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Hackney Library

FYS: Archival Exercise

A LibGuide containing images of pictures and documents for use in FYS Classes

Tips for Examining an Archival Document or Artifact

Here are some tips and information to keep in mind when you are examining an archival item for meaning and to help place it in context:

  • Archival projects are first and foremost about asking questions:  Who? What? When? Where? and perhaps most important, Why?
  • Primary sources document eyewitness, first-person experiences of the past through photographs, documents or artifacts. 
    • Documents are two-dimensional items such as photographs or papers
    • Artifacts, on the other hand, are three-dimensional objects such as a sorority paddle or a bulldog mascot toy.
  • Secondary sources such as articles, films, and books that discuss the past are called secondary sources, that is, sources that are a step or two away from the past events or persons the sources are discussing.
  • Examining primary sources is about finding clues and following the evidence: hairstyles and clothing in a photograph of students; the make and model of cars in dating the photograph of a building; or the physical landscape of the campus where a building is located.  Look carefully at the document or photograph: who or what is present?  Who or what is missing?