The archival dig (and we don’t mean that in a dirty way)

Today’s guest artist: Mariecris.

Sometimes I like to think that archival research is like an archaeology dig. An archaeologist may find clues in maps, newspaper articles, books, historical documents, previous archaeological digs/discoveries to determine where would be a good place to dig. Sometimes they set up a grid on the site and carefully work in each block of the grid till they find what they are looking for or something totally unexpected! There are no signs pointing to specific spots to dig. No signs that say, “Tutankhamen: dig here.”

Similarly, most archives do not have pointers to specific items. One example comes from a researcher writing a book on a well known pianist. After doing some research he discovered that the pianist played at an Anchorage “classic music festival,” sometime in July 1970. After some research, he found out about the Alaska Festival of Music. And luckily, we hold the Alaska Festival of Music records.

Since each item is not described and there are no indexes pointing to the exact spot to dig, he had to start off broad. He found a place to dig in the Programs section of the inventory. After going through programs from 1970, it was discovered that he played two concerts for 15th Annual Alaska Festival of Music (June 1970). He was able to get information on what he performed and help him find more information on the pianist and his time in Anchorage. Secondary research and a finding aid helped set up his grid, his strategy, on which collections, series, boxes provides opportunities for discoveries! Once his grid was set up all he needed to do was put on his Indiana Jones’ hat and start digging.

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