Utilizing Archives

R5 plus

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
3,779
Home of Ringing Rocks
I'm not exactly sure where to put this question, but here it is.

Most of my research has been online or from borrowing/buying books. More and more I'm seeking out primary sources online and am often running into obstacles because, of course, all information is not online.

So, my question is for those who utilize primary sources from archives far away. What do you feel is the most effective way of obtaining these sources? Without breaking the bank? How do you know you have all or enough of them to adequately address a topic? How do you know you have looked in all the right places - especially when related or duplicate records seems to be in more than one place?
 

OpanaPointer

Ad Honoris
Dec 2010
11,643
Near St. Louis.
Visit the sites in my sig.

As for obtaining documents that are not online yet, I've photographed entire publications (not in copyright) and converted the images to PDF. Also, I recently ordered some documents from the National Archives and the cheapest option was digital copies. You might want to look at more than one source if they're available, to find if one is cheaper than the other(s).
 
Jul 2015
679
Near East
Hahaha! You DON"T know. Welcome to the joy that is history.
I guess you'll know when you realise that the amount of sources at your disposal are sufficient for your thesis. It depends on the scope of your work. But I'm inexperienced, so take it with a bucket of salt.
 
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Tercios Espanoles

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
6,680
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
How dare you, sir! To mock me in my hour of distress...:crying:
I was just pointing out that historical "bombshells" turn up in archival research all the time. There's always something more, somewhere. You'll just have to decide when you feel you have enough.

As far as the best method for distant archives, a local ally/agent who can go in person is your best bet. History students are the preferred agent as its good experience for them, and they probably know their way around at least a bit. I assume they don't do it for free though.
 

R5 plus

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
3,779
Home of Ringing Rocks
Visit the sites in my sig.

As for obtaining documents that are not online yet, I've photographed entire publications (not in copyright) and converted the images to PDF. Also, I recently ordered some documents from the National Archives and the cheapest option was digital copies. You might want to look at more than one source if they're available, to find if one is cheaper than the other(s).
Thanks. I did take a look; most of my research is for an earlier period though. My biggest dilemma is the stuff overseas. Anything in Canada or the US, I would probably go visit in person.

I was just pointing out that historical "bombshells" turn up in archival research all the time. There's always something more, somewhere. You'll just have to decide when you feel you have enough.

As far as the best method for distant archives, a local ally/agent who can go in person is your best bet. History students are the preferred agent as its good experience for them, and they probably know their way around at least a bit. I assume they don't do it for free though.
I think you're right. I was just hoping I was overlooking a cheaper/easier solution.

Specifically, I'm looking for information connected with one person from the Royal Navy who was in the West Indies during the 18th & 19th centuries. So, there's probably information in the UK's national archives, and possibly in Jamaica's historic archives...I've noticed that sometimes things seem to be duplicated and located in more than one archive.

Maybe I should look at Bermuda, too...My guy was never stationed there, but they might have an archives with information about him anyway.
 

R5 plus

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
3,779
Home of Ringing Rocks
I guess you'll know when you realise that the amount of sources at your disposal are sufficient for your thesis. It depends on the scope of your work. But I'm inexperienced, so take it with a bucket of salt.
I think that's part of my problem, I never feel like I have enough (perfectionist tendencies). :eek:
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
Every library is hooked up to the inter-library loan service. You can get any and every book you want. It's just that you have to give it back when you're done.

The librarians appreciate it when you ask them to help you procure a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. It's why they went to college.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,889
How dare you, sir! To mock me in my hour of distress...:crying:

So, what you're saying is, all those historians selling books are really just full of hot air...:squinting:
Weeerl... the question when you know if you know enough, have seen enough, the right kind and what there is to see etc. is kind of one of these situations that ultimately separates professional historians from amateurs.

And the answer — as said alrady — is that you never know...

Professional historians are those people who managed to overcome the nasty fact that all history, always, is "underdetermined" like that. It could be completely different, and some day someone might extract a crucial piece of information from somewhere unexpected that will completely overturn everything you've ever said on the matter...

Otoh one can buck up over the "law of diminishing returns". Once you've hit a certain amount of archives and materials, the new stuff dries up. That's as good an indicator as any that you probably know enough to put fingers to keayboard.

Because there are a slew of people out there how took a degree in history, pursued a PhD, but never managed to overcome the fundamental uncertanity about what can be known about history. These people tend to be encyclopedic in their knowledge of the historical figure/matter/period of their specialisation, They just never get sure enough of what they know to finally publish and be damned. They usually never do. They spend a lifetime preparing something that never comes off.

BUT then there is the other end of things. That's situation historians tend not to talk all that much about, which is professional historians who fall silent. And it's often the gifted and clever ones, with very high and exacting standards to begin with, that can experience this. I.e the gradually increased tension between what can be known and the extent to which we just can't know enough makes the whole exercise of writing history impossible for them, possibly pointless. At some tipping point they can't go on writing history, longer able to negotiate with themselves over the underdetermined character of of it all. (And so they go into administration or something, unless they retool for things like metahistory and philosophy of history.)