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Primary Source Research: Access Tools

How to do Primary Source Research

How to Search for Archival Collections (Page created by Susan McElrath.)

Once you have a topic and some basic search terms, you can start looking for primary sources.  ArchiveGrid is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking primary sources.

If we continue our research into women and the cold war, we can begin by seeking materials relating to U.S. based organizations. Let's try looking for collections about Women Strike for Peace in ArchiveGrid.

Our search retrieved over 1,000 records. The list provides a short description of each collection as well as its location.

When comparing the information in the second through fourth items on the list above, pay close attention to the following: the different focus of the collections (national office vs. Washington, DC office); date ranges; and sizes. This information will help you determine which collection is most relevant for your research.

Catalog Records

Information on archival collections will either be at the collection level or the folder level. Collection level information is typically found in catalogs and databases. A collection level record will provide a description of the collection including its size, date span, and significant topics covered. Here is an example from AU's Special Collections Department:

The summary above describes the contents of the collection while the notes section provides a short history of the organization.

Collection Guides and Finding Aids

From the summary information in a catalog record, you can often connect to a finding aid or collection guide which will provide folder level information. The beginning of a finding aid will provide summary information similar to what you would find in a catalog record. From there you can search or navigate through the document to locate specific materials of interest. The side panel in the example below provides links to the various portions of the collection.

If you click on the link for the San Franciso Women for Peace Office Records, you will retrieve specifics about that portion of the collection. One interesting thing about this collection is that it includes materials from three organizations. The side panel in the screenshot below shows the links to the other portions of the collection for those organizations.

Subject Guide

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Kathryn Ray
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