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Student Life at Northwestern University

Resources in the University Archives that document student life at NU from 1855 to today

What is a finding aid?

Because archival and manuscript materials are different from books and periodicals (see Using Archival Materials), specialized methods have been developed to act the way an index or table of contents would in a book.

The key to locating items in these collections is through a “finding aid.”

As the name implies, the finding aid helps researchers find relevant collections, and then identify the specific materials they need within the collection.

Each finding aid provides information about the creation and historical context of a collection, explains how it is organized, and outlines its contents, so that you can identify and request the materials relevant to your research.

You will need to come to the University Archives to view the actual collections, since they collections do not circulate and in most cases their contents are not digitized.

Most finding aids provide the following information:

  • Biographical or historical information about the subject of the collection
  • Description of the scope of the collection and the kinds of materials found in it
  • Listing of the folder titles contained in each box
  • Other basic information: the series number (like a call number, identifying the collection); the size of the collection, where the materials came from, any restrictions on access, and related collections

For many more details about the parts of a finding aid, see

Collections with Finding Aids

The archival collections described here vividly document the lives of former Northwestern students during their college years.  The collections consist of  materials donated to the Archives by these individuals. 

The links below will take you to the finding aid for each collection (see "What is a Finding Aid," at left). Not all of our finding aids are online yet, and not all collections have finding aids. Please do not hesitate to ask the Archives if you don't see the name or topic you are looking for here. The information you seek may be available through our other sources, including the Syllabus, the Daily Northwestern, the Archives' Photographic Collections, Subject Files, or General Files.