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Archival Research at Barnard and Beyond

Questions to Ask When Interpreting Archival Records

After you’ve identified documents you want to use and have contextualized them in some way, you can begin to analyze them. When interpreting documents in archives, ask yourself questions like these:

  • What is the document? Who created the document, when did they create it, where did they created, why did they create it, and how did they create it?
  • What does the document communicate to you as a standalone object? What does it communicate to you in relation to other documents in the collection, to other documents in your research?
  • Does one document fill a gap in another document? Are arguments or ideas supported or refuted?
  • What is the creator’s viewpoint, perspective, or bias?
  • For whom was the document created?
  • What is not communicated in the document and why?
  • What is interesting or surprising to you about the document?