- Politics and International Studies
- Preparing for University
Heading to the Archives
Archives can be an intimidating environment, and it is easy to feel lost. To help make them seem a little more accessible, I have created a guide with the helpful tips I have found through my own visits.
Where to start
You will need to do your research on the different archives available to you. Most archive have at least a limited online catalogues to get a sense of whether they will be beneficial to your research. If you are unsure about the type of things they have and whether it is worth a trip, it is completely fine to email them. Depending on the size of the archive, you will often get a response in a couple of days, and they are always friendly and willing to help you with anything they can.
How to book
It is common practice within archives to have a booking system for the use of their reading rooms. This may be through an online application form or dropping them an email with your preferred dates and times. If booking is via email, it is good practice in the email to mention a particular collection that you are interested in viewing or the topic so that they have an idea of how to best facilitate your visit.
What to do before your visit
To get the most out of your visit make a list of the items you want to look at and if there is any particular collection you want to focus on. Depending on the archive, you may be able to pre-order items and these often have a deadline for this so make sure you have everything ordered and ready for you visit. If the archive does not have a pre-order system having a few things noted down from their catalogue to get you started with when you get there to help streamline your visit.
What to bring
There are the basics which you will want to bring with you, laptop (and charger don’t want to be caught out with a low battery!), as well as a notepad and a pencil.
If you are going to be taking pictures of the items you look at, using your phone is common practice. To help keep track of all the picture you take using some paper to note down the reference and including that in the photo will help you when you come to organise them later.
On the day
On arrival, you will be asked to either pop your belongings into a cloakroom or locker. Depending on the different rules of the archive, you may be allowed to bring a bottle of water in with you. Check you have everything out of your bag that you may need so you don’t waste any time. I’ve been scorned by heading to the reading room only to have to trek back down to the cloakroom because I had forgotten my headphones.
It is tempting to work intensely for hours to make the most of your time on your first visit. It is important, though, to make sure you are taking water breaks and getting up to stretch. Often going over materials can be a little more intense than working in the university library, so it is good to go at your own pace with it.
After the Trip
After visiting the archive and getting all the notes and pictures of all the primary sources you were looking for, keeping them organised is now crucial. The first step is to make sure any notes/images are backed up onto your laptop and you have them saved in multiple places. Create a document for the photos you’ve created and ensure all your references are complete and attached to the correct source. General housekeeping of your notes and database will make sure you don’t end up losing any research and save you time when you start writing.
In addition, it is worth going through and evaluating what will be useful from the sources you’ve collected. The sources available to you whilst in the archive can mean you often go down rabbit holes of research. You could use these notes for future work, so they are still worth documenting and popping into a database somewhere. But for the piece of work which encouraged your visit, consider this whilst going through all the stuff you have collected.
Finally, after a day or two in the archive, having a small break will help in the long run. Being huddled over sources for the past few days can turn your head to mush a little, so a break is defiantly deserved. Remember to get outside and turn off your brain for a few hours before returning to your findings.