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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498D: U.S. Empire

A guide for history majors completing their senior capstone project. Guide presupposes mastery of basic library skills taught in History 200.


Why Bother with Subject Headings?

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.

Some example subject headings

  • United States --Territorial expansion.
  • United States --Territories and possessions.
  • Anti-imperialist movements --United States.
  • Imperialism.
  • Imperialism --History --20th century.
  • Hegemony --History.
  • United States --Foreign relations --Philosophy.
  • Latin American --Civilization --American influences.
  • Colonization.
  • Americanization --History --20th century.
  • Civilization, modern --American influences.
  • Globalization.
  • United States --Relations --Latin America.
  • Philippines --Colonization --History.
  • United States --Foreign relations --Philippines.
  • Nationalism.

Digitized Book Collections

In addition to the 14 million+ printed books available to you here in the Library, we also have a rapidly growing collection of digitized books.