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Additional Resources: Student and Faculty

Topic Cards and You

Lauren Trimble

In your recent use of JSTOR, you probably noticed a blue banner at the top of content pages suggesting related topics of interest, which is why you are on this page. You might be wondering just what these topics are, and how we assign them to JSTOR content. Topics are derived from a thesaurus and are programmatically assigned to chapters and articles in the JSTOR archive. They are intended to provide background and context for the many subjects covered on JSTOR. Let’s take a closer look at how this process works.

The JSTOR Thesaurus was created in partnership with Access Innovations and, like any controlled vocabulary, the goal is to improve our ability to organize content and, ultimately, your research experience. According to the librarians who helped create it, it’s “a subject thesaurus comprised of the combination of several and varied source thesauri or controlled vocabularies. The resultant term list was arranged into a well-formed thesaurus compliant with NISO Z39.19 standards.” Basically, this means we combined many well-respected thesauri into one massive set of terms that meet librarian-approved standards.

The way we apply these terms to JSTOR content goes like this:

  • If a term is present at least three times, it is recognized by the thesaurus and triggers the application of a topic.

  • Each article or chapter can have up to 10 topics assigned to it.

  • The most relevant four topics will be displayed in the banner.

  • Relevance is determined by how frequently the term appears in the piece of content.

  • Bonus: It’s possible that no topics will be present if an article is so short that no term hits that three-times threshold.


When you click into a topic, you see a brief description of the term and have the option to explore other JSTOR content that is similarly categorized. You can also search within a topic to refine your results even further. A topics list is directly on the article page as well…

…and we would very much like your feedback. You can tell us how we are doing by clicking the thumbs up or thumbs down voting mechanism or by reporting any inaccuracies right there on the page.

JSTOR created this thesaurus because there is currently not another controlled vocabulary that covers the breadth of the social sciences represented in our database. It is a living thesaurus, which means our metadata librarians regularly comb through multiple sources searching for new scholarly concepts to add. For example, we recently added “fake news” to the thesaurus in response to recent political discourse in the U.S. As scholarly dialogue progresses, the thesaurus will continue to grow. We welcome your feedback as you interact with JSTOR topics, so please send along your thoughts and concerns to Happy researching!