This glossary provides a brief guide to the terms we use on the Archives Hub website, or that you might find in an archival description.
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- Access Conditions
- Within an archival description, this provides information about anything that might affect the availability or usability of the materials being described. This will include details of any restrictions on access imposed by the donor or the repository, or any legal restrictions. Access conditions might tell you if you need to contact the repository to make an appointment, or take ID to register as a user. If the access conditions say 'open', there should be no restrictions on accessing the material, but you may wish to contact the repository before your visit to confirm that the material you're interested in is available. You can find contact details for repositories through The National Archives ARCHON directory.
- Access Points
- These are names, places and subjects, acting as index terms or keywords for searching and browsing on the Archives Hub. Access Points on the Archives Hub are links which you can click on to see more descriptions with the same index term. This can help you to find other archival descriptions which mention the same people, places, or subjects.
- Material that comes into an archive as a single acquisition is described as an accession. It may be a gift or a purchase, and ownership or copyright may be legally transferred. A number of accessions may form one single collection with shared provenance, e.g. the records of a business may be transferred to an archive over time.
- As part of an archival description, the 'accruals' section tells you about any expected additions to the collection. This might be material which hasn't been created yet (such as the current year's administrative records for an institution), or material which is held elsewhere.
- Administrative/Biographical History
- As part of an archival description, this provides biographical or historical details about the creator or creators of the collection. This can help to give you historical context for the material, and provide extra details to allow you to identify people with similar names.
- An agreed standard, enabling client/server communication. Often used in the archives domain for enabling machine-to-machine querying of data.
- Assessing a collection to determine its long-term value. This often happens during accession.
- Archival description
- A catalogue or finding aid for a collection of archival material. The archival description should always tell you at least: the title of the collection; the collection's reference code; where the materials are located (repository); the dates, date range, or approximate dates of the material; who created the collection (name of creator); what sorts of material or information the collection contains (scope and content); whether there are restrictions on accessing the collection (access conditions); the language of the material; and how much material is in the collection (extent). Some descriptions may contain more information than this.
- (i) An accumulation of records - see also 'Archives'.
(ii) The place that archives are stored, which is also known as a repository or record office.
- Materials created and accumulated by individuals, organisations or businesses in the course of their activities and retained for usefulness (research) and as evidence (legal). The term 'archive' or 'archives' is also widely applied to organisations or subsections of organisations which have custody of archives/records, e.g. The National Archives, the Tate Archives. The term is also used more loosely in association with storing things safely over time, such as 'an archive of your text messages'. Furthermore, the word can be used as a verb, as in 'She archives the collection'.
- Within the archives profession, an archivist is usually seen as someone with a recognised qualification who works in an Archive. An archivist may not have an archives qualification, but may have the requisite experience and be in a role that is recognised as that of an archivist. Those undertaking archival work who are not qualified or suitably experienced are typically called 'archives assistants'.
- Archivist's note
- Part of an archival description. Some of the descriptions on the Hub may include an Archivist's Note, which provides information about who created the description, and what resources they may have used.
- A directory of repositories maintained by The National Archives. The ARCHON directory provides a unique reference number for each repository, and contains contact details, opening hours, and access information for each repository.
- Artificial Collection
- see Collection (Archive Collection)
- Born Digital
- Used to refer to materials that were created as digital entities, rather than physical materials that have been digitised. Often in the latter case both the physical and digital are kept, though sometimes the physical materials are disposed of.
- c. ca ., circa
- 'About'. As part of an archival description, used to indicate an approximate date or quantity.
- Archivists sometimes use this word for an inventory of items in a collection that are listed chronologically.
- Collection (Archive Collection)
- Documents or material of any kind that have accumulated as part of the normal activity of an organisation, business or individual and been kept as a unit in an archival repository. Sometimes the term fonds may be used for a collection of material created by an individual person or organisation where the integrity of the whole is important, as it provides contextual evidence for all of the items.
A collection may be a single item (letter, diary, film etc), or it may be made up of many items. The extent will indicate how big the collection is. The term artificial collection may be used for archival material with no shared provenance, brought together from diverse sources, often for the convenience of description and retrieval, e.g material on the same topic.
- Collection description
- A description of the material within an archival collection, providing essential information about the collection. Often also called an archival description, a catalogue, or a finding aid.
- Collection Level
- This describes a description that summarises general information about the archival material in a collection, without details of individual items.
- Collection Level description
- This is a description for an archival collection that provides a general overview of the collection, without going into details of individual items. For a multi-level description, the higher level can be seen as the 'parent' of lower-level descriptions or components .
