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Feminist Life Writing

This guide was created to support research and writing in the Feminist Life Writing course, taught by Professor Meredith Benjamin, in Summer 2021.

Getting Started with Archives Research


  • Questions to ask: What am I interested in finding that I can’t find in secondary sources? Who might have created the materials I’m looking for? When might they have created them? Where would those materials have been created, Why, and for Whom?

  • Think about the variety of document types that exist in archives (manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, photographs, audiovisual materials, computer files, scrapbooks, meeting minutes, reports, data sets, etc.) and ask yourself how various document types might factor into your research and analysis.

  • When deciding if an archival collection speaks to your research inquiries, review inventories, finding aids, or collection lists. Talk to an archivist!

  • Before going to the archives: Do background research to develop specific questions. Some materials (finding aids, digitized collections) may be available online, but not most.

Tips and Tools for Finding Archives

Locally (Barnard Archives and Special Collections):

  • The Barnard Archives and Special Collections has materials related to the history of Barnard College and materials that focus on Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, and Dance. You can see a full list of all of collections held at the Barnard Archives and Special Collections’ on our finding aids website.

  • Within CLIO, you can construct a search for a term and “barnard archives” to find relevant collections. For example: feminism “barnard archives”

Locally (Columbia University Archives and Special Collections):

  • In order to find archival collections on Columbia’s campus, within CLIO, you can click on the Archives facet on the side navigation. Search here using keyword to find archival materials related to your research.

  • CLIO searches six repositories within the Columbia Libraries: Avery Library, Department of Drawings and Archives; Burke Library Archives; Columbia University Archives; Health Sciences Archives & Special Collections; Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Starr East Asian Library Rare Books and Special Collections.

Finding Other Archives' Collections:

  • There are a few decent databases to help you find other archival repositories and collections that might match your research question. To start, try ArchiveGrid and Archive Finder, but you can also try WorldCat and Google.

  • Talk with an archivist! Archivists have knowledge about the landscape of institutional collecting and can point you in a good direction.