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Diversity in Archives: Search strategies

Guide to searching for diverse voices within archive collections at Hull History Centre

Search strategies

 

Archive catalogues can be difficult to use if you're new to them, or searching for a subject. This page gives you some general tips and suggestions for getting started.

Search for key words

Although archive catalogues don’t usually use subject terms, such as you’d find in a library catalogue, they may mention major themes of the collection. Try searching for key words linked to your subject. For example, if you’re looking for materials relating to women’s history, you could try searching for terms such as “suffrage”, “feminism”, or even just “women”. If you’re looking for disability history, try “disabled” or “disability”.

If you find an item using a key word search, look through the rest of the series or collection to see if there’s further material that might be useful.

Search for names you know

You might already have an idea of prominent names in the field you’re researching. Try searching for them in the catalogue and see where they lead you.

Use your secondary research to identify possible names and search terms, or see the other pages in this guide for suggestions of where to start with Hull History Centre’s collections.

Be aware of historical terms

Archives catalogues generally use the language of the records they’re describing, so be aware of how language was used in the past, which may not be in line with what we would say today. For example, within a collection of asylum records you might find a “Register of Lunatics”. This was an acceptable term 150 years ago, although today we would never refer in that way to a person with mental illness. Being aware of historical terms like these will help you search and interpret your search results.

Search for types of record

Think about the kind of information you’re hoping to find, and then try to work out where it might have been recorded.

If you’re looking for people’s personal experiences, try searching for "diary" or "diaries", "letters" or "correspondence".

If you’re looking for campaigning literature, try "campaign", "leaflet", or "pamphlet".

If you’re looking for official records, try "minutes", "report" or "register".

Think laterally

Try to think about what kind of person or organisation might have created records relevant to your subject.

For example, Hull University Archives contains a large number of documents created by Labour and Socialist organisations. Historically, left-wing organisations have been involved in pursuing equality, and as a result they often represent marginalised voices at a higher rate than others. Publications by such organisations can therefore help find more information and other search terms to use, though the works themselves are often about – rather than by – people belonging to marginalised groups.

Look also at campaigning organisations such as Liberty (reference U DCL) or the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (reference U DCW). They are likely to have created records relating to refugees, race relations, women’s rights and so on.