Primary Sources in American History and Culture

Exploring Real and Virtual Archives

Exploring archival materials can be a rich and rewarding experience. Using original materials can often bring to light previously unknow facts as well as add originality to your research. The researcher visiting an archive has the priviledge of seeing and holding a piece of history, an experience which the virtual student misses.

A Virtual Treasure House

Throughout this guide you will see reference to American Memory. The Library of Congress began in the early 1990s a project to document the American experience by digitizing its collections as well as those of cooperating institutions. The sources available through this database include sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, sheet music, and a wide assortment of manuscript materials. This database is constantly growing and to-date it has over 5 million items available on-line.

Archival Terminology

The researcher should be aware of archival terminology in order to get the most from your visit to an archive. The following definitions are from the Society of American Archivists:

Access--availability of historical materials through physical arrangement and intellectual guides

Acquisition--addition to the holdings of a repository of materials received by transfer, gift, bequest, purchase or deposit

Appraisal--the process of determining the value of records

Archivist--an educated, trained and experienced professional engaged in the management of archival and special collections materials

Arrangement--the pattern of organization of materials

Artifact--a 3 dimensional object showing human workmanship

Description--providing intellectual access to records

Finding Aid--a tool that provides access to a collection of records

Preservation--the process involved in the stabilization and protection of documents against damage or deterioration and in the treatment of damaged or deteriorated documents

Provenance--the archival principle that records the different offices of origin


Locating Archives and Manuscripts

About Me

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Jessica Wagner Webster
Newman Library, 523