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University Archives

Guide to Compiling Department, School, or College Histories

 

Introduction

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 work?

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 projects?   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 its completion?

Question #2: What is the expected final product?

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 project?

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 project. 

Question #5: 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 product.

Next Steps

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.

When you have decided to proceed with your project, here are some best practices to consider, along with some campus examples that already exist.