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doing archival research How to Find a Needle in a Haystack jason gallo The National Archives is a public trust on which our democracy depends. We enable people to inspect for themselves the record of what government has done. We enable of‹cials and agencies to review their actions and help citizens hold them accountable. We ensure continuing access to essential evidence that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of Federal (and other) of‹cials, and the national experience. —Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, March 7, 2005 Archival research can often feel like a test of endurance and patience. Multiple storage sites, elaborate naming conventions, and a matrix of rules and regulations that govern access to and use of primary source material make doing archival research a challenging enterprise. Nevertheless, the payoffs can be extraordinary. Finding a key memo or report buried in thousands of cubic feet of archived ‹les can make all of the difference to the successful completion of a truly original research project. By following a strategy based upon three principles, it is possible to locate valuable historical documents in an ef‹cient and cost-effective manner. The ‹rst principle is to prepare assiduously in advance of an archival 262 site visit. It is important to determine the location and availability of the most relevant documents and make all preparations for the visit before leaving home. A good rule of thumb is to start preparations at least six weeks before you plan to visit your intended research destination. This will provide you with the requisite time to locate an appropriate collection and inquire about its availability, contact administrators and archivists at the site, prepare your equipment, and make appropriate travel arrangements without having to scramble for last-minute tickets or accommodations. Second, it is essential to plan the logistical details of the site visit in advance by developing a working knowledge of the archive’s operations and regulations . This will maximize primary source research precisely by minimizing the amount of time and energy spent dealing with the bureaucratic regulations and idiosyncrasies of the particular archive. Finally, one must be willing to seek advice and learn from the expertise of on-site professionals. They will be familiar with the scope and content of their collection and in most cases be ready to provide researchers with time-saving suggestions. This chapter gives a detailed account of the various steps that can be taken to navigate the maze of federal archives. The chapter is divided into the following major sections: thoughts about archival research as a scholarly practice, pretrip preparation, general guidelines for doing on-site archival research, a concrete example of conducting research using the federal resources of the National Archives collection , what to do once you return home, and ‹nally major takeaway lessons. The advice in each section is generally applicable to research in any archive, regardless of its size or the scope of its collections. I will discuss common bureaucratic regulations, security measures, the appropriate use of equipment, and effective techniques for organizing ‹ndings for later use. While the chapter focuses primarily on ‹nding and duplicating textual ‹les, the use and duplication of audio, ‹lm, and photographic records is also discussed brie›y. why archival research? At its core, archival research involves the search for and use of existing information to provide answers to scholarly research questions. Before embarking on a costly and time-intensive archival research trip it is vital to assess whether conducting archival research is right for you. This entails determining what your research questions are and whether primary source data will help you to answer them. Broadly stated, archived information Doing Archival Research • 263 constitutes a data set that is generated, collected, and organized by third parties, and available for analysis by scholars. According to Hill (1993, 2), “The institutional fabric of modern societies captures traces of individuals, organizations, and social movements in a variety of complex ways, including physical traces collected in cultural monuments such as libraries, museums , and formal archives.” These “physical traces” of individuals, organizations , and social movements constitute a set of archived information that can include, but is not limited to, government documents, personal correspondence, memos, voting records, photographs, audio and visual recordings, databases, and quantitative public records. There are two common misconceptions about archival research that should be addressed. The ‹rst is that archival research constitutes a method for data analysis. Instead, as Harris (2001, 330) notes, archival research cannot be contained by a...


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