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Archival Research Methods


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My presentation for a workshop I taught in 2010 for Women’s History graduate students at Sarah Lawrence College. In this hour long presentation, I provided an overview of the archives, their definition, history, principles, and usage, as well as the archival profession itself. My goal was to explain why archives work the way they do in order to support good research methods.

Published in: Education

Archival Research Methods

  1. 1. Archival Research Methods Margot Note Director of Archives and Information Management World Monuments Fund
  2. 2. Overview <ul><li>Introductions </li></ul><ul><li>Definition </li></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><li>Principles </li></ul><ul><li>Usage </li></ul><ul><li>The Profession </li></ul>
  3. 3. Introductions
  4. 4. Definition
  5. 5. Archives Defined Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator (Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology . Chicago: Society of American Archivists.)
  6. 6. Archives Defined (cont’d) <ul><li>Division within an organization responsible for maintaining organization’s records of enduring value </li></ul><ul><li>Organization which collections archives of individuals, families or other organizations; a collection repository </li></ul><ul><li>Professional discipline of administering collections </li></ul><ul><li>Building (or portion thereof) housing archival collections </li></ul><ul><li>Published collection of scholarly papers </li></ul><ul><li>(Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology . Chicago: Society of American Archivists.) </li></ul>
  7. 7. Archives and Manuscripts <ul><li>Archives: permanently valuable records of organizations, businesses, and government (records) </li></ul><ul><li>Manuscripts: historical or literary records of people and families (papers) </li></ul><ul><li>(Roe, K. (2005). Arranging & describing archives & manuscripts . Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2.) </li></ul>
  8. 8. Primary Sources <ul><li>Created during event being studied or created later by participant in event, reflecting participant’s viewpoint </li></ul><ul><li>Enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period </li></ul>
  9. 9. Secondary Sources <ul><li>Work not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with subject, but instead relies on sources of information </li></ul><ul><li>Work commenting on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticism, and commentaries </li></ul>
  10. 10. Types of Archives <ul><li>Institutional: acquire and maintain records of parent organization or inter-related organizations </li></ul><ul><li>Collecting: collect materials pertaining to a defined area </li></ul><ul><li>Combination: collect both institutional records and outside materials that document local area or a subject specialty </li></ul>
  11. 11. Main Archival Functions <ul><li>Acquisition </li></ul><ul><li>Appraisal </li></ul><ul><li>Arrangement and description </li></ul><ul><li>Preservation and storage </li></ul><ul><li>Reference and access </li></ul><ul><li>Outreach activities </li></ul>
  12. 12. Who Uses Archives? <ul><li>Staff members of parent institution </li></ul><ul><li>Staff members of other organizations </li></ul><ul><li>Scholars </li></ul><ul><li>Professors and teachers </li></ul><ul><li>Students </li></ul><ul><li>Historians </li></ul><ul><li>Genealogists </li></ul><ul><li>Hobbyists </li></ul>
  13. 13. History
  14. 14. Recordkeeping Development <ul><li>From Latin “heart” (cor) and verb “to give” (dare) </li></ul><ul><li>Ability to write things down </li></ul><ul><li>Ability to save more knowledge than one can remember </li></ul><ul><li>Growth of literacy </li></ul><ul><li>Dispersal of population </li></ul>
  15. 15. Historical Benchmarks <ul><li>Europe </li></ul><ul><ul><li>French Revolution (1789) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public Record Office (1838) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>United States </li></ul><ul><ul><li>National Archives (1934) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Society of American Archivists (1936) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Historical Records Survey, Works Progress Administration (1930s) </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Recordkeeping Technologies <ul><li>Early, labor intensive technologies </li></ul><ul><li>Invention of paper </li></ul><ul><li>Movement from handwritten to handset type to mechanical forms </li></ul><ul><li>Ability to make copies </li></ul><ul><li>Computer development </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mainframe (1942) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Personal computer (1980) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Network and WWW (1993) </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Motives for Creating Records <ul><li>Personal </li></ul><ul><li>Social </li></ul><ul><li>Economic </li></ul><ul><li>Legal </li></ul><ul><li>Instrumental </li></ul><ul><li>Symbolic </li></ul><ul><li>(O'Toole, J. M., & Cox, R. J. (2006). Chapter 1. Understanding archives & manuscripts . Chicago: Society of American Archivists.) </li></ul>
