Introduction to Archives and Manuscripts
HIST 595
Fall 2012: MWF 11:15-12:05
Jackson Hall 0003

Professor Evan Friss
Telephone: 540-568-6168
Office Location and Hours: Jackson 220, Wed./Fri. 9:00-11:00

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

Required Readings:

In addition to articles, book chapters, and websites, we will read the following  books, all of which are available to purchase at the bookstore and on reserve at the Carrier Library:

Nicholson Baker, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (2001)
Frank Boles, Selecting & Appraising Archives & Manuscripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005). ISBN 1-931666-11-3
James M. O’Toole and Richard J. Cox, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006). ISBN 1-931666-20-2
Kathleen D. Roe, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists), 2005. ISBN 1-931666-13-X
JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management (1989)
(Another [related] book of your choice)

“Fourth Hour”:

Each week we will meet to discuss the additional readings at a place and time to be determined.


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

Grading and Assignments:

Document Analysis Oral Report (10%)
Appraisal (10%)
Finding Aid Review (15%)
Participation (20%)
Literature Review (20%)
Final Project (25%)

Document Analysis Oral Report

Find a document and prepare a brief presentation (6 or 7 minutes) analyzing the document in terms of its intellectual, physical, cultural, and/or social significance. Due: Sept. 12


Write an appraisal report for the collection that you will process. We will discuss the details later in class. Due: Oct. 5

Finding Aid and Archival Website Review

After reviewing the websites of several archival institutions, select two that you find particularly interesting. Then write a 4-5 page critique of the two sites and their finding aids. Be sure to consider the best practices, which are discussed in the readings. Due: Oct. 19

Literature Review

Select a topic related to archival management that you find interesting and write a review essay of the relevant literature. The 5-7 page paper should include a discussion of at least four readings that you found on your own. Due: Nov. 12

Final Project

In small groups, each group 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. In addition, you will also mark-up your finding aid so that it can be accessed and searched online. Due: Dec. 3


For information on these polices, visit:

  • The JMU Honor Code and Academic Honesty (Plagiarism 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 (Aug. 27-31): Introduction to the Course and Archives

8/27: Introductions

8/29: Schellenberg, Modern Archives, 3-24

8/31: Tour of JMU’s Special Collections (Meet in Carrier Library, Special Collections)

Week 2 (Sep. 3-7): The Nature and History of Archives

9/3: O’Toole, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts, Introduction and Chapter 1

9/5: O’Toole, Chapter 2; Baker, 1-82

9/7: O’Toole, Chapters 3-4; Roe, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts, Chapter 1

Week 3 (Sep. 10-14): Documents

9/10: David M. Levy, “Meditation on a Receipt” & “What Are Documents” in Scrolling Forward

9/12: ORAL REPORTS DUE; Michael K. Buckland, “What is a Document?”  Journal of the American Society for Information Science

9/14: ORAL REPORTS DUE; Nicholson Baker, Double Fold, Chapters 1-2

Week 4 (Sep. 17-21): Acquisitions, Accessions, and Appraisal

9/17: Boles, Selecting & Appraising Archives & Manuscripts, Chapters 1, 3

9/19: Boles, Chapters 4-6; Baker 82-183

9/21: Processing Collections Assigned (Meet in Carrier Library, Special Collections)

Week 5 (Sep. 24-28): Arrangement & Description

9/24: Roe, Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts, Chapters 2-3

9/26: Roe, Chapter 4

9/28: Work on Processing Project (Meet in Carrier Library, Special Collections)

Week 6 (Oct. 1-5): Arrangement & Description

10/1: Schellenberg, “Principles of Arrangment”

10/3: Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, “More Product, Less Process,” The American Archivist, (Fall/Winter 2005); Carl Van Ness, “Much Ado about Paper Clips,” The American Archivist, (Spring/Summer 2010); Baker, 184-270

10/5: APPRAISAL DUE (Discussion in Class)

Week 7 (Oct. 8-12): Digital Tools

10/8: Metadata for All; Metadata and Dublin Core; EAD

10/10: Familiarize yourself with Archivist Toolkit, Archon, ArchivesSpace, and Omeka

10/12: Lab Day (Meet in Miller 2101)

Week 8 (Oct. 15-19): Digital Possibilities

10/15: Lab Day (Meet in Miller 2101)

10/17: Daniel J. Cohen, Michael Frisch, et al., “The Promise of Digital History,” Journal of American History 95:2 2008; Yates, 1-100

10/19: FINDING AID REVIEW DUE (Discussion in Class)

Week 9 (Oct. 22-26): The Classics

10/22: Samuel Muller, Johan Feith, and Robert Fruin, “Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives” (Selections)

10/24: Sir Hilary Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration (Selections)

10/26: Schellenberg, Modern Archives, 113-132, 168-193

Week 10 (Oct. 29- Nov.2): Ethics and the Law

10/29: Glenn Dingwall, “Trusting Archivists: The Role of Archival Ethics Codes in Establishing Public Faith,” American Archivist (Spring/Summer 2004); SAA Code of Ethics

10/31: Michelle Caswell, “Thank You Very Much, Now Give Them Back: Cultural Property and the Fight over the Iraqi Baath Party Records,” American Archivist (Spring/Summer 2011); Yates, 101-200

11/2: VISIT to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

Week 11 (Nov. 5-9): Access

11/5: Mary Jo Pugh, Providing Reference Services for Archives and Manuscripts, Chapter 2

11/7: Pugh, Chapter 3, 7

11/9: Work on Processing Project (Meet in Carrier Library, Special Collections)

Week 12 (Nov. 12-16):The Historian and the Archivist

11/12: LITERATURE REVIEW DUE; Francis Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg, Processing the Past, Chapter 8

11/14: “The Battle of the Enola Gay” in Mike Wallace, Mickey Mouse History; Yates, 201-275

11/16: Peter Novick, That Noble Dream, Introduction

Week 13 (Nov. 19-23): Thanksgiving Break.  No Class.
Week 14 (Nov. 26-30): Archives Today and Tomorrow

11/26: Tom Nesmith, “Seeing Archives: Postmodernism and the Changing Intellectual Place of Archives,” American Archivist (Spring/Summer 2002)

11/28: O’Toole, Chapter 5

11/30: Web 2.0 for Archivists; Browse the Internet Archive and Library of Congress Digital Preservation

Week 15 (Dec. 3-7): Final Project Presentations

12/3: Groups 1 & 2

12/5: Groups 3 & 4

12/7: Groups 5 & 6