Skip to Main Content

Identifying Period Styles for Architecture and Interiors) : More Books

Searching the Library Catalog

After deciding on vocabulary that describes the styles and objects of your interest, find books by searching the UW-Madison library catalog.  For example:

  • A search for:  victorian style
    retrieves 178 hits--58 at Kohler Art Library, 14 at Steenbock Library, 7 at Ruth Ketterer Harris Library
  • A search for:  victorian furniture
    retrieves 54 hits--27 at Kohler Art Library, 7 at Steenbock Library

Try a number of searches.  Try synonyms.  Try broader or narrower terms as well.  For example, search for victorian chairs or victorian clocks, as well as victorian furniture.  For example, search for furniture history and look inside the books for chapters on your time period.

Simple keyword searching may lead you to enough books for your need. 


Look at as many books with illustrations as you can!  Ultimately, recognition of period styles is based on extensive looking at dozens and hundreds (and more!) examples of the style.  Exhibition catalogs of relevant objects or heavily illustrated books with authoritative captioning can be useful.

Some Words About Subject Headings

If a simple keyword search retrieves too much, or too little, or the wrong things, consider devoting time to identifying Library of Congress subject headings appropriate to your research need.

  • If you have already located one or two relevant books, check what subject headings have been assigned to them and look for more using those precise subject headings.

More on Subject Headings

Other hints for advanced searchers:

The Library of Congress provides a browsable "authority file" of authorized subject headings.  Within their database, you can check whether a term is a valid LC heading or not.  You may also be redirected to useful alternate subject headings.

Go to Library of Congress Authorities at

  • Click "search authorities"
  • Enter the first word of a desired subject term (example: pottery) and "begin search"
  • You will be repositioned within the alphabetical list to the place where your term would appear
  • Look for your term and an accompanying red button confirming if it is an "authorized heading" or providing "references."  (In the case of the "pottery" example, the references suggest over 50 more specific pottery-related subject headings.)
  • If the red button indicates "notes" are available, look deeper for a link to "scope notes."  Scope notes clarify how the term is used.  (For example, the scope note for "ceramics" tells you that the heading is used for clay products intended for industrial or technical use and redirects you to "pottery" for clay art objects.)

As in keyword searching, it may take a number of searches to discover good subject headings.  Subject headings exist for both broad and narrow topics.  "Furniture" is a valid LC subject heading.  Other valid but more specific headings, include: Chairs, Desks, Mirrors.  When searching for books, if one subject heading doesn't work well, identify broader or narrower subject headings and retry.  If you have been searching a library catalog for subject:Chairs and don't find enough chair-specific books, mine the books on subject:Furniture which may include chairs within them. 

It may take some extra effort to identify valid Library of Congress subject headings.  Once you discover them, however, you can use them productively when searching in thousands of libraries and databases. 

Still More on Subject Headings

Subject headings can be "subdivided" by genre/form--in order to better indicate the type of content contained in the book.  You will probably notice subdivisions if you browse the Library of Congress authority lists.  Subdivisions are placed after the subject term, separated by dashes. 

Example:  Mirrors--History  

Subdivisions help you focus on aspects of the major topic.  While there may be many books on the subject of "Mirrors," those on the subject of "Mirrors--History" may be especially useful in investigating chronological styles of mirrors.

Other useful subdivisions to watch for are:
   --Handbooks, manuals, etc.
   --Pictorial works

Searching for time periods

Dates appearing in book titles may occur in a variety of formats, so search several ways:

  • 60s
  • 1960s
  • sixties
  • nineteen sixties

Library of Congress subject heading forms are somewhat more regularized.

  • if the book's primary subject is a time period, search the subject using words:
       nineteen sixties
       fifteenth century
  • when a century date is used to subdivide a larger subject, search in the form:  
       18th century, 19th century, etc.
             example:  Furniture -- 20th century
             example:  Furniture, American -- History -- 17th century
             example:  Furniture, American -- History -- 18th century

Also try searching for words characterizing time periods: Middle Ages, Renaissance, Early Modern, etc.

Library Catalog