An archive is an organization dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular group: a city, a province or state, a business, a university, or a community. Archival materials are primary sources and include things like letters, diaries, manuscripts, newspaper articles, as well as audio/visual and born-digital items like tweets or oral histories.
The professionals who assess, collect, organize, preserve, and facilitate access to archival collections are called archivists. While there is a lot of overlap in the types of work that librarians and archivists do, these are often separate sorts of positions that require slightly different types of professional training.
Archives can be found anywhere. You might have collections of your own personal records, or those of your family members. These are called personal archives. In an institutional setting, archives are often nested within libraries, though sometimes they also exist as their own unique space. In a university setting, archives are often housed within a library's special collections.
At Brown University, there are many archival collections which can be found in a number of places:
Items in an archive do not circulate, meaning you cannot bring these items home. Rather, you typically need to make an appointment with the library in order to use these objects. You can learn more about how to set up an appointment to use Brown’s archival collections here. While the Brown University Libraries are currently closed, some collections can be accessed online. You can search the catalog or contact the library with questions.
A finding aid is a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of materials within an archive. Archival collections can be quite large, and physical collections can contain hundreds or thousands of records. Finding aids help institutions to maintain intellectual control of their collections, and they also help researchers determine what sorts of items can be found in a given collection.
Finding aids generally give an overview of the whole collection, including describing the provenance –or the origins and history of ownership– of items in the collection. A finding aid will also:
Try to locate a finding aid in Brown University's collection. You can access finding aids through BruKnow, Brown's online catalog, or through Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online (RIAMCO). You can filter your RIAMCO search results by institution in order to exclusively display finding aids from Brown University.
Once you have selected a finding aid, try out locating the following information:
You can learn more about Brown's archives and manuscript collections here.
Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research. Laura Schmidt, The Society of American Archivists. 2016.
John Ridener. From Polders to Postmodernism : a Concise History of Archival Theory. Duluth, Minn.: Litwin Books, 2009.
Archives and Social Justice Reading Group from the University of Texas at Austin.
The Hows and Whys of Finding Aids. Dorothy Berry, Harvard University Library, 2020.
Identifying and Addressing Archival Silences in Your Research. This tutorial provides an overview of what archival silences are, some underlying reasons on why they exist, and how you can address them in your research.
This guide was designed to help you: