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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498H: Romantic Democracy, Politics and Literature in the Age of Jackson

A guide to library resources.

1. Why use the online catalog?

Use the online catalog to do a subject search for books or to find out where a particular book or journal is located in the Library.

Books and journals are organized in the library by subject. Each item is assigned one or more subject headings and a unique call number. Subject headings are standardized terms from the Library of Congress. The call number is based on the Dewey Decimal Classification.

2. Why bother with subject headings in the online catalog when you can do keyword searching?

It’s true that you can find sources on a topic by doing keyword searches. But if you limit yourself to keyword searching, you are likely to miss important material on your topic that uses other terms. If you only need two or three books, you can probably find what you need by doing keyword searches, but if you are doing historical research, you can’t afford to miss critical material on your topic. For a comprehensive subject search, search with subject headings as well as keywords.

A good way to identify subject headings for a topic is to do a keyword search in the online catalog using terms you think describe the topic and try to identify a few relevant books. Look at the full record for those books to see what subject headings were used, then do another search on those headings.

As a rule of thumb, use fairly broad headings, as well as the specific ones that describe your topic, in order to make sure you haven't inadvertently eliminated relevant material that is contained within works of larger scope. Most likely you will find multiple headings to describe your topic, and you should use all of them. You can narrow your search in the online catalog by combining subject headings (as a phrase) with keywords, using the “Advanced Search” option.

3. Some example subject headings

United States—History—1815-1861
United States—Politics and government—1815-1861
United States—History—1815-1861—Sources
United States—History 1817-1825
Democracy—United States—History—19th century
United States—Social life and customs—1783-1865
United States—Social conditions—To 1865
Women—United States—History
United States—Economic conditions—To 1865
Scott, Dred, 1809-1858—Trials, litigation, etc.
Slavery—United States—History
Slave trade—United States
African Americans—History—To 1863
Labor supply—United States—History
Labor and laboring classes—United States—History
Indians of North America—History
United States—Religion
Transcendentalism (New England)
Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862—Political and social views
Politics and literature—New England—History
Press and politics—United States—History—19th century
United States—Intellectual life—1783-1865
Books and reading—United States—History
Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845 

4. Searching the Online Catalog

To search the online catalog, go to the Library Gateway and click on Library Catalog. The online catalog offers both “Quick Search” and “Advanced Search” options. Use “Advanced Search” to identify subject headings on your topic, to combine subject headings (or elements from subject headings) in a Boolean search, or to combine keywords from any part of the record with subject headings to narrow your search.

Use “Quick Search” to browse a subject heading, to search a title when you know exactly how it begins, to locate a work or works by a particular author, or to search by call number for a specific book.

5. Shelf Browsing

In order to browse the shelves, you need to know the “Dewey number” for your topic. At the UIUC Library, we use the Dewey Decimal Classification to organize our collection of more than 10 million items. In Dewey, the first three numbers indicate the main subject, and additional numbers are added after a decimal point to narrow the subject. Books and journals on historical topics are usually classified in the 900s, although much of social history is classified in the 300s.

Once you have identified a few books on your topic by doing a subject search in the online catalog, you can browse the shelf under the same general number(s) to find related works. For example, if you know that the book, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, by Sean Wilentz (2005), has the call number 973.5 W647r, you can go to the shelf in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library Library or the Main Bookstacks and look at other books with the same Dewey number. However, not all books on Jacksonian America will be classified under this number. Depending on their focus, other books on this topic may be classified under other numbers (history of religion, history of journalism, history of women, etc.), so you'll need to have a few call numbers in mind when you go to browse the shelves.