Advice on Research for the Graduate
This assignment calls for you to work with some original historical materials. Enjoy that
experience. Several of you have already told me of the charge at holding a 200 year old diary in
your hands and reading about real people encountering the events that somehow seem more
remote when they are in a secondary source.
Remember, your task is to find sources that give you a glimpse of public life in which its author
participated. The following should help with that process.
Indexing Sources your should know
- NUCMUC: The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. The indexing source for
manuscript collections. You need to be aware of which libraries are within your power to visit.
- NIDS: National Inventory of Documentary Sources. This is a CD-ROM available in McKeldin
that inventories manuscript collections. I have not yet used it.
- Diary Indexes: There are a number of publications that contain lists of diaries on various
subjects. These often are published. Although they are acceptable to use, I recommend that
you get the experience of working with original materials if you can.
- Finding Aids: Manuscript libraries often have finding aids that help you locate specific
material of interest. Learn to use these.
Using an archive
If you have not used an archive before, you need to know that they have specific rules that are
different from other libraries. Typically, you will need to work under highly controlled conditions,
have no privilege of check-out, be allowed to only use a pencil, and use only one item at a time.
In addition, photocopy privileges are often quite limited and you may be restricted in the
notebooks and other materials you can take into a viewing room. The following will help:
- When you first enter the archive learn the rules that govern use of materials. These are usually
about a page long and you can become a real problem if you don't know them.
- Be sure and work with the archivist. Although "I want to look at a diary" is too general a
request, they are there to help you with finding the material that will be useful to you. Be sure
to share the assignment with them and see if they have any suggestions. Ultimately, however,
depend on them for how to proceed.
- Leave yourself plenty of time. You may not hit on the first diary you examine or even the
second or third. Don't rush yourself too much.
- Take extensive notes. As always lots of time can be lost if you have to return to sources and
have trouble locating them. These problems are multiplied in an archive. Take good notes
from the start.
- Handle materials carefully. Remember you are handling paper that in some cases is over 200
years old. Sometimes the library wants you to wear gloves. Always take care to avoid tearing
brittle paper and touch surfaces as little as possible.
- Above all, enjoy yourself. This is one of the rewards of historical work.
Archives in our area with manuscript collections
- The Maryland Room.
At McKeldin, 3rd floor. Have some diaries of Maryland families. Although plans
are to eventually have the collection on VICTOR, it is not yet.
- Library of Congress. There are many guides to Library of Congress collections that we have in
the collection at McKeldin. I would use some of these before you go to the library. But by all
means, go to the library.
- National Archives. In truth, I do not believe there are too many diaries in the Archives. You
may find other documentary sources useful, however.
- Maryland State Archives. On Rowe Blvd in Annapolis. Obviously specializes in Maryland
material. Has family papers of various important Maryland families.
- George Meany Archives.
West of New Hampshire Avenue and Powder Mill Road, just north of the beltway
in Hillandale. Obviously the focus here is on labor material.
- Eisenhower Library, Johns
Hopkins University. Baltimore. This has surprisingly little historical information.
But you can get to all finding aids on line, so check it out before you go
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