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History 100 - Researching in the Archives

This guide is designed to help HIST100 researchers locate University Archives collections and materials.

How to Cite Primary Sources

Citing primary sources properly is important, because the materials found in an archive or special collections repository are often unique and cannot be accessed elsewhere. Folks who are reading your research paper and trying to access the sources you cite will need to know exactly where and how to retrieve them.

The particular form of your citation will depend upon the citation style you adhere to (e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association, etc.). In general, citations progress from the narrowest to broadest information. The basic elements that should appear in your citation are:

  • Description of the document or record: the creator or author, specific item title, page, date
  • Box and Folder Numbers. The majority of materials found in archives are housed in some sort of container and within the container the various items are separated into folders. (Ex. "Box 1 Folder 2"). If the materials were not located in a box, this is not necessary.
  • Collection title: the title of the collection this item came from--usually a number followed by a title (Ex: UA0011 Office of the President, Warren J. Baker)
  • Repository: The name of the archives where the collection is located. For materials you find in Cal Poly's archives this is: Special Collections and Archives, California Polytechnic State University.
  • Digital link: If citing an online digital version of the source, add the Reference URL at the end of the citation (ex: or

Typical format of primary source for Turabian bibliographic record:

[title/description of document]. [date (day month year) OR undated]. Box [#] Folder [#], [Collection title]. [Repository].

Example of a letter in a collection:

Leroy Anderson to the Board of Trustees of the California Polytechnic School. 17 May 1902.  Box 1 Folder 14, 114.01 Leroy Anderson Presidential Papers.  Special Collections and Archives, California Polytechnic State University.

Other bibliographic examples:

Example of a newspaper article accessed online:

Andrews, Craig. "No Simple Solutions for Registration Problems." Mustang Daily, January 9, 1986. (accessed November 10, 2018). 

For footnote formatting, consult Turabian.


When you are at the archives, it is a good idea to note down information from the finding aid or guide to the collection and from labels on the folder and box - even if not all the information is required in the citation itself. Citing primary sources can be tricky. Never hesitate to ask the archivist, librarian, or your professor for assistance. We are here to help you!