  18. 18. Record Types <ul><li>Permanent </li></ul><ul><li>Temporary </li></ul><ul><li>Sensitive </li></ul><ul><li>Confidential/privileged </li></ul>
  19. 19. Record Formats <ul><li>Unpublished manuscripts and records </li></ul><ul><li>Printed and published materials </li></ul><ul><li>Maps, plans, and architectural drawings </li></ul><ul><li>Visual materials, including photographs </li></ul><ul><li>Audiovisual materials </li></ul><ul><li>Computer-generated materials </li></ul><ul><li>Artifacts, ephemera, and memorabilia </li></ul>
  20. 20. Changes in the 1970s <ul><li>Tremendous growth in the number of repositories </li></ul><ul><li>Graduate programs develop </li></ul><ul><li>Impact of technology felt, moving archivists towards the standards developments of the1980s </li></ul><ul><li>Problems of bulk </li></ul><ul><li>Research changed towards greater interest in race, gender, political issues, labor, and history from the bottom up </li></ul>
  21. 21. Characteristics of Modern Records <ul><li>Abundance </li></ul><ul><li>Collective </li></ul><ul><li>Decentralized </li></ul><ul><li>Interrelated </li></ul><ul><li>Social nature </li></ul><ul><li>Shifting usefulness </li></ul><ul><li>(O’Toole, J. M., & Cox, R. J. (2006). Chapter 1. Understanding archives & manuscripts . Chicago: Society of American Archivists). </li></ul>
  22. 22. Principles
  23. 23. Core Concepts <ul><li>Archival records exist to be used and not merely saved for their own sake. </li></ul><ul><li>Some records ought to be preserved long term, even after their immediate usefulness has passed. </li></ul><ul><li>Archival records ought to be preserved as completely and coherently as possible, with critical information about context and connections preserved. </li></ul><ul><li>Archival records ought to be organized properly and in a timely way so they can be used. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Core Concepts (cont’d) <ul><li>Sensitive information and information given in situations presumed to be private should be protected from use as long as that sensitivity remains. </li></ul><ul><li>Archivists should administer their collections equitably and impartially. </li></ul><ul><li>Archival repositories ought to cooperate in preserving historical records. </li></ul><ul><li>(O'Toole, J. M., & Cox, R. J. (2006). Understanding archives & manuscripts . Chicago: Society of American Archivists,106-110.) </li></ul>
  25. 25. Provenance <ul><li>Information regarding origins and custody of item or collection </li></ul><ul><li>Maintains relationship between records and individuals, families, or organizations that created, accumulated, or maintained them in conduct of activity </li></ul><ul><li>Records should be maintained according to their origin and not intermingled with those of another provenance. </li></ul><ul><li>(Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology . Chicago: Society of American Archivists.) </li></ul>
  26. 26. Original Order <ul><li>Organization and sequence of records established by record’s creator </li></ul><ul><li>Preserves existing relationships and evidential significance that can be inferred from records’ context </li></ul><ul><li>Exploits creator’s mechanisms to access records, saving need to create new access tools </li></ul><ul><li>Records should be maintained in order established by creator </li></ul><ul><li>(Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology . Chicago: Society of American Archivists.) </li></ul>
  27. 27. Description <ul><li>Process of creating tools that facilitate access and improve security by creating records of collection and minimizing handling of originals </li></ul><ul><li>Collections are described from general to specific, starting with the whole, then proceeding to components (series, subseries, folders, and items). </li></ul><ul><li>(Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology . Chicago: Society of American Archivists.) </li></ul>