- Community Archives
- This commonly refers to archives that are not held within a recognised record office or repository. A community archive is often run by the local community, typically representing a town or locality, or it may be for a specialist subject such as steam trains, folk music or local dialects. Community archives may not be catalogued and available online in the way that other archives usually are, but they often hold a wealth of information and are run by real enthusiasts, who may be expert in their topic.
- A term used within EAD to refer to units within multi-level archival descriptions that are organised hierarchically. Components are the units of description within the hierarchy. They may be single items (such as a letter) or multiple items forming a series (such as a several letters to/from the same people). Descriptions may sometimes be referred to as 'component level', in contrast to collection-level to indicate that they are described in a hierarchy.
- The organisational, functional, and operational circumstances surrounding the creation, receipt, storage, or use of a collection of materials. This information can inform the user about the evidential value of the materials.
- In archival descriptions, the 'copyright/reproduction' statement provides information about whether you may copy, quote, or publish material from within the archival collection. There may be limitations imposed by the collection's donor, or there may be legal restrictions on the use of the material. This will often include information about copyright of the material.
- Corporate Names
- In the Access Points section of a description, a Corporate Name identifies a particular group of people or organisation. Examples include businesses, clubs and societies, religious bodies, and government agencies. Corporate Names are also used for ships and conferences.
- Creation Information
- In descriptions on the Archives Hub, this usually appears under the heading 'Cataloguing Info', and provides information about how the description was created, and who is responsible for it.
- Custodial History
- In an archival description, this outlines the 'chain of ownership' or 'provenance' of the material in the collection - who has owned it, and how it came to be acquired by the repository.
- Dates of Creation
- In an archival description, this shows the date (or dates) when the materials were created - they may pre-date the formation of the collection.
- Usually referring to a description of an archive, or a unit within an archive, which describes and explains the content and context of a collection of archival material. See also Collection description, Archival description.
- Digital object
- A digital object is a digital representation of some or all of the material in an archive collection. This may be a digital surrogate, or it might be born-digital material, such as a digital photograph or mp3 recording. Digital objects are often available online.
- Digital surrogate
- Electronic or digitised copy of an original document, photograph, or other material. Digital surrogates are often used if the original item is fragile or inaccessible.
- Embedded image
- On the Archives Hub, this refers to a digital image included as a thumbnail within a collection description.
- When indexing, a descriptive word or phrase may be added to a person's name. For instance, in the index term for Stanley Kubrick: Kubrick Stanley 1928-1999 film director, 'film director' is the epithet. This can help to provide more information about the person, and help you to distinguish between people with similar names.
- In an archival description, this provides information about the quantity of materials in the collection, or the physical space they occupy. This information can help you to decide how long to allow for a visit to the archive.
- Finding aid
- A description of an archival collection, to enable the archive to be discovered or the contents within an archive to be identified.
- Abbreviation for 'floruit'. If the cataloguer doesn't know either the birth or death date of a person, then they can use the archival material being described to provide information about dates when thte person was known to be alive. For instance, the dates for Gillespie Alexander fl 1662-1685 mariner are taken from the only information the cataloguer had about him: his diary for the same years.
- In a collection description, 'fonds' is a term often used by archivists for the material created or collected by a particular person, family, or organisation in the course of their activities, in order to distinguish this type of collection from an artificial collection. This distinction is important because a collection with a single provenance has particular evidential value - the parts of the collection all relate to eachother and provide context for eachother.
- The medium or form of the material, such as photographs, manuscripts or floppy disks. Can be added to the Access Points to provide information about the kind of materials in a collection.
- Held at
- In an archival description, this provides the name of the repository where a collection is kept.
- A collection is arranged in order to show context. This means that it will be catalogued to preserve its original order where possible. The collection will be arranged into sub-sections, such as series, files, items, and these will all be clearly related. An archival description should show the hierarchy if it is catalogued to this level of detail, commonly through a table of contents with a folder type structure. The researcher can then see the context of an individual item, such as a letter - they can see that it forms part of a series, and the series is within a larger collection.
- A document in the author's own handwriting.
- Immediate Source of Acquisition
- This explains how the archival collection came into the care of the repository - the source of the archive, such as the donor or building where it was previously housed.
- In a description of an archival collection, this is usually the smallest unit of a description, giving information about a single document, such as a letter, photograph, or report.
- Language of Material
- In an archival description, this shows the language (or languages) of the material in the collection being described.
- For an archival description, the level is the particular point in the hierarchy that is being described. For example 'collection', 'series', 'item'. Levels are nested, so that a 'subseries' forms one part of a 'series', and an 'item' may form one part of a 'subseries'.
- Lower Level description
- A level of description below the top level. The top level is usually at the collection or fonds level, but may, for example, be at series level. The amount of detail given in a lower level description will vary. Often it is just a reference, title and date. See also subfonds, series, item-level.
