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WRIT 301: Advanced Communication Skills - Kirsch: Archival Research

Resources for the course WRIT 301: Advanced Communication Skills (Kirsch)

Archives Research: How It Can Help You!

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. 

Primary sources are characterized not by their format but rather by the information they convey and their relationship to the research question. The interpretation and evaluation of these sources becomes the basis for other research--your research!

Archives are organizations that collect the records of individuals, families, or other organizations. Each archive describes the particular records that they focus on collecting and preserving in a collection policy. Each archive, whether large or small, manages unique records. There are archives solely dedicated to architecture, theater costumes, comics books, cars, and menus! Archivists work to ensure trustworthy representation and preservation of primary source documents for special interest groups.

The resources on this page will help you determine which organization holds records of interest to you, and how to access them. 

Visiting Archives for On-Site Research

Archives are tasked with preserving and making appropriate resources accessible for research, which means these original items cannot leave their physical repository. Archives either provide research room hours, or ask that you make an appointment. Some archives require that you fill out a form in advance. Not all archives provide reference services, which means that you will need to travel to their on-site research location.

Getting started:

  • Always learn as much as you can about the archival collection you are interested in by reading their descriptions in online catalogs. While the majority of archival records are open for research, any access restrictions will be noted in the record descriptions.
  • Determine what your needs are. Will you be taking notes? Do you expect to receive photocopies? Are you going to publish the material? Some archives have duplication or research fees. For permission to reproduce or publish, ask what the archives policies are--this may also be at additional cost. 
  • If you are planning on citing information for academic writing, make sure you ask an archives staff about their preferred citation for items in their repository.
  • Once you have identified the specific record collections you would like to research, contact the archives in advance. Even if archives have standard research hours, communicating your research interests may allow the archives staff members to prepare materials in advance of your visit. Some records preparation may take over 24-hours. Every archive will have their contact information on their website.
  • Prepare for your visit! Review the archive's policies and procedures on their website. Archives rarely allow photography, food, or drink and may ask you to leave your phone and additional bags outside of the research room.

About the Archives Profession

What are Archives and Archivists? The Society of American Archivists (SAA) is North America's oldest and largest national archival professional organization. Members are active in working groups, task forces, and committees including outreach. Their website includes information for individuals interested in the field, and more.

LA Archives Bazaar is held yearly in October (celebrating National Archives Month) by the LA as Subject organization. It's a fun resource and informational fair where a diverse number of archives in or around Los Angeles County converge. You can talk to staff member specialists at various archives or listen in on organized talks.


Be an Honorary Archivist for a Day, or an Hour!

Archives projects that make unique historical records available are often grant-funded and rely on hundreds of volunteer hours. Various crowdsourcing projects allow individuals like you to contribute your time, knowledge, and brain power to help make archival collections richly described. Research and learn at the same time by participating in a project. Visit the links below to learn more.

Colored Conventions Project: Transcribe records of the nineteenth-century African American Colored Conventions Movement. The first batch of available documents includes well-known leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet from the 1840s.

DIY History at the University of Iowa encourages transcription of documents from Civil War, World War I, and World War II diaries, cookbooks, building the transcontinental railroad, and more.

The National Archives Transcription Mission 

General Archives

Select African American, Latin American, Native American, and Asian American Resources

African American Oral Histories accessible online from the Oral History Center at the University of Louisville, the National Visionary Leadership Project, and the UCLA Center for Oral History Research, Behind the Veil collection at Duke University.

Asian American Archival Collections accessible online at the Southeast Asian Archive at UC Irvine Libraries, South Asian American Digital ArchiveHouston Asian American Archives oral histories, and the New York Historical Society's digital resources on Chinese American Exclusion/Inclusion.

The Densho Digital Archive holds interviews, photos, documents, and newspapers that document the Japanese American experience from immigration in the early 1900s through redress in the 1980s with a particular focus on the World War II mass incarceration.

The Libraries and Archives of the Autry hold unique, rare and significant primary and secondary resources focusing on the peoples and cultures of the American West. Their collection database online searches the Braun Research Library and Autry Library holdings of rare books, serials, maps, photographs, artwork, sound recordings, and manuscript collections.

The LLILAS Benson Digital Collections include the archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative, audio programs related to the Mexican American community and their concerns from 1976-1982, oral histories of Latinos and Latinas in WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War generations, and more. 

National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center actively acquires and serves as a repository for the records of contemporary Native American artists, writers, activists, and organizations. In addition, the Archive Center holds the records of the NMAI’s predecessor institution, the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), Heye Foundation.

Southern Labor Archive: Georgia State University's Southern Labor Archives presents the documentary heritage of Southern workers and their unions, as well as that of workers and unions having a historic relationship to the region.