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Introduction to Archival Research

What are primary sources?

Primary soures are materials that contain firsthand accounts of events and were created contemporaneously or are first hand accounts later recalled by witnesses.

Examples include:

  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts
  • Diaries or Journals
  • Speeches
  • Newspapers
  • Oral Histories or interviews
  • Publications
  • Political documents
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Photographs
  • Magazine articles (from the time period)

Searching for archival materials

Using Finding Aids

Finding aids are the primary tool used to facilitate the dicovery of information for archival collections.  They describe the collection and usually list of the contents of the collection.  Archives are arranged into series.  Series are just groupings of similar materials.

Finding aids are generally divided into two parts, description and container list:

Biographical/historical note:  Gives you information on the creator of the collection.  It usually will give the context around which the collection was created.

Scope and Content Note: Summary of the contents of the collection.  It may give you a description of the series found within a collection and highlight some of the contents or tell you the limits of the collection.  This summary will give you an idea on whether this collection will help you with your research.

Container List:  Box and folder list of all of the contents of the collection.  This will tell you  the contents of boxes so you know which to request at the archives.

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