How to Cite Archival Materials

Note: It is important to keep track of your sources while doing research in the archives, as trying to locate a specific document later, in order to cite it properly, is difficult. Keep good source notes during your research. Even the archivists responsible for the collections may not easily be able to find the individual letter or document you need to cite, and the process to try to find it could be quite time-consuming.

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.

Similarly, each fonds or collection itself is unique. Archival descriptions will always reflect that: 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. 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
    • Saskatchewan Archives Board = SAB
    • 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
    • 'Jean Murray fonds, MG 61, Series E. Jean Murray, subseries IV. Name and Subject Files, file F.1 Traill Family - W.E. Traill, letter to mother, 1866',
    it is reasonable to write
    • 'Jean Murray fonds, MG 61, E.IV.F1, W.E. Traill, letter to mother, 1866.'

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.

Sample Citations - Footnotes / Endnotes

Correspondence:

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Edmund Oliver fonds, MG 6, A.I.1, folder 1, Oliver letter to his wife, June 1916.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Office of the President sousfonds 3, WP Thompson, RG 2001-3, B.9, letter from Altschul to Thompson, 14 May 1950.

Reports, Manuscripts, etc.:

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, R.G. Williamson fonds, MG 216, 9. Kamsack Report, Socio-Cultural Disintegration Among The Fringe Saulteaux, folder 1, p. 27.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Native Law Centre fonds, RG 2101, Reference Library Series, Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples - Transcripts; box 1, file 2, Winnipeg, MB, 22 April 1992, p. 7.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Financial Services Division fonds, RG 2008, Series 3, file 66-14, draft of A.S. Morton's Saskatchewan: The Making of a University, p. 169.

Photographs

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-720. Qu'Appelle Hall under construction, 27 July 1914.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, E.R. Simpson fonds, Series I, file B.2, folder 3, image 5. Waiters in front of residence dining hall, [ca. 1920].

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Institute for Northern Studies fonds, INS-561. Portrait of Snake People Woman, nd.

Architectural Plans & Drawings

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Facilities Management fonds, RG 2015. East elevation, College of Agriculture Building, drawing AG/50, October 1986.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Facilities Management fonds, RG 2015. Observatory, drawing O/2, June 1928. G.J.K.Verbeke, architect.

Posters

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Brock Silversides fonds, MG 289, Series 6, Mounted Posters, A Nest of Singing Birds, Eric Till, director; 1987.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Hans Dommasch fonds, MG 172, 6.a.33. Gordon Snelgrove Gallery - Exhibition Posters.

Sound Recordings:

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Saskatchewan Jazz Festival Collection, MG 230, box 11, Astrogrove demo tape.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, VP Planning/Special Projects - B.A. Holmlund, RG 2006-2, 3.II.3. 14th Commonwealth Universities Congress, 1988, folder 2, tape 5, "The design of land resource management."

Moving Images:

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Kozakew-Ituna Film Collection, MG 286, 3. The Rink. Lone Star Mutual; produced, written, and directed by Charlie Chaplin; 28 mm, b&w / tinted, silent, 1916.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool fonds, MG 247, 12.95-2, The Co-op Vision, reference copy, VHS; October 1995.

Websites:

Many archives are putting materials online. As with any other scholarly work, use of these sources must be properly cited. When possible, include specific pages or database ID information. For example:

Richards, Neil (curator). "Introduction." Persuasion: Print Advertising and Advocacy on the Prairies (http://scaa.sk.ca/gallery/persuasion/main.html; accessed 13 September 2011). University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, 2008.

Description provided by family members; as found on Our Legacy, (http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy; accessed 13 September 2011), database ID 28313. University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, University of Saskatchewan Library, and Pahkisimon Nuye?ah Library System, 2008.

Sample Citations - Bibliography

Most bibliographic citations for archival fonds or collections only list the institution & fonds title, often under a specific heading for archival materials. For all the materials listed above, the bibliographic information would be:

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Hans Dommasch fonds.
_____, Facilities Management fonds.
_____, Financial Services Division fonds.
_____, Institute for Northern Studies fonds.
_____, Kozakew-Ituna Film Collection.
_____, Native Law Centre fonds.
_____, Office of the President - WP Thompson fonds.
_____, Edmund Oliver fonds.
_____, Photograph Collection.
_____, Saskatchewan Jazz Festival Collection.
_____, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool fonds.
_____, Brock Silversides fonds.
_____, E.R. Simpson fonds.
_____, VP Planning/Special Projects - B.A. Holmlund fonds.

The exception to this would be if you only used an archival collection as your source for a single report. For example,

Williamson, R.G. Socio-Cultural Disintegration Among The Fringe Saulteaux. University of Saskatchewan Archives, R.G. Williamson fonds, MG 216, 9. Kamsack Report, folder 1, p. 27.