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Guide to Archival Research

A guide on using archival materials held in the University Archives

What are archival materials?

Archival materials are materials created or received by a person, family, organization, or business, in the conduct of their affairs. They serve as evidence of past actions and events. 

Archival materials record information about past activities and events.  They act as memory aids that allow us to recall and relive these activities and events, or to re-communicate information about them at some point in the future. 

Archival materials are preserved as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator or because of their enduring value.

What kind of materials can I find in an archives?

Archival materials can include a wide variery of formats:

  • Textual records (e.g., correspondence, meeting minutes, reports, etc.)
  • Photographs
  • Architectural plans
  • Blueprints
  • Audiovisual records (e.g., tape, film, video, etc.)
  • Computer files (e.g., word documents, spreadsheets, software files, etc.)
  • Data sets (e.g., databases, GIS data, etc.)
  • Scrapbooks

How do I find information about archival collections?

Archives usually create "finding aids," which are standardized descriptions of their collections. The purpose of the finding aid is to communicate to researchers:

  • What records an archives has acquired
  • Who created the records and in what context
  • The nature and scope of the material in a collection
  • Whether access and/or use restrictions have been placed on a collection

This information should enable researchers to determine whether particular holdings are relevant to their research and thus warrant a visit to the archives to consult the original records in person. Like records in a library catalogue, archival finding aids do not typically include copies of the actual original records themselves. The vast majority of archival material must be consulted onsite.

However, many archives are now uploading digital copies of records when available. For example, the Dalhousie University Archives Catalogue and Online Collections and the website have the ability to "attach" digital copies of records directly to the finding aids.

Subject Guide

Creighton Barrett
University Archives
5th Floor, Killam Memorial Library
PO Box 15000
6225 University Avenue
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3H 4R2
(902) 494-6490
Website / Blog Page

Do you have an archival reference collection?

Yes!  Many of our most frequently used materials can be found in the University Reference Collection.  The collection includes things like:

  • Dalhousie University yearbooks : 1927-1999 in paper; 1927-1975 are available in DalSpace
  • Dalhousie Gazette : volume 1 (1869) to present in paper; volume 1 (1869) to volume 145,no.23 (2013) are available in DalSpace
  • University Calendars : 1865/66 to the present in paper; Calenders from 1865/66 to 1950/51 are available in DalSpace
  • Some records from student groups and other campus organizations
  • Records from Dalhousie convocations
  • Other records relating to the history of Dalhousie University

The reference collection is very large. We have prepared a Guide to the History of Dalhousie that helps identify key reference sources.

Contact Archives staff for assistance if you need help finding reference material.