THEA 238: Musical Theatre: Researching by...

Professor: Jessica Pearson-Bleyer
Fall 2023

Helpful Tip: Use Truncation!

Use an asterisk * to truncate roots of important words to find different spellings and forms of that word:

theat* searches for "theater" and "theatre"

perform* searches for "perform" "performer" "performers" "performance" "performative" "performativity"

While an asterisk is the most common symbol used in truncation, different search environments may use different symbols for truncation. Be sure to consult the help section if you run into issues.


Locating resources on a specific time period can be deceptively difficult. While there are search and filter options for Date, these almost always pertain to date of publication instead of the period of the content explored. Here are some suggestions for finding materials that explore a specific period of time:

Use Subject Headings

Subject Headings are terms that are most commonly used to describe a topic covered by a particular resource. Unlike keywords, which are user generated, subject headings are created and maintained by an authoritative institution. Especially for searching about a certain topic (ie - Musicals) during a certain time period (ie - 19th Century), subject headings can save a lot of time and trouble. You can use the Advanced Search to search for subjects by using the dropdown menu to change "Any Field" to "Subject" and using one of the following subject headings: 

Musical Theater -- History -- 17th Century

Musical Theater -- History -- 18th Century

Musical Theater -- History -- 20th Century

You can also further subdivide these period specific subject headings by geographic locations. For example:

Musical Theater -- United States -- History


Searching for resources on a specific topic may be the search process we feel most familiar with, as it most closely aligns with keyword searching. Here are some tips to increase your topic-based research skills:

Use Subject Headings

Either locate a subject heading in a record that is relevant to your topic (see "Using Subject Headings" below) or perform a browse search to see if there is a subject heading that corresponds with your topic. PRO TIP - think of different ways to express the same topic. For example, you might find information useful to your research on costumes in fashion, decorative dress, garment design, etc. 

Use Topic Facet to Surface Relevant Results

After performing a keyword search, use the Topic facet dropdown menu (located in list of filters, see explanatory gif) to limit your search results by a specific topic.


Using the title of a piece of theatre, especially one that's been around a while, will surface a lot of material, including different versions/translations of scripts, reviews of specific productions, critical interpretations, and scholarly literature. Here are some tips for making your way through this sea of information:

Keep It Together

Use quotation marks around titles with multiple words to search for instances of the words together. Notice the difference between searches for Caroline, or Change (over 25,000 results) and "Caroline, or Change" (around 260) results. More results is not always better - the goal is to have a higher percentage of your results actually applicable to your topic.

Combine Information

Add additional information using the Boolean connector AND to surface search results more relevant to your research. For example "caroline, or change" AND race will bring you to results about how race is depicted in Caroline, or Change

Using Subject Headings

Williams Libraries, and most academic libraries, organizes our resources using the Library of Congress Classification, so we also utilize Library of Congress Subject Headings to provide access to our collections by subject. Subject headings are arranged systematically, and can be useful tools to help browse the collection by topic. Subject headings for each resource are located in the "Details" section of the catalog record, under "Subjects."