Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498F: Nation and the Geographic Imagination

A course guide.


Why Bother with Subject Headings?

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.

Some example subject headings

  • Geographical perception.
  • Nationalism --History.
  • Nationalism and national identity.
  • Nationalism--Middle East
  • National state
  • Ethnicity--Europe
  • Human geography
  • Historical geography
  • Group identity
  • Regionalism
  • Self-determination, National.
  • Thailand --Historical geography.
  • State, The.
  • State, The --History.
  • State, The --History --19th century.
  • Territory, national
  • Nation-state.
  • Europe, Eastern --Description and travel.
  • Territory, National.
  • East and West.
  • Asia --Foreign public opinion.
  • Middle East --Foreign public opinion.
  • National characteristics, American.
  • National characteristics in literature.
  • Travelers.
  • Travelers --Scotland.
  • Travelers' writings, American.
  • Travel—History
  • Travelers—Algeria—History
  • Voyages and travels
  • Voyages and travels—History
  • Europeans—Egypt—History
  • Voyages and travels—Early works to 1800
  • Egypt—Description and travel
  • Travelers—England
  • Adventure and adventurers
  • Travelers—Great Britain
  • Pilgrims and pilgrimages
  • Women travelers—Biography
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Women travelers—United States—Historiography
  • Algeria—Description and travel
  •  Explorers—Canada—Biography
  • Southwest, New—Description and travel
  • Southwest, New—Discovery and exploration
  • Travel writing
  • Railroad travel
  • Travel in literature
  • Ocean travel
  • Travelers’ writings, English—History and criticism
  • Heritage tourism
  • Missions, British
  • Tourism
  • Missions—China
  • Tourism—Great Britain—History
  • Orientalism
  • Imperialism
  • Colonies in literature
  • Imperialism in literature
  • Africa—Discovery and exploration
  • Imperialism in art
  • Great Britain—Colonies—Bibliography
  • Great Britain—Army—Colonial forces
  • Great Britain—Colonies—Periodicals
  • Soldiers—Great Britain—Correspondence
  • Postcolonialism
  • Geopolitics


Searching the Online 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.

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. Below are some example books with their call numbers. You can go to the shelf in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library Library, the Map and Geography Library, or the Main Bookstacks, and look at other books with the same Dewey number. However, not all books on your subject will be classified under the same number. Depending on their focus, relevant books might be classified in different disciplines (e.g. geography, history, religious studies, political science), so you'll need to have a few call numbers in mind when you go to browse the shelves.

You can also do virtual shelf browsing, by clicking on the call number in a catalog record. This strategy will allow you to see what books are supposed to be shelved together, regardless of their actual location (e.g. Main Stacks, Oak Street Remote Storage Facility, or departmental library), and regardless of whether or not they are charged out to a patron (remember you can usually find another copy through I-Share).

Digitized Book Collections

In addition to the 13 million+ printed books available to you here in the Library, we also have a rapidly growing collection of digitized books. Most of these collections support full-text searching.