  28. 28. Archival Values <ul><li>Primary Values </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Administrative </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fiscal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Legal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Historical </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Secondary Values </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Evidential </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Informational </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Intrinsic </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. Primary Values <ul><li>Relate to purpose(s) for which records were created </li></ul><ul><li>The assumption is that records are needed by records creators for a period of time, after which they are no longer needed by the records creators. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Secondary Values <ul><li>Information contained in records which is of interest not only to creator but also to researchers from a variety of fields of knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Information is often gathered originally for a purpose quite different from users to which the researcher will put the records. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Evidential Values <ul><li>Continuing administrative, legal, or financial use for creators or for any subsequent users </li></ul><ul><li>Record details which may serve to protect civic, legal, property or other rights of individuals or community at large </li></ul><ul><li>Reflect evolution of creating body, its structures, functions, policies, decisions, and significant operations, or individual’s career, interests, or activities </li></ul>
  32. 32. Informational Values <ul><li>The usefulness or significance of materials based on the information they contain on persons, places, subjects, and things other than the operations of the organization that created them </li></ul><ul><li>Used for studies concerning historical events, social developments, or any subject other than the organization itself </li></ul>
  33. 33. Intrinsic Values <ul><li>The usefulness or significance of an item derived from its physical or associational qualities, inherent in its original form and generally independent of its content, that are integral to its material nature and would be lost in reproduction. </li></ul>
  34. 34. Usage
  35. 35. Services <ul><li>Information about holdings and record creators </li></ul><ul><li>Instructions in using archives and research process </li></ul><ul><li>Physical access to holdings </li></ul><ul><li>Information about copyright and other laws </li></ul><ul><li>Services for special accessibility needs </li></ul><ul><li>Contract researcher availability </li></ul><ul><li>Duplication </li></ul><ul><li>Referrals to other repositories and resources </li></ul><ul><li>Loans from holdings (rare) </li></ul>
  36. 36. Research Preparation <ul><li>What types of primary sources might have been produced that would be relevant to the topic? </li></ul><ul><li>Reference works and secondary sources for background information </li></ul><ul><li>Names of people or organizations </li></ul><ul><li>Dates </li></ul><ul><li>Places </li></ul><ul><li>Events </li></ul><ul><li>Formats </li></ul>
  37. 37. Ask Yourself <ul><li>Who would have needed information or evidence? </li></ul><ul><li>Why would someone have needed it? </li></ul><ul><li>When would it have been produced or gathered? </li></ul><ul><li>How might it have been recorded? </li></ul><ul><li>Where would it be now? </li></ul><ul><li>What product will result from the research project? </li></ul><ul><li>How much time is available for research? </li></ul><ul><li>(Pugh, M. J. (2005). Providing reference services for archives & manuscripts . Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 127). </li></ul>
  38. 38. Repositories of Primary Sources <ul><li>Listing of over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
  39. 39. Research Tips <ul><li>Consult secondary sources to become familiar with topic, moving from the general to the specific. </li></ul><ul><li>Write or call ahead to ensure materials are available for research. </li></ul><ul><li>Leave enough time to work with staff, finding aids, and collections: typically 1-2 hours for first visit. </li></ul><ul><li>Remember that everything on one topic is not arranged together. </li></ul>
  40. 40. Research Tips (cont’d) <ul><li>Keep notes on records consulted to differentiate between record groups and retrace steps. </li></ul><ul><li>Theories or questions brought to the archives may not be answered by materials; rather, they may lead to different questions or conclusions </li></ul><ul><li>Never be afraid to ask archivists for help. </li></ul>