- Unique handwritten items, often in Latin, sometimes illuminated with illustrations. They include religious, legal and literary texts.
- Multi Level description
- An archival description that is not just at one level, but includes nested descriptions of units within the collection. A multi level desccription may just have two levels, e.g. collection and series, or it may have several levels, e.g. fonds, subfonds, series, subseries, item. See also subfonds, item-level.
- Name of Creator
- In an archival description, this is the name of the individual or individuals, family, or organisation that is responsible for the creation or the accumulation of the materials in the collection.
- National Archives
- See TNA
- National Register of Archives. The NRA was a service maintained by the The National Archives . It is now integrated into their 'Discovery' service. It contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records in the UK.
- Original Order
- This refers specifically to the order of an archive collection. The aim is to preserve the order that the creator maintained. For example, an individual might have organised their correspondence alphabetially by person, or by date, or by topic. A business might have organised their records into series, such as accounts, correspondence, marketing, and then into sub-series and folders. If this original order can be maintained, it can provide evidence to help the researcher understand the creator.
- Persistent Unique Identifier
- An identifier that is used solely for the object being described, and that remains the same over time. On the Web this takes the form of a URI. This provides a web address that can be used to bookmark or link to the description.
- Physical Characteristics
- Information on the appearance of the materials, or any physical qualities which might affect the accessibility or usability of the materials.
- Preferred Citation
- The recommended form of words for identifying a collection or unit when referring to it in a bibliography or other formal document.
- Primary Sources
- Records that are a first-hand account of an event. They can be thought of as eye-witness accounts, created by people who experienced an event and who had a direct connection with it. For example, newspaper reports by a reporter who witnessed an event, letters and diaries by people involved in the events they describe.
- Processing Information
- Information about how the archival materials have been stored, preserved, or arranged, or how their description has been prepared.
- The origin or custody of the materials in a collection. Provenance is important for judging the integrity of a collection. A collection with a shared provenance can provide insights into the creator's life and work.
- Publication Note
- Information about publications which are based on, or written about, material in the collection, or which may be of value to researchers using the collection.
- Archives such as minute books, registers, deeds, agreements, contracts etc., are actually records in the legal sense, because they formally record official processes and transactions. But sometimes 'records' is used to mean 'archives' in a general sense. Archival descriptions in the Archives Hub's database can also be described as records.
- Reference Code
- Each archival collection described on the Archives Hub has a unique code to identify it, often a name or a sequence of numbers, or a combination of both.
- Related Units of Description
- Materials which are not part of the archival collection being described, but which are related in some way - maybe a shared creator, or the same subject area. This might include material which is held by another repository.
- The archive, library, or special collection, where an archival collection is stored. Usually a repository has a reading room for consulting materials, and strong rooms with environmental controls for housing the collections.
- Amendments or updates to the description, typically following a new accession or addition to the collection.
- Scope and Content
- This summarises the range of the materials being described, allowing you to judge the potential relevance of the archival collection. This should provide a general overview of the subjects covered, and highlight significant individuals, organisations, or events represented in the collection.
- Secondary Sources
- Unlike Primary Sources, these are sources that are one step removed from an event or topic, and they usually provide interpretation or analysis. They include books written about a topic, analysis of research data and scholarly articles
- In an archival description this may refer to materials grouped together because they are of a similar type or because they were originally arranged together. See also System of Arrangement, Lower level description.
- Special Collections
- There is no definite definition of Special Collections, but they commonly consist of archives, manuscripts, maps, books and journals that are regarded as special due to their age, uniqueness, condition, provenance or value.
- In an archival description, this provides details of the individual or organisation who has financed the acquisition, processing or cataloguing of the collection being described.
- A subfonds refers to a subdivision in the archival material immediately below the collection or fonds level. For example, one subfonds might be the documents relating to Finance within a business archive.
- A Subject is a significant topic or theme represented in a collection.
- System of Arrangement
- Information on the physical or logical ordering of the material in the collection being described. The material may, for example, be arranged alphabetically by title, in date order, or by some classification scheme. This should include details of any changes to original the arrangement made by the archivist.
- A small version of a digital image, generally used as a link to a larger version.
- The National Archives
- See TNA
- The National Archives. The official archive of the UK Government, TNA also maintains a central national archive for England and Wales. The National Archives provides information about individual collections - and collections held by other repositories - through its Discovery service.
- Unit of Description
- Any level of description, from a collection or fonds through to a subfonds, series, subseries, file or item within an archival collection. A unit of description typically has a reference, title and date at minimum.
- This is the act of identifying and removing unwanted materials from a collection. Often an archivist may decide to remove duplicate or damaged documents from a collection, and they would usually include details of this process in their archival description.
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