What are they?
Library of Congress Subject Headings have been the standardized vocabulary for organizing information (and resources) since 1898. While there is value in searching the LCSH for headings related to your area of interest, there can also be challenges in using this resource. Cultural and gender biases are present in the LCSH listings, as well as a formality of language that may seem unnatural to most users. Being cognizant of those issues when searching will help you utilize this valuable and historic source.
How do I find the LCSH?
The Library of Congress Catalog offers a web-based search of subject headings. Using the Browse link on their catalog page allows you to narrow your search by subject. A detailed tutorial about using this search feature is included in this course guide as well. LCSH headings are also used by InfoHawk+ to determine subjects.
Once you have subject headings related to your topic, use them in any archive, catalog (including InfoHawk+), or database search that you conduct.
How do I find a historical topic to research?
The best advice is to select something that you find interesting. This is a semester-long project - you want to spend your time looking into a historical time period or event that actually interests you. But where to start?
Ask yourself some questions:
Browsing archive collections can be a useful activity to get an idea of historical events, time periods, and artifacts to research. The national archives linked in this guide all have an option to browse their collections or digital exhibits.
Browsing historical newspapers can also be an inspiring way to learn the events of the time. Links can be found at Historical Newspaper Collections.
Archival research is different than library research in a number of ways. Unlike libraries, archival resources are not removed or checked out from the archive - to view the materials, you must either be physically present in the archive or have digital access to the artifact. Luckily, many archival collections are putting items online in order to increase accessibility to their archives.
To organize the materials and save users time and frustration, archives create finding aids for their collections. Some collections are quite large and searching through many boxes of artifacts is not be feasible, but finding aids are here to help! They function like a table of contents for a collection.
Three items on a finding aid are particularly useful:
To see what the information in a finding aid can look like, check out this finding aid from the Iowa Women's Archive. Each category of information gives specifics about the collection.