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Into the Archive


About This Course

Into the Archive is a historical research methods course that introduces students to the process of conducting archival research. By exploring both paper and digital archives with historians, librarians, and digital scholars, learners will gain familiarity with different approaches to archival research and learn how to plan their own research projects. The course breaks down research processes that most often take place behind the scenes, including primary source analysis, research practices within the archive, and the interpretation of archival data using digital methods. In addition to building practical research skills, learners will gain a deeper understanding of the politics of the archive and the ways in which archival sources shape the narratives historians write.

What is an Archive?

For many people, the word archive brings to mind a dusty basement, a storage space for old documents that are no longer in use.

But archives come in many different forms, and they are more dynamic than you might think, shaped by their own complex histories and by present-day questions. From government records to collections of personal letters, from digital photo albums to the messages we send on our smartphones—all of us are generating archives every day.

In this course, we’ll explore archives here at Princeton University Library as well as digital archives that are accessible online. Through conversations with historians, librarians, and students, we’ll break down the process of conducting historical research, and confront the challenges and uncertainties of that process, both in person and in the digital realm.

Image 1: Firestone Libary

  • Why were different archives created, and how are they organized? 
  • How can we best prepare for archival research?
  • How do researchers account for the inevitable silences and omissions in the archive?
  • What tools can we use to contextualize and analyze the sources we find?

In the course units, we’ll explore these questions and practice research skills through interactive exercises. 


This is an introductory course open to students of all experience levels.

Course Staff

Course Staff Image #1

Jessica Mack

Jessica Mack is a historian and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. She specializes in the history of Latin America, university histories, and the digital humanities. She has taught history and archival methods at Rutgers University, Princeton University and Colby College. She holds a Ph.D. from the Department of History at Princeton University. She can be reached at or @jrobinmack.

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