NDNP Podcast 10 – Overcoming Historical Language Barriers


Sometimes the results that we’re expecting or that we want don’t show up. There are several reasons why this could happen. This podcast will focus on overcoming historical vocabulary differences and using alternatives to controlled vocabulary. This may sound confusing or complicated right now but trust me, if you stick with me, you
understand everything by the end of this podcast. First of all, let’s talk about historical vocabulary differences. Words that we use to describe events, places and people of the past are not the words that were used in the past. This is similar to
the way one generation might refer to something as cool and another generation might refer to the same thing as rad.
Since newspapers report on the news right after happens we sometimes need to think the same way that people thought back then. For example country and city names have changed over time and wars have changed over time. World War I wouldn’t have been called World War I during the war because there wasn’t a World War II yet. People would have called it the European
War or the Great War. Let’s try an example. If we do a search for Thailand, which is the current name of the country that we know as Thailand let’s look at the first page and see what
happens. We zoom in on the search term and will
see that the words highlighted are not actually Thailand. It says the land. So as you can see doing a search for
Thailand does not give us very many results and the results it does give us are not very accurate. So why don’t we do a
search for Siam. That is what people of the time period when these papers
were published would have called the country that we know now today as Thailand. As you can see we get many more pages of results. Let’s
picked this one and see if the words that are highlighted are actually the
words we searched for. We’ll zoom in on this top word here and as you’ll see, it does say Siam and not some other word that isn’t what we actually
searched for. This shows you how historical vocabulary differences are really important to understand so
that way you can find the results that you’re looking for. Understanding historical vocabulary
differences will help you understand how to use a
database it does not use controlled vocabulary. So, what’s controlled vocabulary? Often
databases and library catalogs will have special terms assigned to things of the same topic so that way if authors of those items use different
words to talk about the same thing, you can still get to all the right resources when you’re doing
searches in those catalogs. That is called a controlled vocabulary.
For example, if you’re looking for a book about Thailand in 1900 you would have
called the country Siam. If you’re looking for a book about
Thailand that was written today you would call the country Thailand. If
you did a search for either Thailand or Siam in a system that uses controlled
vocabulary, search results with books from 1900 and with books from
today would show up. In Chronicling America, since there isn’t a
controlled vocabulary that’s not going to happen. You have to find
the word that fits the right time period. So you cannot use one word or phrase to
find information about the same topic if over the course of the time covered
by Chronicling America the words describing that topic have
changed. like the Siam and Thailand example that I used or if different regions refer to the same
events, people or places with different names. For example, some Civil War battles have different names depending on
whether you were in the South or the North. The Battle of Bull Run in the North is known as the Battle of Manassas in the South. To do a search and get information
from all newspapers, you actually have to do a
search for both terms rather than just one. If Chronicling America had a controlled
vocabulary searching for one term would lead you to all
relevant results. One way to get around historical
vocabulary differences or using a system that does not have
controlled vocabulary is by using the Recommend Topics section on Chronicling
America. This is a link on the front page we
talked about in the Browsing podcast. It will give you information about
topics that were commonly covered in these historic newspapers. Each
one of these will have Important Dates, Suggested Search Terms and Strategies
and Sample Articles. Use these search strategies to teach yourself how to use Chronicling
America. When you run out of ideas for search
terms this might be a good way for you to learn how people at those times describe those
events, people or places. I hope that after viewing this podcast
you have a better understanding of why your search results may not look
the way you think they should. For more information about how to get more out of your
search, please see the Understanding Keyword Searching podcast.

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