The ESSEntials of Archival Research


Maria de Lurdes Rosa

Auxiliary professor (with agregação), Department of History, NOVA FCSH

Research interests: Medieval history; archivistics; epistemology and theory of History



Maria João da Câmara

PhD in Archival History, NOVA FCSH

Research interests: Archival History, Family Archives, History of Portuguese Nobility, Memory and Identity.


Course Outline



This course aims to introduce participants to the essentials of archival research, namely in regards to: basic concepts behind archives; the questioning of archives lead by the social sciences; and archival literacy and information-seeking behavior. Sessions will have a lecture format but students’ participation is strongly encouraged. Participants are expected to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the history and pitfalls of archival research methods, in order to better apply them.


Useful applications

The course will provide not only the instruments to improve archival research, but also a better understanding of its history and the problems it necessarily ensues. Far from simple and straightforward, archival research is seen today as a heavily encoded and problematic epistemological process which participants will be guided to recognize as such in order to successfully deconstruct the archival sources before using them in their respective fields of study.     


Specific requirements to attend the course

No specific requirements are necessary to attend the course.


Syllabus and day-to-day schedule


The first session will provide an introduction to the different definitions of archives, explaining the changing concepts and ideas behind them as well as outlining their social history. The second session will explore what the Social Sciences are saying about archives, focusing on the recent and essential questioning of archives promoted by archival science, postmodernism, history and anthropology. The third and fourth sessions will be dedicated to archival research and information-seeking behavior. The third session will elucidate how to understand and to do research in archives, highlighting the principles of archival organization and the problems behind the “finding aids”. The fourth session will accompany the process of finding the archival sources, detailing the Portuguese system of historical archives and briefly analyzing other systems.


Day 1: What are archives? Explanation of basic concepts and their ongoing reformulation. Social history of archives: an outline.

Readings: Blouin (2004); Blouin, Rosenberg (2007); Cook (2001); Corens (2016 Friedrich (2018);


Day 2: What are the Social Sciences saying about archives? Questioning of archives in the 20th and 21st centuries: archival science, postmodernism, history, anthropology.

Readings: Anheim (2007); Cook (2001); Cook (2009); Dirks (2002); Ketelaar (2002); Rosa (2017).


Day 3: Archival literacy and information-seeking behavior (I): How to understand and to research in archives; Principles of archival organization and the deep sea of “finding aids”.

Readings: Chu (2015); Gauchi Risso (2016); Gilliland  (2016); Macneil (2008) ; Yakel (2007) ;


Day 4: Archival literacy and information-seeking behavior (II): How to find the archival sources you need; The Portuguese system of historical archives and generic overview of other systems.

Readings: Morsel (2008) ; Put (2007); Ribeiro (1998); Silva (2000).



For students willing so, grading will be based on a final essay quoting a minimum of 5 references of the main bibliography. Maximum number of pages (Times New Roman, 12, spacing 1,5), including bibliography: 5. Deadline: 10/02/2020.



2 ECTS (for students having successfully made the assessment).

N.B. – In order to have a presence certificate, an attendance >50%  is required.



ANHEIM, Étienne. 2007 “Ouvrir les sources au questionnment”, in Enrico Gattinara Castelli, Étienne Anheim, “Introduzione”, Dimensioni e problemi della ricerca storica 2, pp. 20-28.(*)

ANHEIM, Étienne; Poncet, Olivier. 2004, “Fabrique des archives, fabrique de l’histoire”, Revue de Synthèse, 125, pp. 1 – 14. (*)

BLOUIN, Francis X. Jr. .2004, “History and Memory: The Problem of the Archive”, PMLA, vol. 119, nº. 2, pp. 296 – 298. (**)

BLOUIN, Francis X. Jr.; Rosenberg, William G. (ed.). 2007, Archives, Documentation and Institutions of Social Memory. Essays from the Sawyer Seminar. EUA: Michigan University Press. (****)

BLOUIN, Francis X., Rosenberg, William G. .2011, Processing the Past. Contesting authority in History and the archives. Oxford: OUP. (****)