  41. 41. Intellectual Dimensions of Reference <ul><li>Initial interview </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Query abstraction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Query resolution </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Search strategy </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Continuing interaction </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Query refinement </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Exit interview </li></ul><ul><li>(Pugh, M. J. (2005). Providing reference services for archives & manuscripts . Chicago: </li></ul><ul><li>Society of American Archivists, 112). </li></ul>
  42. 42. Research Approaches <ul><li>Nonlinear approach </li></ul><ul><li>Some look for known items, while others explore. </li></ul><ul><li>Researchers do not naturally connect their information needs to the structure of archives. </li></ul><ul><li>Search strategies: browsing, reading, footnote chasing, citation chasing, bibliographies, berrypicking </li></ul><ul><li>Use of search engines and OPACs </li></ul><ul><li>Precision versus recall </li></ul>
  43. 43. Finding Aids <ul><li>Guide which leads archivists and researchers to information they are seeking </li></ul><ul><li>Authenticate and document collection </li></ul><ul><li>Collection management tool for repository </li></ul><ul><li>Information discovery and retrieval tool </li></ul><ul><li>May be print or electronic </li></ul><ul><li>Examples: databases, indexes, calendars, guides, inventories, shelf and container lists, and registers </li></ul>
  44. 44. Finding Aid Contents <ul><li>Overview of collection </li></ul><ul><li>Biographical note or historical note </li></ul><ul><li>Content description </li></ul><ul><li>Arrangement </li></ul><ul><li>Administrative information </li></ul><ul><li>Subjects </li></ul><ul><li>Detailed description of collection </li></ul>
  45. 45. Online Research <ul><li>Reliance on websites for research access makes archives available to a “generation of users, with fundamentally different perspectives on the past, who will approach archives through computer interfaces, rather than visiting physical archives and interacting with tangible documents.” </li></ul><ul><li>Creates challenges for providing context and guidance </li></ul><ul><li>User expectations of speed and level of information </li></ul><ul><li>(Hedstrom, M. (2002). Archives, memory, and interfaces with the past. Archival Science 2 (1-2), 21-43.) </li></ul>
  46. 46. Websites <ul><li>Accessibility </li></ul><ul><li>Levels of description (collection, series, item) </li></ul><ul><li>Use of standards </li></ul><ul><li>Content versus context </li></ul><ul><li>Audiences and user needs </li></ul><ul><li>Style and presentation </li></ul><ul><li>Navigation and search capabilities </li></ul><ul><li>Objectivity and accuracy </li></ul>
  47. 47. Registration <ul><li>Present at least one form of identification, preferably with a photograph. </li></ul><ul><li>Fill out researcher registration form. </li></ul><ul><li>Name, address, contact information, institutional affiliation, research topic, intended use of research </li></ul><ul><li>Verbal and written regulations on access to and use of materials </li></ul><ul><li>Needed for security purposes, as well as statistics </li></ul>
  48. 48. Behavior <ul><li>Leave personal belongings (coats, bags, books, etc). in lockers or coat room. </li></ul><ul><li>Work in designated area (reading room). </li></ul><ul><li>No eating, drinking, or smoking. </li></ul><ul><li>Cell phone use is prohibited. </li></ul>
  49. 49. Requesting Materials <ul><li>Fill out call slips for each box or item requested. </li></ul><ul><li>Retrieving material from stacks may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on storage arrangements. </li></ul><ul><li>Amount of material used at one time is limited for security purposes. </li></ul>
  50. 50. Restrictions to Access <ul><li>Laws </li></ul><ul><li>Donor restrictions </li></ul><ul><li>Materials that are damaged or in poor condition </li></ul><ul><li>Unprocessed materials </li></ul>
  51. 51. Handling <ul><li>May have to wear gloves </li></ul><ul><li>Support documents and hold them by edges. </li></ul><ul><li>Remove one folder at a time. </li></ul><ul><li>Take notes in pencil without eraser. </li></ul><ul><li>Do not mark or lean on materials, or take notes on top of materials. </li></ul><ul><li>Laptops, cameras, and recording devices are usually permitted, if use doesn’t disturb or damage. </li></ul><ul><li>Put materials back in original order and orientation. </li></ul>
  52. 52. Duplication <ul><li>Ask reference staff for assistance with duplication. </li></ul><ul><li>Ask ahead before bringing your own scanner or digital camera. </li></ul><ul><li>Same day photocopy orders are limited; larger orders, photographs, or audio-visual materials may take longer to copy. </li></ul><ul><li>Fees may be required. </li></ul>
