Archival Research


The following archival workshops are offered every semester at the Library in Classroom 210. Please see the UPDATE newsletter for up-to-date information on our workshops.

Faculty: Feel free to contact the Archivist to schedule a workshop tailored for your class.

Using Archives to Discover Hidden History

Ever wonder why historians use archives in their research? Looking at compelling documents, images and media from the past can make your next research paper more meaningful. Learning to use archives can help you discover stories of less documented people and events, ask insightful questions and gain an appreciation for moments in history. Participants will learn how to analyze archival images, videos and documents to add in their research papers and learn more about BCC campus and local community history.

Intro to Oral History

This class goes step-by-step through the creation of your own oral history project, including designing and project planning essentials, selecting your topic, interviewing techniques, equipment choices, ethical and legal considerations, and tips for preserving and sharing your interviews.

Teaching with Visual and Primary Sources Faculty Workshop 

Have you used a photograph or letter to encourage classroom discussion among your students? Or as the basis for a writing assignment? Learn best practices from BCC Librarians and Archivist and find out how to access primary and visual sources at this workshop for faculty. For this faculty workshop, we will share best practices, sample assignments, and demonstrate using the BCC Library and Archival collections.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original materials that have not been altered or distorted in any way.

• paper documents, such as personal letters, maps, photographs

• sound recordings, film, oral histories.

• artwork, such as posters and drawings.

Archival Research

Archival research is a type of primary research which involves seeking out and extracting evidence from original archival records.

Archival research is different from secondary research (undertaken in a library or online), which involves identifying and consulting secondary sources relating to a topic.

    • Such as books and journal articles.

Archival = Primary

What Is A Finding Aid?

Archival collections are described in documents called finding aids.

By using a finding aid, a researcher gets an understanding of a collection in its entirety, sees the relationships between its component parts, and locates the portions of a collection pertinent to research.

Finding aids sometimes provide narrative portions describing the background of a collection (how and when it was formed, how the archives acquired it, etc.), and how the archival staff has arranged or ordered the materials in the collection.

Finding Primary Sources

Library Catalogs

  • Search CUNY OneSearch to find cataloged materials at BCC and other CUNY libraries.
  • Search WorldCat to find cataloged collections at thousands of libraries worldwide.

Finding Aids Search

  • Search Archives Grid to find archival collections on your topic.

Be Creative

  • Use images, oral histories, maps, statistics, diaries, personal papers, organizational records, government documents, material culture, film, alternative press, pamphlets, posters, printed ephemera, and literature in your research.  
  • Use published and unpublished, printed and digital sources.  

Research Tips

Every discipline has its own universe of primary sources. Ask questions to focus your search. For example, you might ask:

  • Who would have produced sources relative to your topic?​
  • What types of sources might exist?
  • When would they have been produced?
  • Where?
  • Why and for whom?


Using Archives,: A Guide To Effective Research by Laura Schmidt