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Finding Archives: Research guides

Guide to searching for archival material

“We're here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”

Whoopi Goldberg 

What are research guides?

In addition to compiling catalogues, archivists might also create online and printed research guides.

Research guides highlight substantial collections held by an archive repository on a broad theme, for example business records, civil rights, etc. Individual collections, which fall into the category under discussion, are listed and the following information is typically highlighted:

  • Contextual details providing an overview of the creator of the collection
  • Specific topics covered by records in the collection
  • Brief description of the types of records contained in the collection (usually illustrated with digitised examples)
  • Reference number of the collection, allowing researchers to look up a full catalogue of the records

One of the problems with online catalogues and portals is that, in order to find anything, researchers must actively search for something using various search fields. Browsing is difficult, if not impossible. Research guides allow researchers to browse the collections of a particular repository by highlighting material in a less detailed but more thematic way.

Research guides can be a great first port of call when designing a research project. They allow you to see whether substantial material exists for a given subject or theme.


Where do you find research guides?

Unfortunately, there is no central point of access to research guides. As these resources are created by individual repositories, the best place to start is usually the websites of individual repositories.

Alongside their online catalogues, repositories tend to include links on their websites to any digitised or online research guides that have been produced.

The term 'research guide' might not always be used to describe these resources. If you cannot find a research guides page, look to see if there is an 'explore the collections', 'what's in the collections', or similar section of the website which might serve the same purpose.

Sometimes, there might be printed guides that do not appear on websites. It is always worth dropping into a repository to explore what finding aids are available on site. Alternatively, if you live at a distance, you might try contacting a repository to ask if there are any printed guides that can be sent by post, or to see if an archivist can advise you or any substantive material on a given subject.

Explore some research guides

Use the tabs below to explore available research guides from The National Archives and Hull History Centre.

Don't forget to browse the websites of other archive repositories to see if they have created any research guides that might help you.