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Using Resources

Understanding manuscripts & archives

Document types

At the beginning of your work with archives and manuscripts you must first assess the type of document and the function for which it was originally created. How a text was written, its length, style and content, may have been greatly influenced by the form chosen for its delivery.

Deciding what the document is may not always be straightforward. The following broad groupings (based on David B. Gracy II, Archives and Manuscripts: Arrangement and Description. Chicago, 1977) provide only a basic guide:

  • Medieval codices: check the online Medieval Manuscript Manual for an overview of medieval manuscript books and their production.

  • Correspondence: personal or business letters, greeting cards, telegrams, letter books

  • Diaries, minutes, proceedings, commonplace books

  • Literary or artistic productions: research notes, manuscripts, drawings, reminiscences, memoirs, reports, speeches, sermons

  • Legal documents: contracts, petitions, agreements, briefs, depositions, insurance policies, wills, inventories of estates, mortgages, deeds, abstracts of title

  • Financial documents: account ledgers, journals, bank statements and cheques, bills and receipts, notes

  • Local administrative documents: parish records, manorial records, census returns, probate records, charter rolls

  • Printed materials: typescripts, newspapers, ephemera, certificates, awards, pamphlets, brochures, proofs, circulars, flyers, clippings, broadsides, programmes, trade directories

  • Scrapbooks and scrapbook materials

  • Maps, charts, diagrams, graphs, lists, etc.

  • Photographic materials: prints, transparencies, slides, glass slides

  • Audio-visual recordings: audio tapes, video tapes, movie film

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