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Using Archives & Manuscripts: Definitions

Overview of using archives and manuscripts, including tips for research visits, handling materials, and quoting and citing in academic work or publications.

Definitions

The most basic terms are defined below.  Consult the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology from the Society of American Archivists for additional information.

Archives

Manuscripts

Personal Papers

Primary Source

Secondary Source

Finding Aids

 

 

 

Primary Source

Primary Source:  n. ~ Material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness.

Notes:  Primary sources emphasize the lack of intermediaries between the thing or events being studied and reports of those things or events based on the belief that firsthand accounts are more accurate. Examples of primary sources include letters and diaries; government, church, and business records; oral histories; photographs, motion pictures, and videos; maps and land records; and blueprints. Newspaper articles contemporaneous with the events described are traditionally considered primary sources, although the reporter may have compiled the story from witnesses, rather than being an eyewitness. Artifacts and specimens may also be primary evidence if they are the object of study.

From The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses, http://www.archivists.org/glossary/index.asp.

Secondary Source

Secondary Source:  n. ~ 1. A work that is not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the subject, but instead relies on sources of information.   2. A work commenting on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticism, and commentaries.

From The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses, http://www.archivists.org/glossary/index.asp.

SAA Glossary

Browse the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology from the Society of American Archivists for additional information.

Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (SAA)

Archives

Archives: (also archive), n. ~ 1. Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records. – 2. The division within an organization responsible for maintaining the organization's records of enduring value. – 3. An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations; a collecting archives. – 4. The professional discipline of administering such collections and organizations. – 5. The building (or portion thereof) housing archival collections. – 6. A published collection of scholarly papers, especially as a periodical.

From The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary

Manuscripts

Manuscripts: n. (ms, abbr.) ~ 1. A handwritten document. – 2. An unpublished document. – 3. An author's draft of a book, article, or other work submitted for publication.

From The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary

Personal Papers

Personal Papers: (also personal records, private papers), n. ~ 1. Documents created, acquired, or received by an individual in the course of his or her affairs and preserved in their original order (if such order exists). – 2. Nonofficial documents kept by an individual at a place of work.

From The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary

Finding Aid

Finding Aid: n. ~ 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records. 2. A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.

Notes: Finding aid includes a wide range of formats, including card indexes, calendars, guides, inventories, shelf and container lists, and registers. "Finding aid" is a single document that places the materials in context by consolidating information about the collection, such as acquisition and processing; provenance, including administrative history or biographical note; scope of the collection, including size, subjects, media; organization and arrangement; and an inventory of the series and the folders.

From The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary