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Multicultural America (WGS 150): Access


Learning Outcomes

  1. Differentiate between different types of repositories.
  2. Understand differences between library and archives practices. 
  3. Understand how archives and manuscript collections are organized.
  4. Effectively use search tools to find primary sources.

Key Terms

A collection of historical documents or records created or recieved by a person, family, or organization.  An archives can also refer to the repository in which the collections of records are held.

A place where things can be stored and maintained; a storehouse.  Sometimes used in the phrase "manuscript repository" to indicate a special type of archives.

Video Tutorials

General Tips for Using the Archives

For the most success, we suggest that you decide on a general research topic before you visit us. Or, if you are working on a class assignment, make sure you understand your assignment.

In general, the more research you do in secondary (e.g. books, documentaries) and tertiary (e.g. encyclopedias) sources, and the more familiar you are with the period or topic you are studying, the more productive you will be in the Archives.

Each time you visit, give yourself enough time. Using archival material usually takes more than 30 minutes, and sometimes hours or days, so we recommend that you allot an hour or two for your first visit.

To familiarize yourself with the archives, watch our tutorial "Visit the UWM Archives."

  • Our hours are 8:00 am - 4:30 pm Mondays - Fridays. Also, during the school year, when classes are in session, we have evening hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays until 6.30 pm. We are not open on the weekends. You can call us at 414 229-5402 to verify our hours.
  • Occasionally, a collection is out on a 30-day loan to another archives in Wisconsin. If you have already identified a collection that you want to use, feel free to call us at 414 229-5402 to verify that it is at UWM.
  • Make sure you bring a valid photo ID (student ID, driver's license, or passport). Everyone must show a valid photo ID each time they visit.
  • You may make fair-use copies of much of the material in the Archives. A self-service photocopier and other tools are available for your use. Use of personal copying equipment is also generally permitted. See a staff member for more information. Laptops and notepads are allowed.
  •  We recommend that you discuss your research topic with a staff member. S/he can help you search for material, or may know of collections which work well for your topic.
  •  If you already know what you would like to see, tell us the call number or the title of the collection. If you don't know, we will help you find something.
  •  We will ask you to stow all bags, use pencil only, and use one folder from one box at a time. Full information is available on the registration form.
  • Read the finding aid, or the catalog record; they explain who created your collection or document, and tells you more about its context. Settle in to look at the material carefully, analyze its place in the broader story, and do some digging. Remember that the theories you have or the questions you bring to the Archives may not be answered by the sources you see here; rather, the sources may lead you to pose different questions, or to different conclusions.
  •  If you have not found enough material, or you decide to take a different angle in your research and would like to work with something else, ask our staff. We will be happy to search to find different material for you.
  •  If you would like to make fair-use copies, talk with our staff.
  •  Remember to cite the material you find interesting, pertinent, or of which you make copies. Write down the call number, collection title, and exact box and folder numbers.
  • Analyze what you have found. Archival research can be very rewarding, not only due to the special nature of the materials, but due to the fact that you are the one who has to analyze the material you read, and place it correctly in its context. Archivists and professors can help you, but in the end, you draw conclusions from the materials.
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The Library of Congress has a wealth of digital collections, which you can search right from their homepage.  

If you're not sure where to start, you can also browse their collections by topic.

Search the library catalog to locate archival and manuscript collections that will contain primary sources. You can search by keyword/s in the box provided below. This search box brings up results from the UWM Archives Department, the UWM Special Collections, and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Note that these results will include catalog records for books that we hold here in the Archives, but most of the results will describe archival or manuscript collections, which include documents, reports, photographs, et al.

Here are three examples of simple keyword searches.  Note that the boolean operator and is not necessary between keywords.

1. World War I Milwaukee
2. Communism Wisconsin
3. Civil Rights African Americans Milwaukee

If your search doesn't produce relevant results, try again with different keywords, or contact us for help.

A general search hint: when reading any catalog record, follow the links found at "Subjects" to locate other material in the UWM Libraries on that same subject.

We write finding aids, or guides, for most of our collections. These guides explain the creator, contents and dates of the collection. This information is important to you when deciding if something is useful to your research. A finding aid also provides the information you will need to request and use a collection when you visit the Archives Dept.
All of our finding aids are included in Archival Resources in Wisconsin, a database of over 4,000 finding aids of collections held in seventeen repositories statewide.
Search our finding aids by using the search boxes below. Be sure to select an operator (and, or or not) as appropriate, and then click on "Search." Then explore the links in the grey band that appears with each result. Note: this search is limited to our holdings at the Archives Department, UWM Libraries, which is also known as the Milwaukee Area Research Center.


Use Archivegrid to find archives and collections in your geographic area.

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Further Reading