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ENGL 330: Women in Literature and World Thought - Archival research

Jargon defined

  • Archives - also called special collections, repositories, or record centers - organizations that collect, preserve, organize, describe, and provide access often as part of a larger organization like a corporation, university or public library, museum, or historical society.
  • Archivists - also called special collections librarians - people with advanced education and training in how to manage archives and the material in archives
  • Archival material - also called primary sources - photographs, diaries, letters, documents, reports, books, films, memorabilia, etc. of historical value
  • Finding aids - also called indexes, collection guides, or archival description - provide context about a collection of archival material, including historical or biographical information, the types of materials in the collection, and sometimes a detailed inventory
  • Digital object - digital files created by scanning or digitizing archival materials to be made available online for easy access
  • Reading room - the space where you can conduct your research under staff supervision, separate from where the material is stored
  • Collection - can be used in several ways - typically a group of materials donated or transferred by a person, organization, department, or office, sometimes means a group of materials put together by the archivist or another individual (stamp collection, book collection, etc.)
  • Papers - archival materials belonging to an individual that document that person's life (letters, emails, photographs, diaries, etc.)
  • Records - archival materials that document the essential functions of an organization (policies, important emails, financial documents, etc.)

In-person archival research tips

Quick introduction to archives

In-depth introduction to archives

Quick tips for visiting archives

  • The majority of archival material is not online - it would take hundreds of years and billions of dollars to digitize everything
  • Special collections and archives are typically found in libraries (academic and public), museums, larger historical societies, and government offices (might be called "historical records" instead of archives)
  • Look up the repository (another word for archive) online to become familiar with their hours, forms, policies, and staff
  • Contact the staff in advance by phone or email to introduce yourself, your research topic, and request an appointment
    • An appointment guarantees that they have material you're interested in and that it will be available when you arrive
  • Wash your hands before you enter their reading room so that you don't get oils or dirt on the material
  • If you want to look at photographs or negatives, they may provide gloves for you to wear
  • Bring a pencil, paper, your phone, laptop, etc. but be prepared to adhere to their rules for using these items
  • Some repositories allow photography using your phone but be sure to ask first