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Archival research basics

In This Guide

Evaluating archival sources

Once you have found archival sources there are some things to keep in mind as you use them:

  • Archives are excellent places to find primary sources, but they often contain secondary sources as well. For more information on how to tell whether a source is a primary or secondary sources, see the library's guide to primary versus secondary sources.
  • Even though a primary source is a firsthand account of an event, it may still have bias. People who see the same event may see it from different physical perspectives which can affect what they see, have cultural or other personal backgrounds that will affect what they notice or report, or may intend to describe it in a way that could affect the understanding of the event among people who weren't there themselves.
  • Archives do not always contain comprehensive documentation of an event or topic. Are certain groups of people or perspectives represented in the collections more than others? Why might this be?
  • Not all documentation that is created survives. For example, often we don't keep our day to day grocery store receipts, emails, or snapshots on our phone. Companies and government agencies often have records retention schedules that may require certain types of records be destroyed after a period of time, like personnel files or accounts receivable logs. Or maybe some of the documents had coffee spilled on them, and were thrown out. What are the documentary gaps in what you are looking at and how might those gaps affect your research?

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