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History 100 (Amussen)

Library Research for The Historian's Craft

Information Environment

Primary source materials located in digital collections are available in physical form elsewhere, most often in an archive. See Types of Archives from the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

Archives are collections of rare or unique first-hand information, known as records, in various forms including, but not limited to:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Documents
  • Reports
  • Memos
  • Manuscripts (unfinished or personal materials not intended for publication e.g. personal notes, diaries etc.)
  • Ephemera (flyers, programs, tickets, brochures, advertisements – intended to be discarded after use)

 See What are archives? from The National Archives (UK). See Archives and Special Collections (UCLA Library)

Archival Terms & Concepts

These are some other important archive terms and concepts.

Fonds :a collection of records originating from the same creator (person, organization, agency etc.) emerge from the creators work and life. See Dictionary of Archives Terminology.

  • Sample: unpublished writings of a poet

Archival Organization: Fonds --> (Sub-Fonds) --> Series --> (Sub-Series) --> File --> Item

  • See image below.

archival organization


*A series may be held in one or more boxes with folders.  See the image below of Tip O'Neill Congressional Papers stored in archival boxes with Series and Subseries information on the labels. 

"Archival boxes" by Burns Library, Boston College is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"Archival boxes" by Burns Library, Boston College is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Provenance aka custodial history: the individual, family, or organization that created or received the items in a collection. (Items from the same origin are kept together.) See Dictionary of Archives Terminology.

Finding Aid / Collection Guide: Description of an archival resource including provenance, scope, organization and arrangement, and an inventory of series and folders.  Some findings aids may include single item descriptions. See Dictionary of Archives Terminology.

  • Sample: Collection Guide for Merced County, UC Cooperative Extension Records in the Online Archive of California (OAC)

Metadata: “data about data”; information to describe a resource. See Dictionary of Archives Terminology.

What is a Primary Source?

Describes primary sources and uses a historical example (2:39) Produced by Adam Matthew & TextQuest

Primary and Secondary Sources

Explains the basic difference between primary (ground-level evidence for any discipline) and secondary sources (anything created using primary sources) but also indicates that what constitutes as primary and secondary sources depends on the discipline. (3:53) Produced by UWF Libraries & Joshua Vossler.

Wheel of Sources

Provides definitions of primary and secondary sources and excellent examples of primary sources depending on the source types AND research topic. (UCLA Libraries)

Key Terms from the Video