Archival Research Assignment and Final Paper (Grad)

What is it?

Twice in the semester, additional visits to two archives will replace your regular Pet Book reports. The aim of these visits is to  further your knowledge and experience with bibliography and archival work. You may conduce this research at the Boston Public Library,  Harvard’s Houghton Library, The Massachusetts Historical Society, or any other archive. These visits position you to write a strong final paper with highly original research, and enhance your academic professional profile. Your writing in these assignments constitutes part of the final paper.


Sometimes the archival material you will be seeking will be obvious (other works by the same author, other plays printed by the same printer, etc), but many times it will not be. And even if it is, archival discovery is fostered by surveying a wide field of possible connections; it is therefore in your best interests to think creatively beyond content as you select archival materials to view.  Throughout the semester as you progress through the readings, make a note of areas of interest and further development. Keep an ongoing list of materials you would like to connect to your book.

  1. At least 1.5 weeks in advance of a visit to the archive: start browsing through EEBO, other online databases, and the archive’s online catalog, keeping in mind the sorts of connections you would like to make with your book. Many archives list the strengths of their collections and some have separate cataloguing aids to help you locate materials within a subset of the collection (e.g. the BPL’s Barton Collection has its own print catalogue; many of the materials there do not appear in the online catalogue). Note: it is recommended that you time your visit to occur after a class visit to the archive in question so that you are oriented with the procedures and familiar with the location’s policy.
  2. At least one week in advance: plan to meet with one of us to discuss your goals and the materials you’ve already located, and to generate further ideas about research directions. You must seek guidance from both professors throughout the semester, even if one professor’s area of specialization lies outside of your book’s timeframe.
  3. At least four days in advance: continue online catalogue research and start ordering items. Note that it can sometimes take a day or two for the items to be brought up from storage. It is worth familiarizing yourself with the online (or in paper) ordering system early to avoid surprises. You may also want to contact a curator now with specific questions or with an outline of your research goals; no matter what, we recommend contacting the archive in advance of your visit to make sure they know you are coming and have the materials ready for you -you don’t want to make the trip and then not have access.
  4. Visit the archive to view your material. You may want to coordinate so that you have two visits planned. You may not be able to get through all of your material, or you may want to go back and check up on something that you didn’t realize initially was important.
  5. Lastly, respond to what you’ve encountered in a buffed-up blog post. Your blog entries in general should pick up ideas and questions posed in previous entries and grapple with the concepts introduced in the class, so as to produce a continuous development of thought. These scholarly reflection pieces should be a minimum of 1,500 words. Out of this blog work will emerge the final paper.

Final Paper/Project:

You have four options for the final paper or project:

  1. Submit the blog entries headed by a 1,500 word scholarly overview summary that draws together the most significant trends and observations into a book historical argument.
  2. Write a traditional research paper (~15-20 pp) with an argument that carries throughout the paper and draws on the research accomplished.
  3. Carry out a non-traditional project (perhaps digital, perhaps not) related to this research or something else book historical related to the class. We are thrilled to support project ideas but expect early consultation about what you are planning.
  4. Write a traditional or non-traditional research paper on something else book historical related to the class.