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Citing Archival Material

How to Cite Archival Material Using Specific Style Guides

Your work may require you to use a specific style guide for your citations. Your professor or publisher may require your citations to be done in MLA, APA, or Chicago style rather than the style we suggest below.  In the side bar we have listed examples and how-to's for the three of the most popular style guides. If you are unsure of how your professor wants archival references cited you should ask them for clarification.

If a specific citation style in not required, we suggest using the citation style that we list below.

How to Cite Archival Resources

Because archival resources are unique, they can only be found in one institution. Archival citations therefore begin with the institution, then the fonds or collection, the individual file, and the specific item. For example:

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, President's Office - W.C. Murray fonds, RG 2001.1, B. Name and Subject Files, 73. Military Matters, (Jan.-June 1916), Letter from John M. White, June 29, 1916.

There are many types of records that can be found in archives - posters, sheet music, audio cassettes, correspondence, typewritten manuscripts, and more. But how you cite it is not dependent on the type of material it is, but where it is found.

The trick is that every fonds or collection itself is unique. Archival descriptions will always reflect that: the arrangement of archival fonds is based on the principle of provenance and the principle of original order. Each description will reflect the system by which the materials were originally used and created (if such a system was in place). If no original order is evident, then an order may be imposed by the archivist. The criteria used for any imposed arrangement can also vary, and might be based on functions, subjects, etc., as appropriate.

Archival fonds normally have a hierarchical organization going from most broad (fonds level) to most specific (either item or file level, ideally) Broadly, these are:

  • Fonds - the "whole of the records..." and the highest level of description
    • Series - "subdivision of a fonds maintained as an entity because the documents relate to a particular function or subject, result from the same activity, have a particular form, or because of some other relationship arising out of the circumstances of their creation or use."
      • File - "an organized unit of documents, usually within a series, brought together because they relate to the same subject, activity, or transaction." A single file - the intellectual collection of documents - may be found in more than one folder - the physical organization of those documents.
        • Item - "an archival unit that can be distinguished from a group and that is complete in itself."

Depending upon the complexity of the fonds, there may be additional levels of arrangement: for example, fonds, sous-fonds, series, sub-series, file, item.

The same elements listed above will appear in footnotes/endnotes and your bibliography. The only difference will be the level of detail (higher in the footnotes).

Abbreviations are entirely appropriate:

  • If you use material from more than one archives, abbreviate the institutional name but provide a key somewhere. For example:
    • City of Saskatoon Archives = CoSA
    • Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan - PAS
    • Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room = LHR
    • University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections = USkUASC
  • It may not be necessary to write out the full names of every series, subseries, and file. Often each level of description will have its own identifier, so the citation may simply need to include these. For example, instead of writing...
University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, President's Office - W.C. Murray fonds, RG 2001.1, B. Name and Subject Files, 73. Military Matters, (Jan.-June 1916), Letter from John M. White, June 29, 1916.

             it is reasonable to write...

USkUASC, President's Office - W.C. Murray fonds, RG 2001.1, B. 73., Letter from John M. White, June 29, 1916.

Depending on where you're citing the material, you may have space limitations. If in doubt, ask the archives how best to abbreviate the required information further.

As with any other footnote or bibliographic citation, ensure you are providing sufficient information for any other researcher to be able to easily locate your sources.

And most importantly, never hesitate to ask one of our archivists for help! We love to see our records cited properly, and are more than happy to help.

More Examples

Audio-visual

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, Sylvia Fedoruk fonds, MG 435, III. Audio-Visual, 3. “A University of the People,” University of Saskatchewan, VHS, 47 minutes, 1998.

Photograph

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, Photograph Collection, B-266, "President's Residence - Exterior," 1926, Photographer: Gibson

Visual Art

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, Robert Newton Hurley fonds, MG 482, IV. Original Sketches and Watercolours, e) Live Model Sketches, "Sketch of old Captain Parker" by R.N. Hurley, n.d.

Other

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, R.L. Sweet fonds, MG 401, 4. Brewery Ephemera, 4.2 Labels, Folder O-Z, Saskatchewan 75 Anniversary (Molson), beer label.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, Bob Fink fonds, MG 616, IV. The Origin of Music, 4.  “Hear a Talk on the Origin of Music," poster.

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