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Using Archives & Manuscripts: Evaluating Sources

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

Recommended Reading

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams.  The Craft of Research, 3rd ed.  Chicago:  Univ of Chicago Press, 2008.
Call #:  Tamiment Ref Q180.55.M4 B66 2008;
Call #:  Bobst Reserves Q180.55.M4 B66 2008


Thomas Mann.  The Oxford Guide to Library Research:  How to Find Reliable Information Online and Offline, 3rd ed.  New York:  Oxford Univ Press, 2005.
Call #:  Bobst Ref1 Z710 .M23 1998.  (2nd ed.)

William Cronon.  Learning to Do Historical Research:  A Primer for Environmental Historians and Others .  Although this website was created with environmental historians in mind, it is intended to assist "anyone seeking to learn the craft of doing historical research."

Evaluating Sources

Whether using primary or secondary sources, in print or online, an essential step in the research process is evaluating your sources.  Good scholarship requires careful reading and critical analysis of information.

Basic evaluation criteria for all sources, adapted from The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007), include the following:  

Author Authority 
Who created the item?  What is his or her affiliation?  

Audience and Purpose
Who is the intended audience?  Why was the item created?

Accuracy and Completeness
Is the evidence reliable?  Are the important points covered?

Footnotes and Documentation
Are the author's sources clearly identified with complete citations to allow you to find the original source yourself?

Perspective and Bias
How do the author's bias and perspective inform the arguments and evidence presented?

Image: Stewardesses for Women's Rights. Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.