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Researching with Archival & Special Collections Primary Source Materials

Cross- and Interdisciplinarity

You may be thinking, I don't think anyone does historical research in my field. Or, I've never heard of any archival or special collections materials relevant to my field. The truth is that archival and special collections primary sources touch on virtually any and every field or discipline. If you're still not sure, think about searching for and analyzing these materials as a means of honing and maximizing your research, questioning, and critical thinking skills. Those are skills that will help you get ahead, regardless of discipline and will impress your instructors and future employers.

You Are The Expert!

A unique element of archival and special collections primary source research is that you become the expert! Even if you're not studying history. Even if you've never encountered a similar item or object before. When you read an article or a book, someone is presenting knowledge to you that they have interpreted and contextualized. When you are the person looking at an original first-hand account, even for the first time, you get to interpret it and do your own research to contextualize it. You gain the advantage of describing it, deciding what it means and why it's  important to your work, and then passing your new finding on to others. You are now, after all, the expert!

Everything Has A History

If you're still wondering about subject relevance, keep in mind that every discipline has a history. What you are learning today evolved over time and much knowledge and insight can be gained by looking back over that trajectory.

Here are just a few example questions you might be surprised to learn you can answer by delving into archival and special collections at the Mahn Center, and just one suggested resource for each to get you started. Keep in mind that we have much more than what is listed below!:

And so much more! If you aren't sure, please just ask.