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Compiling Histories for UMD

Interested in compiling the history of a department, college, school or other campus group? Developing histories for University of Maryland groups can take a few months to a few years, depending on several factors. Units thinking of embarking on these kinds of projects should consider the following questions prior to starting a project.

Before you begin

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?

What is the expected final product?

This question has a huge impact on the timeline of the project. 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.

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.

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. 

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. 

Next Steps

Contact us to discuss your project. We 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.

Best practices

Adapted from the best practices originally compiled by The University History and Research Working Group, 2005-2006

There are no strict guidelines on content or presentation of unit histories. However, below are some best practices to consider, along with some campus examples that already exist:

Create sections

If the history can be encapsulated into areas of interest or segments of time, smaller sections can attract targeted readers. Consider sections around:

  • notable people (such as alumni, faculty, students)
  • major accomplishments or milestones of the program, department, school or college
  • decades in your unit's history
  • teaching and the development of the field/the curriculum and its evolution

For an example see the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Consider the audience

Strive to make the history interesting to read. Leave the details for a more data-rich, internal document. A public history should feature the highlights, challenges, even the unexpected.

  • Think of the history as a story or narrative
  • Use a timeline, outline, or other literary forms as appropriate

An example from the University Archives is MAC to Millennium, an encyclopedia of UMD history. Other examples come from the College of Education and the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

Use Visuals

Consider designing your history using images (documents, photographs, or memorabilia) available in the department/college/school, the University Archives, or from alumni and retired faculty and staff.

Verify Accuracy

Utilize reliable sources and compare information from various sources.

Provide Context

Provide context of national and state events and trends where possible. If your unit has an international presence, ensure that it is reflected accordingly. Consult this example from the Smith School of Business.

Consider future use

Histories require a significant investment of time and effort . Think of other uses for the history, such as

  • background for grant and award applications
  • background for department or college reviews, be they campus or external accreditation reviews.
  • components of a promotional piece to present highlights to various publics, e.g. donors, alumni, future students, both graduate and undergraduate.
  • opportunity to consolidate information that exists in various places
  • a record to which future deans and department chairs can refer

Choose Formats

Think about presenting the history in a variety of formats, such as

  • Web (allows for the inclusion of audio and/or video clips e.g. oral histories)
  • Brochure or other hard-copy publication, e.g. insert to a magazine or other departmental or college publication
  • Video or audio
  • Exhibition (temporary or permanent, physical or online)


Upon conclusion of compiling the history, gather all documents used and submit them, together with a copy of the finished project , to the University Archives. Contact us for information on how to submit your finished product.

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