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This page is intended to guide potential users through some of the basics of using archives in general, and using the SLU Archives in particular
Local and Religious Material
Are you new to the world of archival research? Do you feel intimidated by the prospect of identifying and locating relevant historical materials? You are not alone. Few users of archives receive formal training in the skills necessary to conduct successful research, and are often left to trial and error as their primary research strategy. We at the SLU Archives are here to guide perplexed researchers through the archival learning curve, and to do whatever we can to make your research experience as simple as possible.
What follows is a list of core competancies that lead to success in archival research. This list was developed by Sammie Morries, Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, and Sharon A. Weiner, and published in a Fall/Winter 2014 article in The American Archivist entitled "Archival Literacy for History Students: Identifying Faculty Expectations of Archival Research Skills." It is intended to serve as a basic outline of what you should know about archival repositories and research. No pressure, though... we don't expect you to have all the answers, and we are happy to answer any questions you have about any of the items listed below.
http://archivists.metapress.com/content/j270637g8q11p460/fulltext.pdf (SAA subscription required to access full article)
Accurately conceive of primary sources
1.) Define and articulate differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources
2.) List common types of primary sources used in conducting historical research.
3.) Articulate the value of primary sources to historical research, communicating a real or imaginary example illustrating value. Explain why historians are expected to use primary sources in their research and scholarship
Locate primary sources
4.) Distinguish between types of repositories that collect primary sources, including libraries, archives, museums, and special collections.
5.) Name some of the wide variety of types of archival repositories, using adjectives that refer to various spheres of organized activity, such as business [or religion, or college/university]
6.) Give examples of some kinds of materials held in different types of archival repositories, such as religious archives, business archives, university archives, government archives, etc.
7.) Locate and effectively use the websites created by archival repositories and special collections libraries, including reviewing finding aids, hours, and policies prior to visit
8.) Locate particular special collections and archival repositories in a given geographic proximity, including capabilities for obtaining copies of documents without travel, and search effectively for primary sources within these existing archives and special collections in the community, state, region, and country
9.) Identify and effectively use (search) the major bibliographic databases for locating primary sources
10.) Describe how to locate and use archival finding aids
11.) Explain the lack of online access to many archival materials.
Use a research question, evidence, and argumentation to advance a thesis
12.) Formulate and develop a research question to be answered using primary sources
13.) Accumulate multiple primary sources, as well as secondary resources, to build or support a case for a research thesis or argument
14.) Evaluate and synthesize information and arguments from both primary and secondary sources for evidence
15.) Construct an argument using primary source materials
16.) Explain the constructed nature of history, some possible reasons for gaps in the historical record that might result from war and other circumstances, and how to identify primsing and possible alternative search strategies for the information one is seeking
17.) Recognize historical styles of handwriting and outmoded printed scripts or fonts. Read manuscripts and books that are written or printed in these
18.) Interpret and analyze both print and electronic primary sources. Include: description of the features and vulnerabilities of the physical object, means for evaluating authenticity including provenance [i.e. origin, creator], methods for historical contextualization, indications of the purpose and intended audience, and observations that may be used to identify bias
19.) Interpret a variety of types of primary sources to glean information from them. Critically analyze and write in a critically informed way about a variety of types of sources used in historical research, such as institutional records, rare books, photographs, charts and maps, manuscripts and personal papers, ephemera, born-digital materials, 3-dimensional artifacts, audiovisual materials, and oral history interviews.
20.) Articulate common biases in primary and secondary sources to be aware of in assessing their trustworthiness
21.) Describe tactics for gaining access to multiple perspectives and narratives
Obtain guidance from archivists
22.) Explain the role and potential value of the research consultation with archives staff
23.) Communicate a variety of information needs effectively to archivists, both orally and in writing
Demonstrate acculturation to archives
24.) Define common terms used by archivists and historians in conducting research, such as "repository," "finding aid," "manuscript," "provenance," "IRB," etc.
25.) Describe the differences between archival records, personal papers and manuscripts, and rare books
26.) Communicate a rationale that justifies security and preservation measures taken by archival repositories
27.) Find the requirements for researchers' use of a specific archival repository
28.) Describe common policies and protocols for archival repositories, including the researcher registration process, the kinds of materials that are commonly not allowed into the repository, and processes for duplication
29.) Describe the care and handling processes for using original physical materials. Explain both why these processes are necessary and why they are important
30.) Articulate the ways in which experiencing and handling original primary sources differ from use of digital or other facsimiles
Follow publication protocols
31.) Explain the differences in copyright for published and unpublished sources
32.) Describe how one can legally and ethically incorporate unpublished sources into one's work
33.) Take effective notes on unpublished materials to capture full citation information for the materials in a paper
34.) Cite different types of unpublished primary sources such as documents, photographs, and artifacts, using more than one style of citation
35.) Describe how to obtain permission from the archival repository or library to quote from, reproduce, and/or reuse the collections in a paper or other type of publishable work
36.) Specify some common restrictions placed on unpublished materials and justify suc restrictions by giving the legal and ethical reasons for them
Have advanced skills
37.) Explain how to locate special collections and archival repositories internationally
38.) Describe some ways that archival materials are collected and processed by archivists, as well as the primary archival theory and practices that guide this work (provenance, original order, etc.)
