Introduction to Archives and Manuscripts
HIST 495
Spring 2016: TuTh 11:00-12:15
Jackson Hall 107

Prof. Evan Friss
Telephone: 540-568-6168
Office Location and Hours: Jackson 220, Tues. 1:30-4:30

Course Description:

This course offers an introduction to archives administration and the principles and practices of archival arrangement and description. Through targeted readings in the professional literature, field trips and discussions, students will explore topics such as appraisal, acquisition, preservation, access and contemporary ethical, legal and technological issues. Students will also undertake a processing project.


  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the history and nature of institutional archives
  • Synthesize the professional literature
  • Develop a proficiency in current information technologies
  • Analyze the relationship between historians and archivists
  • Gain hands-on experience working within an archive


Society of American Archivists
National Council on Public History
National Archives
Library of Congress
National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators
Academy of Certified Archivists
International Council on Archives

Required Readings:

Kathleen D. Roe, Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts
Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives
Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors 

Grading and Assignments:

Appraisal (7%)
Finding Aid Review (13%)
Document Analysis Oral Report (10%)
Literature Review (16%)
Final Project (19%)
Participation (15%)
Discussion Questions (5%)
Quizzes (15%)

Write an appraisal report for the collection that you will process. Due: Feb. 18

Finding Aid and Archival Website Review
After reviewing the websites of several archival institutions, select two that you find particularly interesting. Then write a 900-word critique of the two sites and their finding aids. Be sure to consider the best practices, which are discussed in the readings. Due: Mar. 3

Document Analysis Oral Report
Find a document and prepare a presentation (10 minutes) analyzing the document in terms of its intellectual, physical, cultural, and/or social significance.  You should use David M. Levy’s, “Meditation on a Receipt”
as a model.  Due: Mar. 15

Literature Review
Select a topic related to archival management that you find interesting and write a review essay of the relevant scholarly literature.  The 1500-word paper should include a discussion of at least four readings that you found on your own.  You may wish to look at the articles in The American Archivist for examples.  Due: Apr. 5

Final Project
In groups of two, you will be assigned an archival collection in JMU’s Special Collections.  You will process the collection and create a complete finding aid in accordance with the archive’s standards and policies.  Due: Apr. 26


For information on these polices, visit:

  • The JMU Honor Code and Academic Honesty (Academic dishonesty will result in an automatic “F” grade for this course.)
  • Registration Dates and Deadlines
  • College of Arts and Letters First-week Attendance Policy
  • Inclement Weather
  • Intellectual Property
  • Disability Accommodations
  • Religious Accommodations


Week 1 (Jan. 12 & 14): Introduction
1/12: Introduction
1/14: Allure of the Archives,  Chapters 1-4

Week 2 (Jan. 19 & 21): The Allure
1/19: Allure of the Archives, Chapters 5-8
1/21: Tour of JMU’s Special Collections (Meet in Carrier Library, Special Collections)

Week 3 (Jan. 26 & 28): Context and Appraisal
1/26: Roe, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts, Chapter 1; Posner, “Some Aspects of Archival Development Since the French Revolution,”; Jenkinson, “Reflections of an Archivist”
1/28: Boles, Selecting & Appraising Archives & Manuscripts, Chapters 1, 3

Week 4 (Feb. 2 & 4): Arrangement & Description
2/2: Roe, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts, Chapter 2, Schellenberg, “Principles of Arrangement”
2/4: Processing Collections Assigned (Meet in Carrier Library, Special Collections)

Week 5 (Feb. 9 & 11): Arrangement & Description
2/9: No Class (Assessment Day)
2/11: Roe, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts, Chapters 3-4; Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, “More Product, Less Process,”

Week 6 (Feb. 16 & 18): Scrapbooks
2/16: Writing With Scissors, 3-86
2/18: Appraisal Due.  Visit to the Rockingham County/Harrisonburg Court Records Manager.  Meet outside the Courthouse (80 Court Square) at 11:00.

Week 7 (Feb. 23 & 25):  Scrapbooks
2/23: Writing with Scissors, 87-171
2/25: Writing with Scissors, 172-252

Week 8 (Mar. 1 & 3): Documents
3/1: David M. Levy, “Meditation on a Receipt” and “What Are Documents”; Michael K. Buckland, “What is a Document?”
3/3: Finding Aid Review Due (Discussion in Class)


Week 10 (Mar. 15 & 17): Documents
3/15: Document Analysis Reports
3/17: Document Analysis Reports

3/19 (Saturday): Visit to the Woodrow Wilson Library

Week 11 (Mar. 22 & 24): Ethics and the Law
3/22: Glenn Dingwall, “Trusting Archivists: The Role of Archival Ethics Codes in Establishing Public Faith”; SAA Code of Ethics; Michelle Caswell, “Thank You Very Much, Now Give Them Back: Cultural Property and the Fight over the Iraqi Baath Party Records.”
3/24: No Class.  Work on Final Projects

Week 12 (Mar. 29 & 31): Silence
3/29: Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable, 3-25 (e-book from JMU library); Ringlebaum Archives discussion in class
3/31: Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable, 26-96 (e-book from JMU library)

Week 13 (Apr. 5 & 7):The Historian and the Archivist
4/5: Literature Review Due; Francis Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg, Processing the Past  (Chapter 8); Mike Wallace, “The Battle of the Enola Gay” in Mickey Mouse History
4/7: No Class.  Work on Final Projects.

Week 14 (Apr. 12 & 14): Archives in the Digital World
4/12:  Web 2.0 for Archivists; A Review of the Susan Sontag Archive.  Browse the Internet Archive, Library of Congress Digital PreservationDigital Public Library of AmericaArchives of American Art Digital Collections.
4/14: Individual meetings about final project

Week 15 (Apr. 19 & 21): The Archival Case Study
4/19: Reading, analyzing, and discussing a case study in class
4/21: Reading, analyzing, and discussing a case study in class

Week 16 (Apr. 26 & 28): Final Project Presentations
4/26: Presentations
4/28: Presentations