Skip to content

Rhetorical Studies Reading Group

at the university of illinois

Tag Archives: archival research

On Monday, graduate students from the RSA Chapter at the University of Illinois gathered again in Lincoln Hall to participate in the second session of the RSA Webinar on Archival Research organized by Debra Hawhee and Jack Selzer over at Penn State.

Session 2 featured Jordynn Jack as well as fellow Illini Ned O’Gorman. The theme of the discussion was “The Archive as Heuristic.” Some of my notes follow below.

O’Gorman and Jack presented a fascinating way of looking at the archives. Rather than seeing the archive as a repository of information to be mined, O’Gorman and Jack considered what it would mean to think of the archive as a source of invention. Thinking of the archive in this way gets at the ways in which the archive often presents us with surprising artifacts that lead us to more questions. O’Gorman described this as the practice of finding “provocations” within the archives. These provocations present us with fundamental questions that lead to further inquiry.

Sometimes, those artifacts in the archive that provoke us lead us outside of the archive to answer the questions they raise.

Thus, both scholars discussed the ways in which archival research gives us opportunities for “undirected research” and the ability to be surprised by what we find. As researchers, we should be open to these provocations and see where they lead us. Seeing the archive as heuristic keeps us open and ready to embrace these opportunities.

The discussion was lively and fascinating, as always. Thanks to Rohini Singh for reserving the room and the equipment, thanks to Dr. O’Gorman and Dr. Jack for sharing their insights, and thanks to Debra Hawhee and Jack Selzer for bringing all of us into these discussions!

The next “Archival Encounters” webinar will take place on March 25th, and will examine the question of “Reading Archival Documents” with Ann George and Dave Tell.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tonight, members from the RSA Chapter at the University of Illinois gathered together in Lincoln Hall to watch the first session of the Webinar on Archival Research that has been organized by Dr. Debra Hawhee and Dr. Jack Selzer over at Penn State. Session 1 featured two archivists from the Penn State Burke Archive, who shared some great practical tips about how to engage with an archive, and included some great resources for archival researchers. I’ve included links to these resources as well as some of their tips below.

Archival Research Databases and Directories:

  • Archive Grid ( – a database that links to finding aids, archive locations, contact information etc. Type in a variety of search terms (use their search tips for more information) and get connected to material located in archives across the country. Sometimes features direct links to digital material, but these links will occasionally be broken (feel free to email the archivist if the material is unavailable).
  • Archive Finder ( – A archive directory featuring sources from the US and the UK. Click on “Login through your library or institution” to get access through the U of I library).
  • Online Archive of California ( – Regional focus, but has great digital material.

Information on Copyright

  • WATCH ( – this site identifies the copyright holders for some authors. The archivists noted that this site is not exhaustive, but is continually updated and can be a good way to check who holds a copyright on a particular author’s material.
  • Digital Copyright Slider ( – a guide to copyright rules. Answers the basic question “Is it protected by copyright?” for various categories of material.

Glossary of Archival Lingo

Four Common Mistakes Made by New Archival Researchers (and how to not make them)

  1. Not writing down where material comes from in the archive
    • How to fix: Document everything! Bring a camera and take pictures of the folder, boxes, etc.
  2. Not getting in touch with an archive ahead of time
    • How to fix: Contact an archive before your visit to make sure that all the materials you need are available and ready for you to use.
  3. Not checking up on copyright concerns / not crediting copyright appropriately
    • How to fix: Always ask an archivist to make sure that you have the proper permission to use archival material in your work, especially when quoting or excerpting archival material.
  4. Not anticipating how long archival research will take
    • How to fix: Always double your anticipated timeline, especially when visiting an out-of-state archive.

Thanks to Anita Mixon for reserving a room and organizing our group viewing! Thanks to Professors Hawhee and Selzer for organizing the webinar series!

Tags: , ,