Archives are generically described as collections of information, documents, and records. The discovery and interpretation of archival material is at the heart of many forms of research from a range of academic disciplines to professions like journalism, history, law, and public policy. Understanding what information can be found, where it is, how to get your hands on it, and what to do once you’ve got it is what we cover in this course. Finding records is only half the battle. Once located, archival materials must be interpreted properly, contextualized within other material, and used in a way that meets certain disciplinary or professional standards.
The course is broken down into four parts, each tackling a different aspect of archival methods. The first is requesting information from public entities (like law enforcement or public transportation agencies and libraries or schools). Students will not only learn the history and rights associated with FOIA but will, in groups, submit FOIA requests for information. We cover FOIA requests first in the hopes of actually receiving responses before the end of the semester. Second, we will get comfortable in the archives, which can be incredibly intimidating. We will discuss the realities of digital archives as we attempt to use them to understand computing and internet history. We will then visit three technology related archives here in D.C. Third, we will investigate legal, policy, and governmental records at some of the most important buildings in America: the Law Library of Congress (where students will get researcher/library cards), the Library of Congress, and the National Archives. Finally, we will discuss how to track down information about people, businesses, and organizations like arrest, tax, voting, and ownership records.
Each visit and class will include readings of research products from the collections to better understand how resources can be successfully utilized and assignments to develop skills, comfort, and confidence. A final short research proposal (3,000-5,000 words) on a topic of the student’s choice will be due at the end of the course, that includes specific, detailed sources from at least three of the four portions of the course. Alternatively, students may draft a 3,000-5,000 word paper utilizing one or more the sources discovered during the course. Please note that many of the class sessions in this course do not take place on campus but prompt attendance is expected.