Finding archives relevant to your research topic
It is not always easy to find relevant archives. Please bear in mind when you carry out searches on the Archives Hub:
- Descriptions are created by individuals working within archive repositories across the country. There are recognised standards that are used but inevitably there will be variation in style, format and level of detail
- A summary description may represent a very large collection. It is not possible to catalogue everything to a detailed level
- Index terms are added to help you locate relevant archives, but they are necessarily not comprehensive as indexing takes time and is unlikely to cover all elements of a large and complex archive.
- It is always worth trying various ways of searching, e.g. by subject, by name or place, by keyword, and using the links and filters within the Archives Hub.
- If you are new to archives you may find our Guide to Using Archives worthwhile.
From the Archives Hub homepage at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk you can search all fields. Enter your search term(s) and press return or click 'Search'.
Search options (see also Search Filters for more information):
All - the default search. Searches all the content of all the descriptions.
Title - titles at all levels of description (e.g. may be the title of a collection, series or individual item). Titles of archives are typically supplied by the cataloguer as a succinct description of the content, e.g. 'Philip Pullman Collection', 'Commonplace-book of 18th century English verse and prose', 'Production file for Poor Tom, 1975'.
Titles at lower levels of description may need to be interpreted in the context of the top level of description, e.g. 'Manuscript volumes' is a series title which makes more sense within the context of the top level title, the 'George Powell Archive'.
Dates - dates that the archives cover, i.e. dates they were created. Some archives range over centuries, others may span decades or just be individual dates.
Creator - the 'archival creator'; typically the person, family or organisation that is responsible for bringing the materials together. Example: e.g. Agatha Christie, Trades Union Congress, Great Britain Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
At lower levels the creator may be the author of a document.
Reference - reference numbers assigned to collections by the hosting institution.
Repository - the name of the hosting institution (not available if you are searching a local repository site)
Search by Index Term: subjects, places, names
NOTE: Not all descriptions are indexed with subjects, places and names, and indexing is necessarily never completely comprehensive and it is somewhat subjective. e.g. you may search 'human rights' but this will not bring back ALL archives that are in any way related to human rights.
Subject - subjects that have been used to describe collections. If a collection is indexed by subject it indicates that it strong in this subject area.
Place - place names provided as an index terms, usually indicates the material is significantly about the place.
Person - personal names added as index terms, usually indicates the material is significantly about the person.
Organisation - organisations and institutions added as index terms, usually indicates the material is significantly about the organisation.
Ordering of Results
The Archives Hub results are shown as relevance ranked by default. The relevance is based upon frequency of term and weighted in favour of the title and index terms.
Relevance within archives is inevitably subjective. We can change the weighting but we can only do so much to ensure that the 'most relevant' archives are listed first.
A-Z by Title
The results can be listed alphabetically by title, from A-Z or Z-A.
Ascending or Descending by Date
Results can be ordered by date. Please note that this is dependent upon normalised dates. The vast majority of descriptions on the Hub have consistently formatted dates, but if there are errors in cataloguing this may be reflected in incorrect date ordering.
The expanded mode button provides the option to see a more detailed hit list. This includes reference, location, name of creator, extent and language (where it is provided).
The Archives Hub provides a number of filtering options, so that you can carry out a broader search and then narrow the results using various criteria.
The filter results are given in order of numbers of hits.
The filter function can be shown and hidden using the double chevron.
The Hub searches across archives held at hundreds of repositories. You search within all repositories by default, but the filter allows you to select one or more institutions that contribute to the Hub. For each search result you can see the list of repositories that have matching descriptions and the number of descriptions, up to the first 20 institutions.
The level refers to archival hierarchy. In reality this can be quite complex,with several levels. We have provided three filter levels:
Collection: This is the 'top level' of description and typically describes a whole collection, e.g. 'Records of the Co-operative Society' or 'Papers of John Anderson'. The level of detail provided here varies and there is no correlation between it and the size of the collection. The 'top level' may exist on its own, or 'lower levels' of the collection, such as series, may also form part of the whole description. Sometimes this 'top level' description represents a series within a collection, especially when the collection is very large and each series is substantial.
If you only want to see an overview of collections, it is a good idea to select collection descriptions via the filter.
If you want to see more detail then leave the checkbox unchecked.
Section: This is the 'middle tier' between the top level and an individual item level description. Typically it is a series, sub-series or file. The description may or may not then have lower individual item level descriptions.
Item: This is typically the lowest level of description. An 'item' within an archive typically represents one single physical entity. Sometimes files are described as individual items. This is not an exact science due to the complex nature of archives and the choices made as to how to represent the hierarchy.
