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Archives Alive!: Researching Context & Perspective - DIY History Documents

For students working on the Archives Alive! assignment

Contextualizing your document

The following steps and the resources provided in each can help get you started exploring the historical context surrounding the digitized materials found in DIY History. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. If you need additional assistance locating additional information, please contact one of your friendly librarians. We're available by chat, email, and drop-in or scheduled appointments.

STEP ONE. Find the collection guide associated with your document.

STEP TWO. Identify and develop relevant keywords about your document.

STEP THREE. Use keywords to help you locate historical documents that help contextualize your document.

STEP FOUR. In some cases, you may want to explore contemporary conversations surrounding broader topics and ideas related to your document. This is perhaps particularly relevant for documents contained in the 'Social Justice' and 'Hevlin Fanzines' DIY History collections.

STEP ONE. Finding collection guides and finding aids

A collection guide, or finding aid, is a tool used to describe archival material created so that researchers can later have more information about a specific archival collection and its contents. You can often find biographical information, information about who donated the materials and when they were donated, and more detailed descriptions of individual items contained in the collection. Collection guides are excellent places for locating background information about your topic. And, this information can then be turned into keywords for use as you search for additional resources that help you contextualize your chosen historical document. 

You can find the archival collection guide associated with individual DIY History documents using the following strategies.

1) From a single document view, click on the 'More Information' menu, then click on 'Archival Collection Guide.' (See image below.) This will take you to the University of Iowa Special Collections & Archives collection guide or the InfoHawk+ record for the item. If this does not work for your item, proceed to the next strategy.

2) From a single document view, click on the 'More Information' menu, then click on 'Digital Collection.' (See image below.) This will take you into the Iowa Digital Library record for your chosen document. Scroll down below the document image and find the 'Collection Guide' information contained in the box labeled 'Object Description'. Click on the link provided. This will take you into InfoHawk+, our UI Libraries catalog. Scroll down to see the 'Object Description.'

Image showing how to find archival collection guide for individual items in DIY History

STEP THREE. Locating historical documents

The databases and resources below let you look up a variety of types of information including newspapers, census data, and more. Which sources are most relevant to the document you are analyzing?  

STEP TWO. Finding keywords

Reading over your document and the archival collection guide, look for names, dates, places, organizations, and other specific words, phrases, or topics you can search for.

A page from the Evelyn Birkby collection

From this example, from the Evelyn Birkby World War II Scrapbook, 1942-1944, what terms, phrases, or pictured things jump out at you? Check out the finding aid of the collection, as well as this specific document's object description available in the Iowa Digital Library (scroll to the bottom). What other terms or phrases catch your eye?

We started listing a few possible keywords here. Which other keywords would you add?

STEP FOUR: Exploring contemporary perspectives

The documents contained in DIY History provide a glimpse into the lived experiences of individuals engaged with a variety of issues and situations, including a collection of documents related to social justice related issues and actions. Understanding the historical context is important but exploring these and other topics from a contemporary perspective can provide insight on the lasting impact of the actions and work of individuals included in DIY History. To gain a contemporary perspective, you might explore your document and related topics by searching the following tools and databases.

STEP FOUR+. Exploring contemporary conversations

InfoHawk + allows you search a variety of University of Iowa Libraries resources at once.

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