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Research Using Special Collections and Archives

This guide provides resources for students, researchers, and instructors who are new to archival research or new to using Special Collections and Archives at the University of Baltimore.

Introduction to Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are documents, artifacts, images, or other materials that provide a firsthand account of an event or topic from the past. These original materials were created at the time of the event being researched by people with direct experience of the time, topic, or event you are researching. Secondary sources however, describe or analyze primary sources and are often written much later. 

Primary sources can include items such as:  

  • Letters and Correspondence
  • Organization Meeting Minutes
  • Diaries
  • Photographs
  • Oral History Interviews
  • Pamphlets
  • Posters
  • Audiovisual Materials
    (including moving images and audio recordings)
  • Newspaper articles or Clippings
    (from the time of the event)
  • Autobiographies
  • Other Materials

Secondary sources might include:

  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Other non-fiction texts
Instructional Video: Learn More About Primary Sources at Special Collections and Archives

Introduction to Special Collections & Archives

What is an Archives?

The word archives has a few different meanings. An archive might be the physical or digital repository where archival materials are managed, or it may refer to the specific primary sources, collection, or records created by a person or group. Archival records and manuscript collections found in archives and special collections consist of records created and/or collected by individuals, families, and organizations documenting their business or daily lives and are retained because of the long-lasting value of the information they provide about the functions or life of their creator(s). 

An archives is also the institution that houses records collections of continuing value. The items in an archive are generally unique or specialized based on a specific focus or collecting area. The mission of Special Collections and Archives is to identify, collection, process, preserve, and make accessible archival collections of enduring value related to 20th century Baltimore regional history and University history.

Terms all link to out to the Society of American Archivists' Dictionary of Archival Terminology:

Instructional Video: Learn More About Archives and How to Start Your Research

Additional Research Resources

The Society of American Archivists Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research
The Society of American Archivists created this guide to provide information about the function and work of archives, how to identify appropriate archives for your research, and how to access historical materials and conduct research at archival repositories. Archival repositories and their collecting scopes and local practices may differ, but the principles in this guide will assist you in beginning your research at any archival institution.

Baltimore Heritage
Founded in 1960, Baltimore Heritage, Inc. is Baltimore’s nonprofit historic and architectural preservation organization. 

Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP)
 CHAP helps preserve and revitalize neighborhoods, celebrates City history, and promotes historic preservation as a proven economic driver for Baltimore City. 

Explore Baltimore Heritage
Explore helps historians, students, and residents tell the stories behind Baltimore's buildings and neighborhoods.

Maryland State Archives
The Maryland State Archives holds state government records of permanent value. Its collections date from Maryland's founding in 1634, and include colonial and state executive, legislative, and judicial records; county probate, land, and court records; church records; business records; state publications and reports; and special collections of private papers, maps, photographs, and newspapers.

Baltimore City Archives
The Baltimore City Archives, in cooperation with the Maryland State Archives, manages Baltimore city government records of permanent value. 

Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive (MARMIA)
MARMIA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and access of movies and sounds that document the arts, history, and culture of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region.

Maryland Center for History and Culture (Previously Maryland Historical Society)
The Maryland Center for History and Culture includes library, museum, and archival collections including over 350,000 objects and seven million books and documents. The institution provides services through its museum, library, press, and educational programs.

Preserve The Baltimore Uprising Archive Project
The Baltimore Uprising Project is a community-driven digital repository that collections and preserves perspectives and experiences of the protests and unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody in 2015. 

Digital Maryland 
The statewide digitization program of the Maryland State Library Resource Center / Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world with millions of books, records, manuscripts, maps, prints and photographs, newspapers and more in its collections. LOC collects, preserves & provides access to its universal collection. The Special Format Collections and Digital Collections provide access to numerous primary sources in a variety of formats including manuscripts, prints and photographs, oral histories, and more.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. The mission of NARA is to preserve documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government that are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are retained forever. Highlights from the collections at NARA include family histories and genealogical resources, military service records, immigration records, and American historical topics.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Chronicling America is a website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). NDNP, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. 

Baltimore Afro-American Newspapers (Historical) (University access only)
This database includes images of all the content of The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper (also known as The Afro) including articles, ads, illustrations, and cartoons. It covers issues from 1893-1988.

Baltimore Sun (Historical) (University access only)
This database includes articles from Baltimore’s main daily newspaper from its first issue in 1837 to 1991. Full-page views including photos are available as well as PDF versions of articles.