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History 100 - Researching in the Archives

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

Frequently Asked Questions

When I come to the archive, do I have to exactly know what I want to look at? Or should I just have a basic topic idea?

Special Collections and Archives staff and student assistants are always willing to help track down material relevant to your desired area of study. If you are having trouble figuring out what we have to look at, give us a call or email. You can learn more about what we have on this guide

Once we've figured out what exactly you want us to pull for you to look at, we will schedule you with an appointment to come in to give us time to pull the boxes.

Are the archives open to everyone? Can you walk in and look at material?

Yes, Special Collections and Archives are open to everyone! You can always walk in to look at our exhibits or talk with the archives staff, but we cannot always guarantee our ability to pull material immediately for your research. Some collections are stored offsite and require one to two business days notice to pull the material. 

What is the oldest record in the archives to date?

Our oldest document is from 1478! It is one page of Plutarch's Vitæ parallelæ illustrium virorum, which was printed by Nicolas Jenson in Venice. Here is the catalog record.

Our earliest Cal Poly records are dated from 1901, the year that the school was established.

Do you have recent material and collections?

Yes! We are continuously collecting, capturing, and maintaining current resources and material. For example, check out our captured webpages at However, the bulk of our materials go through the 1990s. 

Can we photograph things?

Yes, you are welcome to photograph the materials for your personal research. If you would like to use a photograph or scan of the material for your paper or any publication, you must ask the archives staff for permission. Many material in Special Collections and Archives are protected by privacy and copyright laws. 

How long are you allowed to look at certain materials or stay inside the archives?

You are welcome to to stay as long as you need during our open hours. We are open Monday–Friday, 9am-4pm.

How do we submit our requests for documents to be pulled?

Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives has an email,, where you can email your requests. Or you can call us at 805-756-2305. Please email your requests at least 24 business hours in advance. Some of our material is housed offsite and will require time to retrieve. (If you email us on the weekend, we won't see it till Monday, so email us on Friday if you want to come in on Monday).

How would we cite something from the archives?

Learn more here

Are the archives only related to Cal Poly?

No, the University Archives is just one of our collecting areas. We have a lot more! Collections include San Luis Obispo County archives, architecture (such as the papers of architect Julia Morgan), Environmental archives, and California wide archives. You can see a list of many of our collections here. We also have many rare books, underground comix and beautiful artists' books, which you can learn more about here.

Can we use computers in the archives?

Yes, we allow the use of computers in the reading room.

What is the best way to narrow down all the information?

This is the million-dollar question! For this HIST100 paper, we recommend starting broad--casting a wide net--about a specific thing or question. And once you find 10-12 primary sources that help you with your question, pick 2-3 primary sources that you want to focus your paper on. This sort of paper should only use 1-3 primary sources, otherwise you will run over the maximum number of pages for this assignment! 

Is there always a librarian present?

Yes, our reading room is always staffed by either an archivist or student assistant who can help with any questions you have.