This refers to the 'archival creator'. This is the individual or organization responsible for the creation, accumulation, or assembly of the described materials before their incorporation into an archival repository. An archive collection usually has a common provenance, and therefore a recognised creator or creators. For example, the creator of the Stanley Kubrick Archive is Stanley Kubrick, although he did not author or physically create all the individual items within the collection. The creator of the Wedgwood Archive is Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, as they are responsible for the existence of the archive, which was created in the course of the everyday business activities of the company.
Some collections are brought together artificially, in which case the creator may be the agent responsible for this (and the collection will not share a common provenance).
These are subjects that have been assigned to descriptions by cataloguers, as a means to show what the archive is substantially about. For example, the subject 'Anti-Slavery Movements' may be assigned to a collection, that is not ostensibly about emancipation, but does refer to it, for example through personal letters or business correspondence.
A collection can never be comprehensively indexed, so subjects should be used as a guide rather than something definite.
The Hub filters provide span dates by century, with the 20th century onwards divided into three parts. These are the dates of the collections. If you select e.g. 1800-1899 this will filter to all archives that include these dates, e.g. 1790-1810, 1880-1901, 1290-1801.
This is a binary filter, enabling you to select descriptions that either display images, or provide links to digital content that they describe, or to exclude digital content.
Only a small proportion of archives are digital or digitised, and also the Hub does not always have links if digital content does exist because the cataloguer has to choose to link to it in the description that we have received from them.
The content is held on external sites outside of the Archives Hub, so we are not responsible for the maintenance of these links, which may show 'page not found' if they are not maintained.
Highlighting of your search term(s) is provided in the hit list of results, the 'mini map', table of contents and in the descriptions.
Additional search terms can be added by using the Advanced Search, which is available on the main search page through a show/hide panel.
By default the advanced search is set to must include so that you get an 'and' search. For example, search for 'manchester' and within the advanced search include 'theatre' to search for manchester AND theatre.
The advanced search allows for the same selection of fields as the main search, so you can search for e.g. place=africa, subject=medicine to get archives relating to a more specific topic. But remember that this may not retrieve all relevant archives, as it will depend how they are indexed.
If you change must to should this changes the order of your results - so if you search for 'scotland' should include 'railway' you will get results for 'Scotland' with should contain 'Railway' ordered by relevance to 'Scotland' and 'Railway' (so results contain both terms).
The Archives Hub is not case sensitive. For example, you can search for Archbishop of Canterbury or archbishop of canterbury.
You may choose to search for a phrase by adding quotation marks to your search to find both terms in the specified order: "industrial revolution", "graphic designers".
Use AND OR NOT (in capitals) for boolean searching:
folklore AND fable = both terms
folklore OR fable = both or either term
folklore NOT fable = exclude one term
Words such as 'the' and 'of' are intelligently handled. For example, a search for archbishop of canterbury or archbishop canterbury will get the same results, as will canterbury of archbishop. A search for "archbishop of canterbury" is required to get an exact phrase match.
The search is an 'and' search by default, so antarctic and shackleton gets the same results as antarctic shackleton.
Wildcard symbols are used to represent letters within words to search for word variations when you do not want to narrow down your search too far.
* represents a single letter
medi*val searches for "medieval" and "mediaeval"
* can be used at the end of the root of a word to search for different endings
photograph* searches for photograph, photographs, photographer, photography
Descriptions of archives held across the UK. The descriptions are submitted by our contributors and they may be paper-based or digital or a hybrid of the two. They can range in size from one item to hundreds of boxes. They may be described in brief or in a full hierarchical description. An archive collection usually has a shared provenance.
Online resources are descriptions of archive materials represented on a website, usually on a topic or subject, such as World War One, Zandra Rhodes or Dance Archives. The materials are typically digital and they may be hosted by a number of different institutions. The site usually offers support and context and can be a useful learning and teaching resource.
(Online Resource descriptions are not available from a single repository interface.)
Repositories holding archives, which may be physical or digital. Contributors are usually described as sub-divisions or departments that exist within a university or business or other organisation, e.g. University of Manchester Special Collections, V&A Theatre and Performance Collections, Tate Archive.
(Locations are not present from a single repository interface as the archives are hosted by one institution.)
You might also find it useful to consult our 'Frequently asked questions' page.
NOTE: If you are using an interface for a single repository this information on how to search will apply, but the context given in this help is for the main Archives Hub e.g. the links given are to the main site.