A beginner's guide to the US National Archives in Maryland

Or how to survive a first visit and get home with what you came looking for.

Posted by Dani Madrid-Morales on August 21, 2016

As a scholar who mostly writes about contemporary media phenomena, I seldom get a chance to engage in archival research and to make use of primary historical sources in my research. However, as one of the chapters of my dissertation deals with China's media operations in Africa during the second half of the twentieth-century, I have found myself digging through this kind of materials quite often lately. On a recent trip to the US, I had a chance to visit the US National Archives in Maryland for a day (note: as it turned out, that was a terrible idea; archival research takes a considerable amount of time and, even if you clearly know where to look for, you should allocate several days to control for the unexpected). The National Archives hold hundreds of millions of pages of federal records and, as such, are probably the closest to research paradise for historians. For the rest of the world, they can quickly become a nightmare. Navigating the records and finding exactly what one is looking for can be a daunting task. If you are planning to visit the National Archives and have limited time, here you go some recommendations to maximize your visit. I learnt them the hard way!

#1 - Learn how to use the online catalogue

#2 - Understand how documents are arranged and stored

#3 - Get ready to write a lot

#4 -

#5 - Pack lightly, arrive early,