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HIST 150: History Through Objects: The Atlantic World

The Difficulty of Words

Shoemaker or Cobbler or Cordwainer?
Cooper or Barrel maker? 
Librarian or antiquarian?
Doctor or physician?
Physick or Medicine?

Why this matters

When looking at Primary sources, you're using terminology from the time period under examination, not modern language.

It's important to consider what keywords they would have used.


  • Keep your search simple. No more than 2 or 3 words. 
    • "virginia tobacco"
    • "porcelain cups"
  • Choose your database based on the Type of records it contains
    • are you looking for newspapers? government reports? scanned personal papers? Organizational records?
  • Use the filters to limit results, not extra keywords.
    • limit by publication date, location, author, etc.
  • Don't be discouraged! It takes a while to find the database you need and you'll get many zero result searches at first
  • Pay attention to language. If you find one good primary source, see what phrases it uses. Use that phrase to find more materials yourself.
  • Use Secondary Sources to point you toward primary sources.
    • Does the secondary source highlight specific individuals or organizations or archives? What type of sources are they using?