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HIST 258: Plagues, Diseases, and Epidemics in History (HC)

History 258: Plagues, Diseases, and Epidemics in History (Hayton) Fall 2017

Tips for Searching

Keywords allow you to construct a search that reflects multiple issues in your research question. Building sets of related concepts and looking for their overlaps gives you more relevant and precise results.  This approach is also called Boolean searching using the operators (AND, OR, NOT). 

For example, a search for medieval AND medicine will return items that contain both terms:


medicine OR medical OR health* makes a larger set concerning medical issues:

medicine NOT physician* returns items that discuss medicine without talking about doctors.

Phrase searching:

Enclose phrases in quotations marks.  This is an important strategy for getting exact results when searching phrases (e.g., "black death") or conducting known-item searches for titles.


Nested Searching:

When pairing two or more keywords with another keyword, it is important to "nest" the related terms within a larger Boolean search.

For example, (greek OR roman) AND medicine will return results for medical content and any one (or both) of the parenthetical terms. 

(Many catalogs or databases will have an "advanced search" option, which provides multiple search boxes to facilitate nested Boolean searching.)


Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.

For example, one could search for politic* to find poltic, politics, political, politician, and so on.

Wildcard searching works similarly: a search for wom?n will return results for both woman and women.

Advanced Searching Tips

Advanced Searching in Tripod


 Subject Headings allow you to find relevant material grouped together including titles that do not use the keywords you may have been searching.


Finding subject headings

             Look at a book record in Tripod, check the subjects assigned to it, and choose whatever ones are relevant for your research.


Syphilis: Medicine, Metaphor and Religious Conflict in Early Modern France

Written by Deborah Losse.  Ohio State University Press, 2016.


                                    medicine in literature

                                    syphilis  france  history


            Subject search:    syphilis  history  =  27 results


 Refining subject searches

You can combine different concepts into a single subject search for precision.  The results are more focused than a keyword search. But all the words have to be terminology used in library subject cataloging.

 To ensure this, you can use subject headings you have already found.  Another option is to browse in the subjects for more choices.

                         Combination subject and keyword search:

(plague* OR epidemic* OR disease* OR "black death"‚Äč) (medieval OR "middle ages") 

=  129 results  (with the newest publications listed first)

       Searches a group of related terms for infectious diseases

       with the medieval terms added to eliminate titles about the modern era


3.) Other Databases 

Other databases covering journal articles and primary sources also rely on advanced searching with AND and OR.  Historical Abstracts and Bibliography of British and Irish History work best if you build synonyms together in one box in parentheses, e.g. (hospital* OR nurs*) and leave the connectors as ANDs.