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Using Archives In Your Research: Welcome

About this Guide

What do you think of when someone says ‘archives’?

Perhaps you get a mental image of row upon row of old volumes stacked on long lengths of shelves...

Are archives where you store important emails or computer files on your hard drive, or the bit of a website or blog where you look for older entries?                                                                                  

Perhaps you think of an ancient crumbling document covered in inky writing?

Do you remember seeing footnotes in your textbooks, proof that the author has looked at primary sources?

Maybe you have seen television history programmes where the presenter has visited an archive to see a document in a quiet reading room, wearing white gloves with a suitably awed expression as they touch the precious artefact?

Do you think of celebrities weeping on Who Do You Think You Are as the archivist shows them a ledger which proves the tragic fate of their ancestors?

Or maybe you have come across films and television shows which feature archives or archivists, like The Da Vinci Code, Possession, National Treasure or The Mummy? The rows and rows of old boxes containing files and evidence in Cold Case? Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings researching the provenance of the One Ring, candle alight as he leafs through piles of documents? Obi-Wan wondering who erased the planet Kamino from the Jedi Archives in Attack of the Clones?

Even computer games can include archives – such as the side quest in Fallout 3 where the player is tasked to recover the Declaration of Independence from the American National Archives.

The overwhelming stereotype of an archive seems to be a hushed sanctum, often tucked away in a basement, containing piles of old volumes and crumbling paper, or rows of filing cabinets. Archivists are shy and retiring, bumbling and fussy, cardigan-wearing anti-social guardians of their documents.

This learning resource aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions, showing you how useful archives can be to your study and explaining how you go about finding and using archive collections.

Please use the tabs across the top of the screen to navigate through and find out about the theories behind archival procedures, practical information about visiting and using archives, as well as information about special collections/rare books, museums and art collections. The guide includes case studies of DMU students who have enjoyed using archive material in their work, and ends with some information about pursuing a career in the archive sector.