  53. 53. Copyright <ul><li>Copyright protects the owner’s interests in the intellectual property (content), rather than the physical property that serves as a container for the content. </li></ul><ul><li>As property, copyright can be transferred or inherited, hence the owner of a work’s copyright may not be the work’s creator. </li></ul>
  54. 54. Fair Use <ul><li>Purpose and characteristic of the use </li></ul><ul><li>Nature of the material used </li></ul><ul><li>Amount of material used in relation to whole </li></ul><ul><li>Effect of the use on the market for the work </li></ul>
  55. 55. Library-Archives Copying <ul><li>Purpose </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For preservation of holdings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For use by researchers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Conditions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Open to the public </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Non-commercial use </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Copyright notice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not part of systematic copying </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Further limitations on copying music/art </li></ul></ul>
  56. 56. Publication <ul><li>Permission to publish is the responsibility of the user. </li></ul><ul><li>Permission to publish from unpublished manuscripts or published works under copyright must be obtained from copyright holder. </li></ul><ul><li>Fees may be involved. </li></ul><ul><li>Caption and credit line policies </li></ul><ul><li>May be asked to provide copy of publication. </li></ul>
  57. 57. The Profession
  58. 58. Related Professions <ul><li>Librarians </li></ul><ul><li>Historians </li></ul><ul><li>Records managers </li></ul><ul><li>Information scientists </li></ul>
  59. 59. A*CENSUS <ul><li>Conducted by SAA with IMLS funding in 2004 </li></ul><ul><li>5619 respondents </li></ul><ul><li>52.6% had archivist or mss curator in title </li></ul><ul><li>64.5% female; 34.1% male </li></ul><ul><li>87.7% Caucasian </li></ul><ul><li>35.8% academic; 31.5% gov’t; 23% non-profit; 5.4% corporate; 1.3% self-employed; 2.2% other </li></ul>
  60. 60. Professionalization <ul><li>“ The most striking feature of the American archival profession in recent years is its ongoing search for identity and for public acceptance as a socially significant profession.” </li></ul><ul><li>(Jimerson, R. C. (2000). Introduction. In R. C. Jimerson, (Ed.), American archival studies: Readings in theory and practice . (pp. 1-17). Chicago: Society of American Archivists.) </li></ul>
  61. 61. Professionalization (cont’d) <ul><li>Nature and quality of professional credentials and certification </li></ul><ul><li>Establishment of graduate degree at master’s level </li></ul><ul><li>Increased funding and higher salaries </li></ul><ul><li>Improvements to standards of archival practice </li></ul><ul><li>Enhancing public image of archives and archivists </li></ul><ul><li>Strengthening the research and theoretical foundations of the profession </li></ul>
  62. 62. Individual Level <ul><li>Education: graduate and continuing </li></ul><ul><li>Professional development: courses, workshops, professional meetings, publications </li></ul><ul><li>Ethics: understanding issues and relating those issues to personal beliefs, professional standards, and institutional policies </li></ul>
  63. 63. Institutional Level <ul><li>Education: entry requirements and continuing education provided internally or externally </li></ul><ul><li>Other forms of professional development: support of participation by employees </li></ul><ul><li>Program support including funding </li></ul>
  64. 64. Professional Association Level <ul><li>Development of regional and format-specific associations </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul><ul><li>Communication and collaboration </li></ul><ul><li>Ethics </li></ul><ul><li>Promotion of the profession </li></ul><ul><li>Legislation </li></ul>
  65. 65. Get Involved <ul><li>Ask for an archives tour. </li></ul><ul><li>Talk to professionals. </li></ul><ul><li>Find a mentor. </li></ul><ul><li>Volunteer or participate in an internship. </li></ul><ul><li>Attend lectures, meetings, and workshops. </li></ul><ul><li>Write for the profession. </li></ul><ul><li>Be creative and flexible. </li></ul><ul><li>Say “yes.” </li></ul>
  66. 66. What They Don’t Tell You <ul><li>Loving history is great, but being persnickety is better. </li></ul><ul><li>Salaries tend not to reflect the high level of education needed. </li></ul><ul><li>Fulfilling, but sometimes tedious and boring </li></ul><ul><li>No one will understand what you do! </li></ul>
  67. 67. Questions?