Keywords that describe a book or an article can be found in its title, subject headings, table of contents, abstract, etc., and these are the fields that computer search engines search to find matches for the search terms you enter. Sometimes the best keywords are just what you expect them to be, and your search retrieves plenty of relevant results. But sometimes the keywords that will bring back the best results can be difficult to come up with. Here is some advice about what keywords to use for topics related to the history of pandemics and infectious disease. You may need to use multiple terms to get enough relevant results.
Terms for medical topics:
- Public health, global health, medical geography, health services, health education, disaster medicine, health care rationing, social medicine, medicine popular, traditional medicine, self-care
- Epidemics, pandemics, disease outbreaks, communicable disease
- Physicians, nurses, nursing, pharmacists, patients, hospitals
- Drugs, materia medica, medicine, narcotics, patent medicines, nostrums, pharmacology, pharmacy, plants medicinal, self-medication, treatment
- Also try terms for specific diseases: plague, tuberculosis, yellow fever, etc.
Terms for women
- Basic terms: try variant forms of words when you search, such as woman and women, or female and feminine; you can also make your search more precise with terms like young women, older women, single women, etc.
- Family roles: daughters, grandmothers, sisters, wives, etc.
- Social and occupational roles: housewives, midwives, mistresses, nuns, prostitutes, queens, etc. You can also put the word "women" in front of almost any role, such as women healers, women murderers, or women soldiers.
Terms for economic, social, and other types of life conditions:
Civilization, conduct of life, economic aspects, economic conditions, health and hygiene, intellectual life, life and customs, manners and customs, material culture, social aspects, social classes, social conditions, social life
- Use both the noun and adjective forms of a term. Sometimes you can do this with the truncation symbol (*), as in "Brit*" for both Britain and British. With other terms, you have to enter each one, as in Ireland and Irish, France and French, etc.
- Use both United States and America for American history topics. It may also help to put "United States" in quotation marks to search it as a phrase and to use the truncation symbol to get multiple forms of America* (America, American, Americanist etc.)
- If your research focuses on a region of the United States, use individual state names as well as collective terms like Southern States or Middle West (not Midwest!)
- Use historical as well as modern names: French West Africa, Indochina, Ottoman Empire, Prussia, Soviet Union
Terms for Time Periods
It can be difficult to limit your search by historical time periods because there is so much unpredictable variety of keywords. Some books have keywords by century (e.g., 19th century). Some may list a historical era, such as the Gilded Age. Many have specific date ranges like 1865-1918, but these ranges vary too much from one book to another to be very helpful for searching. And many books simply have the vague heading of “history.” There's no magic solution to this problem; you just have to do the best you can!
Terms for primary sources:
addresses, correspondence, diaries, early works, interviews, letters, memoirs, personal narratives, sources
The phrase "personal narratives" is especially helpful for finding diaries and letters related to war.