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Ekstrom Library

WGST 591/691 - Pumphrey: Researching with Archives

What are Archives?

The word archives (usually written with a lower case a and sometimes referred to in the singular, as archive) refers to the permanently valuable records—such as letters, reports, accounts, minute books, draft and final manuscripts, and photographs—of people, businesses, and government. These records are kept because they have continuing value to the creating agency and to other potential users. They are the documentary evidence of past events. They are the facts we use to interpret and understand history.

An Archives (often written with a capital A and usually, but not always, in the plural) is an organization dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular group: a city, a province or state, a business, a university, or a community. For example, the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States, Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, The Coca-Cola Company Archives, and The Archives of the Episcopal Church are all responsible for the preservation and management of archives.

Source: Society of American Archivists

Getting Started Researching

The basic steps in the archival research process are the following:

  1. Develop your research question
  2. Define your research needs
  3. Conduct background research
  4. Think about the kinds of sources you hope to find
  5. Search for and identify collections and repositories
  6. Read archival finding aids and collection guides
  7. Contact repositories
  8. Visit repositories and use collections
  9. Repeat steps as needed

Source: Mina Rees Library at CUNY