Ten Keyboard Shortcuts Every Historian Should Know

Image by GuHyeok Jeong from Pixabay

By Sean Kheraj

You’re sitting uncomfortably in the audience at a conference waiting for the presenter to begin. They’ve finally loaded up their PowerPoint file from an old USB flash drive and all that’s left is to set it into presentation mode. They click around aimlessly on the screen trying button after button to no avail. Inside your head you’re shouting, “F5! F5! For the love of god, F5!”

This blog post is for you.*

10. CTRL+shift+e: Toggle Track Changes in Microsoft Word

Whether you’re editing the work of students, colleagues, or your own writing, Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature is a long-time function used by many historians. Did you know you can easily turn it on and off with this simple keyboard shortcut?

9. CTRL+f: Find on page

Handy for nearly any application with text, this keyboard shortcut can help you find that passage you were looking for and even assist in catching plagiarism!

8. CTRL+tab/CTRL+shift+tab: Cycle back and forth among tabs in a browser

Are you the kind of person with dozens of tabs open in your web browser at any given time? Use this nifty combo of keys to dance back and forth through your tabs with ease. Impress your friends with your tabbing dexterity as you quickly switch from writing an email to checking the New York Times to ordering a new book on Amazon.

7. CTRL+t: Open new tab

Again, you tab maniacs will love this shortcut. Pop out new tabs faster than ever with this one. And if you accidentally close a favourite tab, just hit CTRL+shift+t to re-open it right away.

6. CTRL+b/i/u: bold/italics/underline

If you’re the type of person who needs to get your point across with emphasis, try these shortcuts out. They are the holy trinity of text formatting!

5. CTRL+z: Undo

Oopsie! We all make mistakes, but with some deft keystrokes we can magically undo it all. Nothing lasts forever.

4. CTRL+a: Select all

All together now! Whether it’s text, a list of files, or than jumble on junk scattered across your desktop, this keyboard shortcut is an oldie but a goodie. Scoop up everything in one quick command and do as you please.

3. CTRL+c/v: Copy and paste

The dynamic duo of copy and paste are friends to every historian. Whether we are rearranging some paragraphs in a manuscript or pulling a quote into a lecture, these two trusty pals have had our collective backs for decades.

2. Alt+tab: Switch to previous application

Alt+tab is mana from heaven for the multi-tasker. Have you ever wanted to show a YouTube video during a class while you’re in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation? Swap back and forth with one-handed ease and grace.

1. F5: PowerPoint presentation mode

If you take nothing else from this cheeky post, please take this. Launch your presentations calmly without breaking a sweat as god intended. Dazzle your colleagues and nail that next conference presentation with this one simple shortcut. Using Adobe Reader instead? No worries. It’s CTRL+L.

The truth is, however you use your computer to get your work done is just fine, whether you use keyboard shortcuts or not. Given how much of our work happens with keyboards and screens, I hope you find one or two new tricks with this list.

There are dozens and dozens of keyboard shortcuts that historians use everyday. Some are specific to certain operating systems. Some are specific to certain applications. I’d love to read about your favourite keyboard shortcuts and learn a trick or two. Post them in the comments below.

*For MacOS users, you can substitute CTRL for CMD in most cases.

Sean Kheraj is an associate professor in the Department of History and associate dean of programs in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. He blogs at https://www.seankheraj.com/

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6 thoughts on “Ten Keyboard Shortcuts Every Historian Should Know

  1. Alan MacEachern

    Love this, Sean. How’d I not know about Alt+Tab!

    You offer this lightly, but you’re doing a great service not only in helping teachers teach, but also in reminding teachers what they should be teaching their students, so they can research, write, present, & teach better. Our students don’t simply know this stuff by osmosis. We use only 10% of our keyboard.

    Not strictly a keyboard shortcut, but I find myself constantly right-clicking on images in Chrome & using “Search Google for image.” It’s great for finding our more about an image & how it’s been used elsewhere, plus similar images. Oh, & everybody needs to know they can drag & drop images into Google Images.

  2. Paul Hackett

    These are extremely helpful, thanks for providing them! As an extension to this folks might consider picking up a gaming keyboard for their work computer. This can enable them to assign macros to a single key or key combination (with many programmable function keys available). Those macros can in turn be programmed to carry out a whole series of tasks. It can be a huge time saver for repetitive tasks.

  3. Matthew Hayday

    I am a pretty deft hand with the key combinations for accents, but a recent revelation to me (in Mac) is that if you press on various character keys for longer, you pull up a mini-menu of that character with various accents that you can choose from! Particularly useful for me when I’m struggling to remember the combinations for less frequently used accents.

  4. Sean Kheraj


    Alt+Tab forever!

    Thanks! I think there are many small or micro technical skills that we can teach our students. In many ways, humanities computing has become ubiquitous without any concerted program to transform the discipline. Instead, computing has become a part of our everyday work lives as historians.

    Great tip with right-clicking in Chrome for image search. That’s an amazing tool!



    A gaming keyboard! Now we’re talking. That’s some next level stuff. I bet that would be so helpful for quantitative research with lots of repetition.



    I thought about including some of the shortcuts for accents, but I wasn’t sure about different keyboard configurations for different languages. That’s an important asterisk on my post here. This is all on an English keyboard layout.


    Keep posting your shortcuts, readers! I’m loving these tips.

  5. Keith Grant

    Thanks, Sean — this is so helpful! I had no idea about the Alt + Tab feature! As you suggested, the equivalent for Mac users, the Command + Tab brings up a menu of all open applications, which you can cycle through using tab, arrows, or the mouse.

    To switch between open windows of a single application in Mac, use Command + ` [Tilde].

    Screen shots are super simple in Mac, too. Control + Shift + 3 for the whole screen, or Control + Shift + 4 to use a cropping tool to select part of the screen.

  6. Sean Kheraj


    Screenshots! Of course! How could I forget? I use this all the time.

    For Windows users, you have the handy Prt Sc key. And for Chrome OS users, it’s Ctrl + Window Switch Key (and if you try Ctrl + Shift + Window Switch Key you can click and drag to select just a portion of the screen for a screenshot).

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