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Special Collections & Archives Guide

Learn how to access, use and experiment with primary resources in the learning laboratory!

Understanding Archival Research

Archival research can be fun and rewarding. The following resources will help you feel more confident about incorporating primary sources and ​special collections and archives into your research:

Example of how to use archives in your research

Research topic examples focusing on women and the military using five documents from the USS Vulcan Papers

The USS Vulcan was one of the most historic repair vessels in the Navy, having participated in World War II and other military interventions. The Vulcan became the first non-hospital ship in the Navy to receive women officers. The five selected documents from the USS Vulcan collection tell the story of women joining the ship: 

  1. Newspaper article in the Virginia Pilot 
  2. Daily Press article 
  3. Ship Captain's memo
  4. Handwritten note to the Captain 
  5. Article in the Soundings reflecting on 5th anniversary of women joining the ship
Research Topic #1: Military history

The five selected documents each provide a unique perspective of what it was like when women joined the ship. When viewed together, the five different documents help tell a more comprehensive story of this historical event.

Research Topic #2: Media studies 

Using the five different documents, researchers can investigate the ways newspapers reported on the historic event of military gender integration. Researchers can compare and contrast how the women officers were discussed by Navy personnel against how the news media framed the event. Researchers could also examine the ways the different media outlets framed the conversations, and how the conversation changed over five years. 

Research Topic #3: Gender studies, Politics

Researchers can use the documents to investigate socio-cultural attitudes concerning gender during the time of the ship's integration in the 1970s. The language used in each document helps tell the story of how women service members were perceived during the time, and how integration impacted the conversation. Researchers can also note the "missing voices" in the collection, including those of the women themselves, to investigate how politics and power influence the historical narrative.