Manuscripts and Special Collections

Introduction to using archives

Photograph showing a reader using archival material

Archives provide us with a unique way into the past. They are a contemporary record of what real people did and thought.

Because they were created by individual people, they can be biased, misleading or inaccurate. Using archives is like being a detective. We start with a puzzle which raises questions; the archives provide evidence and clues, which we can interpret using any background knowledge we have about the story. And the result - is history!

The world of archives can be confusing to first-time users, who may be more familiar with using secondary sources such as printed books. This unit provides a general introduction to what archives are, where they are kept, how to find relevant material, and what to expect on a visit to an archives office. However, the scope of this unit principally reflects the archival holdings of the University of Nottingham and the needs of our users.

Throughout the unit, illustrative images are taken from the collections held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham.

This unit was written in April 2007. Last revised October 2014.


Next page: What are archives?



Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651