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Methods and sources for historical research


Course Information

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This course aims to equip historical researchers with the skills they will need to find and gain access to all the primary source materials they need for their projects. Over the course of a week (Mon-Fri), participants will learn, through an intensive programme of lectures and visits to repositories in and around London, how to combine online tools and traditional archival search techniques to locate and obtain evidence. Institutions visited will include the British Library, the National Archives and a number of other major national repositories in addition to a wide range of smaller and more specialised archives. The course is primarily aimed at those engaged in research degrees in history or kindred disciplines, but is open to all researchers wishing to expand their skills and knowledge in original source materials.

Course Code


Course Dates

10th July 2017 – 14th July 2017

Course Leader

Dr Simon Trafford

Course Fee

Course Description

Original research on primary sources lies at the heart of the historian’s enterprise, yet the techniques necessary to locate and obtain archival materials are rarely taught and can be hard to acquire. The aim of Methods and Sources for Historical Research is to equip researchers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to track down and use all the sources relevant to their projects, wherever they are to be found, be that in published form, online or in repositories. It does this through an intensive mixed programme of lectures and visits over the course of a week (Mon-Fri, 10:00 – 17:00). The first day is spent in the IHR: a series of lectures will first explore the epistemological and hermeneutic status of primary evidence for historians before turning to a detailed explanation of the legal and institutional structures of record-keeping and museology in the UK and the rest of the world. On a practical level, the various printed and electronic aids to finding and accessing primary materials will be introduced and students will be shown how to combine these to retrieve all the sources pertinent to a given line of research quickly, efficiently and comprehensively.

After the first day, the rest of the week is devoted to a programme of visits to archives, libraries and repositories around London. In each case there will be a short formal presentation introducing the collections, finding aids and material of particular use, followed by a more informal opportunity for students to explore and to discuss their needs in detail with the archivists. The schedule of visits has been designed both to introduce participants to all of the principal national repositories (the British Library, the National Archives, the Parliamentary Archives et al), but also, by including smaller and more specialised institutions, to reflect the range and diversity of archives likely to be encountered in a research career. The exact composition of the institutions visited varies on each occasion that Methods and Sources runs: the large national bodies are always included, but the smaller specialised institutions are rotated to give a distinct flavour to each course: see the schedules on the IHR website for details. Reflecting the material available in London, the focus is mainly upon British, Irish and imperial history and on the period after 1500, but those with research interests lying outside those boundaries will also gain from the course and applications are welcome.