on topic but that were not given a relevant subject heading
  • you can use the asterisk* symbol to include alternate endings to your root word:  colonial* will retrieve all records with the word colonial, colonial, colonialism, colonialist, and so forth.

Disadvantages of using keywords:

  • your results may include items that are unrelated or completely off topic
  • you will be searching multiple fields within the catalog record, not just the Subject Headings. This means you will get all results where your keyword appears in the Publisher, Author, Language, or other field in the record


Subject Headings

Subject headings are specific, predefined terms that are assigned to printed material. Because they use a "controlled vocabulary,"  subject headings typically do not include multi-disciplinary or complex topics.

It's most useful to start with a keyword search in the Library Catalog, using a combination of terms that describe your topic. Once you have located a relevant item, you can look at the Subjects in the record and follow those links to find related books.

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