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HIST 496102: Honors Seminar


Organizing your Primary Material

This is a guide to bibliographic construction and approaching the archive.

Approaching Primary Sources and Information Organization

When approaching your archives, it's important to stay organized from the beginning to ease the research and writing processes later on. Toward that end, here are a few suggestions for doing primary source research.

Approaching the Archive

Before going to the archive, have the following information prepared:

  • Research question and preliminary thesis;
  • Keyword maps for search archival collections;
  • Organizational plan for note-taking;
  • Set-up for storing digital material including photographs taken in the archive.

A good scholar organizes and tags their material as they go. It's a terrible feeling to remember that you read that interesting thing once and to have no idea when or where. 

Organizing Digital Objects

Keywords: Selecting and Collecting

There are two main purposes to your keywords:

  1. as search terms for your archival visit and
  2. for your notes and record keeping.

Begin collecting keywords before you visit the archive to use as search terms to look through finding aids or archival catalogs. To do this, write out your research question (i.e., why did the chicken cross the road in 1975 in Brighton, MA?).


All those keywords you selected for going into the archive should be used as metadata for sorting and organizing your primary sources. There are a few vital pieces of information you should note and track as you work:

  • Author
  • Title of document (if it exists)
  • Date of creation/publication
  • Type of document
  • Source
  • Keywords associated with your project

Consider using Zotero and/or Tropy to keep that information in a centralized spot.