1. First, last, and always, be aware that there are librarians available to help you.
The libraries have subject specialists available for a wide range of geographical areas. Please feel free to contact any one of them for advice or to schedule an appointment to discuss your research:
You may also wish to make use of our Ask a Librarian services.
2. Start out by looking at good secondary sources on your topic. What archival sources are these scholars making use of?
A. To find books
i. Search CLIO catalog
ii. Search WorldCat if you can't find the materials you need in CLIO.
B. To find articles:
i. if your topic focus is on countries other than the United States or Canada, begin with
Historical abstracts with full text
Historical Abstracts covers the history of the world (exclusive of the US and Canada) from 1450 to present.
ii. If your topic is primarily on the United States or Canada, either by themselves or in relationship to other countries, begin with:
America, history and life with full text
iii. To search the two databases above simultaneously:
Open one of the above databases. Then select “Choose Databases” link from above the top search box.
From the menu of databases that pops up, check the one that you have not yet opened, then click “OK.”
iv. Depending on the geographical and/or topic focus of your research, there are other databases you might need to consult to identify relevant journal articles. Please ask a librarian for advice.
C. To find dissertations
3. Consult the relevant library Research Guide[s]
The guide in which you are now situated was specifically designed to assist students embarking on research in British and / or European Archives.
Many research guide related to the study of specific countries or regions may be found on the
4. Familiarize yourself with national archival catalogues for countries and also with the web sites for relevant local archival collections
Linked below are some examples of national archival catalogues:
The National Archives (United Kingdom)
Archives Nationales (France)
If you identify a specific local archive relevant to your research, go to the Website for that local archive and find out what you can about their collections and the conditions for using those collections. For example:
Middle East Centre. St Antony’s College. University of Oxford.
5. Explore online sources that provide digital facsimiles of archival collections
This can provide you with a helpful sense of what some archival document collections are like. You may even find documents that have bearing on your topic. Examples of databases sourced from archival collections:
6. Read and consider carefully the handout listed below. The pointers it provides are relevant for all stages of archival research—from getting started onward.
→ “Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research” by Laura Schmidt
Society of American Archivists, 2011
7. Look in Columbia's own Special Collections & Archives for relevant materials.
CLIO Archives Search (includes collections at Avery, Barnard, Burke, Columbia University Archives, Health Sciences Library, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Starr East Asian)