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Introduction to the Iowa Women's Archives: Archives & Primary Sources

A guide for students and classes who want to use IWA materials for assignments and projects.

What is an archive?

A place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are preserved. A repository or collection especially of information.

Why do archives exist? Are there different kinds of archives?

Archives exist to preserve unique, rare, or significant materials.

  • The materials held in archives are used to write historical research, produce documentaries, support investigative journalism, or help us understand the lives and experiences of different communities and populations.

Archives collect materials to support their organization mission.

  • For example, the Iowa Women's Archives collections chronicle the lives and work of Iowa women, their families, and their communities. Together with oral histories, these materials document the activities of Iowa women throughout the state and beyond its borders.
  • To compare, the University of Iowa University Archive collects, preserves and provides access to information about the University of Iowa that is of enduring historical, fiscal, administrative, or legal value.

What kinds of material can you find in archives?

  • Photographs
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Newspapers
  • Organizational records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Unique books
  • Artifacts or Ephemera
  • Audiovisual

Assistant Curator Janet Weaver in the IWA Stacks

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources:

  • Original documents, often first-hand accounts. Usually written or made close to the time of events recorded. Original creative works.

Secondary Sources:

  • Material that analyzes or interprets primary sources. Builds on factual records or data to make interpretive or argumentative conclusions.

More Information

King's College. "Introduction to Archives."

U.S. National Archives. "What's an Archives?"

Terry Cook. "Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms." Archival Science 13, no. 2 (2013), 95-120.

Saidiya V. Hartman, "Venus in Two Acts," Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 26 (2008), 1-14.

Charles E. Morris, "Archival Queer," Rhetoric and Public Affairs 9, no. 1 (2006), 145-51.