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Special Collections and Archives Research at UIC and Beyond

Overview of Special Collections and University Archives Services

What Are Primary Sources In Archives?

Frantz Fanon (1970) Black Skin, White Masks dust jacket, H.D. Carberry collection of Caribbean Studies

Archives, also sometimes referred to as manuscripts, are what is known as primary sources because they provide a first-hand account of an event by someone who witnessed it or experienced it. They are materials that were created or collected by a person or organization, but has not been interpreted by others. Archives are unique, unpublished resources that are not available anywhere else. Some examples of primary sources in our collections are as follows:

  • Personal Papers such as the Neva Leona Boyd papers. Neva Leona Boyd (1876-1963) was a proponent of the modern play movement, which emphasized the importance of recreation in socializing individuals. She founded the Chicago School for Playground Workers in 1909. From 1914 to 1920, the school operated as the Recreation Department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Most of the classes were taught at Hull-House and Jane Addams served on the Board of Directors. When the School of Civics and Philanthropy was incorporated into the University of Chicago, Neva Boyd's Recreation Department became the Independent Recreation Training School of Chicago (popularly known as the Hull-House School.) In 1927, the school was absorbed by Northwestern University and operated until Boyd's retirement in 1941. Upon her retirement, Boyd worked with the Illinois Department of Public Welfare designing recreational programs for the mentally ill.
  • Organizational records such as the Chicago Urban League records. Founded in 1910, the National Urban League is one of the oldest African American social service, research, and advocacy organizations in the United States. A group of sociologists, social workers, and philanthropists founded the Chicago League in 1916 to address the rapidly increasing needs of the African American community during a time of voluminous migration. The specific focus of the Chicago League's programs has changed over time from the provision of social services to advocacy and leadership on citywide efforts to open jobs, housing, and public accommodations to black citizens. As a reform organization, the League has attracted criticism from the right and the left. Conservatives have often suggested that the League was pushing for too much change too quickly, and have especially criticized individual League leaders for being overly aggressive. On the other hand, the more militant labor and civil rights leaders have criticized the League for protecting the interests of its white supporters rather than the needs of black workers. With its connections to the University of Chicago's School of Sociology, the CUL was at the heart of efforts to use community studies and statistics to shape public policy.
  • UIC Archives is the official repository for records with permanent, historical value from the University of Illinois at Chicago and its predecessor institutions.  The archives include over 7,000 linear feet of material dating from the establishment of the Chicago College of Pharmacy in 1859 to the present day.  In addition to the records of the colleges, departments, campus units and student organizations, the UIC Archives also includes selected professional and personal manuscripts of faculty, staff, and alumni that have been given to the University for preservation and use.
  • Photographs such as those found in the Italian American collection. The Italian-American Collection was compiled as part of the "Italians in Chicago" project by the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. The project was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and largely conducted during 1979 and 1980. This two-year public program included a symposia series, oral history interviews, and a collection of donations. Donations included photographs, sound recordings, video recordings, books, booklets and pamphlets, citizenship papers, church documents, as well as various other family memorabilia. Some donations show life in Italy, many more deal with the immigration process, and others show dominant themes in Italian American lives here in the United States. The project culminated in a six-week exhibition entitled "Italians in Chicago: Collection from Three Generations, 1880-1965" at the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center in 1980. As donations seemed to highlight several dominant themes of Italian American experience in Chicago, the exhibit was divided into seven sections according to these themes. These sections were: family, work, religion and schools, neighborhoods, social life, Americanization, and feste (feasts). Many of the symposia and events surrounding the exhibition were recorded on audio as well as video.



What Are Archives?

In an academic Special Collections and University Archives, archives are any material identified as having lasting historical value. In general, historical value is often assigned by the communities who collect or create the archives. These items document the lives and activities of people, associations, businesses, and university departments. They were given to the archives, most often by the people who created them, so that they could be preserved and made available to others. The size of these collections vary and may be as small as a single item or large enough to fill hundreds of boxes. These materials are non-circulating and are to be used only in the Special Collections and University Archives reading room.


Example Of Archival Manuscript

This is what an archival manuscript looks like. It is up to you to read the document and interpret its meaning!