Archives exist to make collections of rare and unique materials, often primary sources, available for research. They are documentary evidence of the past that we use to interpret and understand history. They might reflect the life of an individual, or the history of a group, organization, business, or event. There are repositories that are dedicated to preserving and managing such collections. The archivists at these sites assess, collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to these cultural heritage collections.
Primary sources: Original documents, evidence, first-hand accounts, created or experienced contemporaneously with the topic being researched.
Examples: letters, diaries, student organization records, scrapbooks, photographs, maps, land records, blueprints, Greek organization records, course bulletins & catalogs, artifacts, residence hall records, oral histories, films, audio recordings, newsletters, yearbooks, and newspaper articles written during the time being researched.
Secondary sources: Works that are not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the topic being researched. Instead, they rely on primary sources for information. They typically analyze and interpret primary sources.
Examples: books, journal articles, magazine and newspaper articles, biographies.
Here are some questions to keep in mind when analyzing primary sources:
Key term: A finding aid is a guide to an archival collection. It helps researchers find primary and secondary sources relevant to their research. Each finding aid provides historical or biographical context and explains how it is organized and its inclusive contents. Here’s a guide that describes the parts of a finding aid.
These resources provide more guidance on the archival research process: