Guide to Compiling Department, School, or College Histories
Frequently the University Archives is contacted by departments, units, or
other campus groups seeking to compile their administrative
history. These projects can take a few
months to a few years, depending on several
factors. Often these projects are not
completed, or not completed on time, due to issues related to planning or
resources. Units thinking of embarking on
these kinds of projects should consider the following questions PRIOR to
starting a project.
Question #1: Who will be doing the
Often the project is conceived of at an administrative
level, but passed down the chain of command.
Will the person(s) assigned to complete the project be able to devote
sufficient hours to the work, or are they doing this along with several other
Are they trained in primary source
research? If students are given this
task, is there a plan for passing on the project should they graduate prior to
Question #2: What is the expected final
This question has a huge impact on the timeline of
the project. Is the final product a
website, magazine, brochure, film, exhibit, blog, Twitter feed, book, or some
other outreach tool? Each of these end
results has its own special considerations and requires planning specific to
that product. Some products, like a
coffee-table book, take a very long time to produce, are very expensive, and
have a limited shelf life, but make a big
splash. Others, like web-based tools, are
more easily updated, less expensive to maintain, and reach a wider audience.
Deciding on what message you want to send, who the audience will be, and how
best to reach that audience often influences the final product as well.
Question #3: What is the timeframe for the
Primary source research takes a LONG time to
complete, even if you have experience.
If your project will involve research in the University Archives, take
the time you think you will need to set aside for research and triple
it. Do not plan to roll out a major
product about your unit in less than 6-12 months unless the Archives has stated
that it is possible.
Question #4: What kinds of information
are needed for the project?
The University Archives contains
historical information in a variety of formats: paper documents, photographs,
film and video, memorabilia, etc. Each
format requires different research techniques and differing amounts of time to
tease out the important information.
These variations will also have an impact on the timeline of the
Is there financial support for the project?
In addition to
fees for copies of materials, which may be imposed depending on the volume and
nature of your request, you may need to fund staff positions to complete the
research. The University Archives will
assist you in locating materials that may be of interest, but the Archives staff
does not perform extensive research on behalf of departments. You may also incur
staff and material costs for the design and production of your end
Once you have answered the questions above, contact
the University Archives staff to set up a meeting to discuss your
project. They can outline possible
resources, provide advice on how to get started, and discuss the feasibility of
the project given all of the above factors, including whether there is
sufficient information in the Archives to support the project.
you have decided to proceed with your project, here are some
best practices to consider, along with some campus
examples that already exist.