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Terminology & Search Strategies


Due to the colonial history and current organization of academic libraries, archives and other memory institutions, searching for materials in library databases and catalogues may involve using offensive, problematic and out of date terms. We have included some suggestions for terms to use in your searches in the Subject Headings section below.

However, it is important to use respectful and up to date terminology in your own writing. Here are some resources to help:

General equity-related terminology

Terminology related to slavery

Subject Headings

You can search by subject in the Sofia advanced search, or explore subject headings by clicking on them. These are some subject terms related to Black studies in Canada that show up frequently in our collection. Please note that the vocabulary used in these terms do not reflect current language used in Black studies and may represent racist, offensive, or outdated ideas.

Search strategies

When you are constructing a search strategy in Sofia or a database, it is a good idea to select one to five search concepts. You can then add each concept to your search, separated by AND. If there are multiple terms you want to use for each concept (synonyms), add these separated by OR, with each concept enclosed in parentheses.

If you are using a search term composed of more than one word, you should enclose it in quotation marks to search it as a phrase.

For example: "Climate change" / "African Canadian" 

You can also use an asterisk * to shorten a word (truncation) or replace some letters of a word (wild card).

For example: Canad* finds Canada, Canadian, Canadians / Democra* finds democracy, democracies, democratization, democratic, democratically

Here are some examples of search strategies:

Topic 1: Afrofuturism

"afrofutur*" OR "afro futur*"

Topic 2: Environmental racism

(environmental* OR ecolog* OR pollut*) AND (racis* OR discriminat* OR injustice)

Topic 3: Montreal Black music

(montreal* OR quebec*) AND (Black) AND (danc* OR jazz OR music*)

Call numbers

These call numbers can be searched in Sofia using a call number search and truncating the number (ex. nu:DT*). Broader classes (like United States history) can by narrowed by adding a keyword or subject term to the search (ex. nu: BR 563* AND kw: Georgia).

BR 563 African-American religion 

E 185 United States history

DT African history

FC Canadian history - Black Canadian history has its own class: FC 106 B6

HT 1501-1595 Race, racism, race relations


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