Conducting Archival Research

Archival research is a valuable form research when writing on material culture. This post will explore what exactly is considered archival research, why it is a valuable tool, and how to go about using this tool.

What is Archival Research?

Archival research is research that includes primary sources found in an archive, or a place that collects artifacts from a culture (Georgia State University Library). Typical items collected by an archive might include newspaper articles, audio recordings, videos, photographs, apparel, etc.. Anything small enough to fit inside of the building that keeps the archives could be included. Archives usually collect items of material culture that were important to a society, such as an early form of the American Flag.

Image result for first american flag
United States’s First Flag

Why Use Archival Research

Archival research can be especially useful when writing a paper on the material culture associated with an object. An archive could provide a person with more knowledge on the object they are researching, there could be other objects that relate to the researched object, or there might be record of important people coming in contact with the researched object. There are many reasons why using archival research could benefit a research project. For example, if someone was writing a paper on the first American flag, they may go to a local archives and look for items associated with that time period or other items associated with patriotic American history, such as newspaper articles about the flag or the creator of the flag. This could help greatly in their research of the flag.

How to Conduct Archival Research

A person should know how to conduct archival research in order to successfully find information in an archives. Firstly, a person should have an idea of what they are researching before going to an archives. Archives have a lot of information on many different topics. A person should also be aware that an archive may not have exactly what they are looking for; a person should not go into an archive looking for a certain thing in particular, but rather be looking for valuable information that could help their understanding of their research topic, whatever that information may be. When observing an item from the archives a person should ask themselves questions the item. To continue the American flag research example, if the person goes to the archives and finds a newspaper article about the newly created American flag, the researcher should ask themselves questions about the newspaper. They would maybe ask themselves “When and where was this newspaper published?” or “Who was the intended audience for this newspaper article?” If the newspaper article has the answer to these questions, it may provide more information to the researcher, such as an underlying political message. Also, when the researcher asks themselves questions, they could be led to other artifacts in the archives that could help also help with their research. For example, if the researcher is able to find out who published the article on the American flag, then they may be able to find other articles published by the same company that address the same topic. When a person searches for artifacts in an archive there may be many results. A researcher may not have the time to observe every item, so the researcher will have to omit some items from their research. When choosing items to omit, the researcher should quickly find the main idea of the items and judge whether to observe them more fully based on the item’s relevance to the researched topic and whether or not it supports the researcher’s claim.

Overall, archival research can be a very helpful tool in researching an item for a material culture. When using archival research it is important to know useful strategies for conducting research, such as asking oneself questions about the artifact and being able to determine which artifacts to omit from research. If a person utilizes an archive and knows these strategies, archival research can provide a researcher with more knowledge of their research object or topic.

Works Cited

“*Archival Research: Why Archival Research?” GSU Library Research Guides, 20 June 2017, Accessed 19 February 2018