39.) Recognize common preservation, organization, and archival processing techniques to distinguish the way materials have been altered since being acquired by the repository. Distinguish between the work an archivist may do to make a collection accessible and to preserve it versus the work an author, creator, or collector might do, and give some instances of when to avoid drawing false conclusions based on appearance of the items
40.) Give examples of factors that might influence the order in which materials are organized in an archival repository
41.) Describe effective techniques for conducting oral history interviews so that the interviews can be reused in a publication or scholarly work
42.) Describe common requirements for creating, storing, and publishing oral histories (IRB certification for conducting human subjects research)
43.) Use materials from multiple archival repositories or special collections libraries
44.) Describe some ways in which archival repositories function in other countries and how access to primary sources may differ in those countries
45.) Communicate effectively about one's research experience orally, visually, and in writing
46.) List various ways in which collections in archival repositories and special collections grow over time and how materials that may not have been available on initial visits to archives may become available in the future
47.) Produce a scholarly work that incorporates primary and secondary sources as evidence and is suitable for publication, both in writing and in a formal oral/visual presentation or demonstration
48.) Articulate issues relating to the historical memory of society that are relevant to archival research
49.) Plan all aspects of an archival vist that requires travel and advance accommodations including researching available travel grants
50.) Describe some of the reasons a history major might consider a future career in the archives profession
51.) Interpret and analyze both print and electronic primary sources. Include description of the features and vulnerabilities of the physical object, means for evaluating authenticity including provenance, methods for historical contextualization, indications of the purpose and intended audience, and observations that may be used to identify bias.
Archival arrangement is a term for the organizational scheme and sequence of archival materials. At the highest level, archival repositories divide their materials into groupings, or collections, based on the individual or group that created or collected the materials. Within these collections, archivists generally attempt to maintain the original organizational scheme used by the creator. When this is not possible, a new arrangement scheme may be devised based on an assessment of the materials.
NOTE: Archival materials are NOT traditionally organized by subject
n. ~ 1. Materials physically and legally transferred to a repository as a unit at a single time; an acquisition.
- v. ~ 2. To take legal and physical custody of a group of records or other materials and to formally document their receipt. - 3. To document the transfer of records or materials in a register, database, or other log of the repository's holdings.
n. ~ 1. A group of materials with some unifying characteristic. - 2. Materials assembled by a person, organization, or repository from a variety of sources; an artificial collection.
- collections, pl. ~ 3. The holdings of a repository.
n. ~ 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records. - 2. A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.
Finding aid1 includes a wide range of formats, including card indexes, calendars, guides, inventories, shelf and container lists, and registers. - Finding aid2 is a single document that places the materials in context by consolidating information about the collection, such as acquisition and processing; provenance, including administrative history or biographical note; scope of the collection, including size, subjects, media; organization and arrangement; and an inventory of the series and the folders.
n. ~ 1. A measure of shelf space necessary to store documents. - 2. A measure of motion picture stock; film footage.
A linear foot measures twelve inches for documents stored on edge, or twelve inches high for documents stored horizontally. For letter size documents, it is slightly less than a cubic foot. The number of leaves within a linear foot varies with the thickness of the material.
n. (ms, abbr.) ~ 1. A handwritten document. - 2. An unpublished document. - 3. An author's draft of a book, article, or other work submitted for publication.
Other abbreviations include mss for manuscripts (plural) and MsS for manuscript signed. - Manuscript1 is principally text or musical notation on paper, but may be supplemented by drawings. Typewritten documents are generally classified as manuscripts but are more accurately described as typescripts.
n. ~ 1. The professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property. - 2. The act of keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction, especially through noninvasive treatment. - 3. Law · The obligation to protect records and other materials potentially relevant to litigation and subject to discovery.
- preserve, v. ~ 4. To keep for some period of time; to set aside for future use. - 5. Conservation · To take action to prevent deterioration or loss. - 6. Law · To protect from spoliation.
n. (provenancial, adj.) ~ 1. The origin or source of something. - 2. Information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection.
Provenance1 is a fundamental principle of archives, referring to the individual, family, or organization that created or received the items in a collection. The principle of provenance or the respect des fonds dictates that records of different origins (provenance) be kept separate to preserve their context.
(also registry principle, respect for original order, l'ordre primitif, respect de l'ordre intérieur), n. ~ The organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records.
Original order is a fundamental principle of archives. Maintaining records in original order serves two purposes. First, it preserves existing relationships and evidential significance that can be inferred from the context of the records. Second, it exploits the record creator's mechanisms to access the records, saving the archives the work of creating new access tools.
Original order is not the same as the order in which materials were received. Items that were clearly misfiled may be refiled in their proper location. Materials may have had their original order disturbed, often during inactive use, before transfer to the archives; see restoration of original order.
A collection may not have meaningful order if the creator stored items in a haphazard fashion. In such instances, archivists often impose order on the materials to facilitate arrangement and description. The principle of respect for original order does not extend to respect for original chaos.
All definitions taken from the Society of American Archivists' Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, available at http://www2.archivists.org/glossary
Archives are NOT arranged by subject. Look your subject up in secondary sources, and from those determine who the key players where and when they were doing important things to your research. Then go to the archives armed with those names and dates.
Expect some detective work. Working with archival material often involves sifting through large volumes of material while looking for clues to help you to advance your thesis. These clues are not always immediately obvious. Ask questions about what you find, and budget more time than you think you need. Footnotes in secondary sources are a great source of leads to get your started.
Archives are NOT comprehensive. Make note of new names, dates, and places you encounter. Be prepared to extend your search across multiple collections and even multiple archives.
Talk to the Archivist. Archivists can be valuable research allies. They will know their collections and will be able to help steer you to useful material efficiently. They will also know about other archives which may hold additional material. Archivists will also usually either have a good command of the secondary literature related to their collections, or will be able to tell you who does.