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Research Services: Archival Terminology

Archival Terminology

Archival terminology can be a barrier to first-time researchers. This guide will help explain some common terms you may come across while using archives. Use the icons to explore examples of each term from McDaniel College Archives. 

Collection: Collection is a complicated term in archives that can have many, sometimes dissonant, meanings. It can be used to refer to a set of archival records belonging to one creator, the entire holdings of a repository, or it can signify an artificial set of archival materials that do not share a common origin. 

Finding Aid: A finding aid is the primary descriptive tool for archival collections. It is the traditional access point for researchers looking for information about an archival collection. Finding Aids often include the following information: 

  • Biographical/Historical Note: Contextual information about the collection's creator or its origins
  • Scope & Content Note: Broadly describes what the collection is about and what it includes. This section may have information about the collection's arrangement, processing history, material format, and date coverage. 
  • Restrictions: Any restrictions related to access of the collection 
  • Copyright: Any copyright issues that may be in the collection  
  • Quantity: How large the collection is
  • Request Procedures: How to request the use of a collection (may include a call number, which is a unique identifier assigned to the collection) 
  • Processing Information: Information about when the collection was processed and by whom 
  • Container List/Inventory: Lists the box numbers and folder titles in the collection. Helps researchers know where to locate items in a collection. 

Record Group: a collection of records that share the same origin or creator or were created in the same administrative unit 

Provenance: 1). the origins of something 2). information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection 

For further resources, visit the Society of American Archivist's, Dictionary of Archival Terminology.