CHU, Heting. 2015, “Research methods in library and information science: A content analysis”, Library & Information Science Research, 37, pp. 36-41. (*)

COOK, Terry. 2001, “Archival Science and Postmodernism: new formulations for old concepts”, in Archival Science, 1, pp. 3-24. (*)

COOK, Terry. 2009, “The Archive(s) is a foreign country: historians, archivists and the changing archival landscape”, The Canadian Historical Review, 90, 3, pp. 497 – 534. (**)

CORENS, Liesbeth (et al.) (eds.) 2016, The Social History of the Archive: Record- Keeping in Early Modern Europe. Londres: Past & Present supplement 11, pp. 9-49. (**)

DIRKS, Nicholas B. .2002, “Annals of the archive: ethnographic notes on the sources of history”, in Brian K. Axel (ed.) From the margins: historical anthropology and its futures. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 47-65. (**)

ESCH, Arnold. 2002, “Chance et hasard de transmission. Le problème de la représentativité et de la déformation de la transmission historiques” in Jean-Claude Schmitt, Otto Gerhard Oexle (dir.) Les tendances actuelles de l’histoire du Moyen Âge en France et en Allemagne. Actes des colloques de Sèvres (1997) et Göttingen (1998). Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, pp. 15-29. (**)

FRIEDRICH, Markus (2018), “Archives and Archiving Across Cultures – Towards a Matrix of Analysis”, BAUSI, Alessandro (ed.) ( Studies in Manuscript Cultures (vol. 11) Degruyter, p. 421-445.

GAUCHI RISSO, Veronica. 2016, “Research methods used in library and information science during the 1970-2010”, New Library World, 117:1/2, pp. 74-93. (**)

GILLILAND, Anne (et al.) (eds.). 2016, Research in the Archival Multiverse. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. (*)

KETELAAR, Eric. 2002, “Archival temples, archival prisons: Modes of power and protection”, Archival Science, 2, pp. 221-238. (**)

KUCHENBUCH, Ludolf. 2004, “Contribution à l’histoire d’une évidence méthodologique”, in Hypothèses 1/2003. Travaux d’étude doctorale de Paris I, Paris, Sorbonne, pp. 287 – 315. (**)

MACNEIL, Heather. 2008, “Archivalterity : Rethinking Original Order”, Archivaria, 66, pp. 1-24. (*)

MORSEL, Joseph. 2004, “Les sources sont-elles «le pain de l’historien» ?”, in Hypothèses 1/2003. Travaux d’étude doctorale de Paris I, Paris, Sorbonne, pp. 271 – 286. (*)

MORSEL, Joseph. 2008, “Du texte aux archives: le problème de la source”, Bulletin du centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre, Hors série n.º 2. Online. Available at (*)

PUT, Eddy. 2007, “Une flore d’archives? La recherche typologique des sources d’archives de l’époque moderne (XVIe-XVIIIe s.)”, in Martine Aubry, Isabelle Chave, Vincente Doom (dir.), Archives, archivistes, archivistique dans l’Europe du Nord-Ouest du Moyen Âge à nos jours, França, IRHiS, pp. 287-292. (*)

RIBEIRO, Fernanda. 1998, O acesso à informação nos arquivos. Porto: [s.n.] (PhD dissertation presented to Universidade do Porto). (***)

ROSA, Maria de Lurdes, (2017) “Reconstructing the production, recording and conservation of Pre-modern organizational information. Theoretical perspectives and research proposal”, Boletim do Arquivo da Universidade de Coimbra, XXX ,  pp. 547-586.

SILVA, Armando Malheiro da. 2000, A gestão da informação arquivística e suas repercussões na produção do conhecimento científico. Rio de Janeiro: CONARQ: Conselho Nacional de Arquivos e ALA – Associacion Latinoamericana de Archivos. (*)

YAKEL, Elizabeth. 2007, “Archival Representation”, in Francis X. Blouin Jr.. William G. Rosenberg (ed.), Archives, Documentation and Institutions of Social Memory. Essays from the Sawyer Seminar, EUA, Michigan University Press, pp. 151 – 163. (**)

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