As everyone well knows who works in the field of history, archives are at once the most rewarding and frustrating parts of the job. They are sites of epiphany and of bureaucracy in equal measure, with their internal workings changing from place to place, and year to year. Some archives require extensive documentation (letters of introduction, research application, etc.), while a limited few require hardly any documentation at all (other than a valid passport). And, as the tide of digitization spreads, some archives boast meticulously organized electronic search indexes, others boast a host of fully digitized archival documents, while still others require the use of conventional text catalogs (which often lead to serendipitous discoveries not possible using keyword searches). Many are in the midst of medium- and large-scale digitization programs, which have both positive and negative repercussions: positive, in the sense of greater access in the future, and negative for those who need certain materials now (as sources-under-digitization are often “temporarily unavailable” for extended periods of time, sometimes extending into years).
All of this is information that scholars benefit from knowing before, rather than during, their time in the archives. To this end, there exist a limited number of highly useful and widely used reference collections. Perhaps the most well known is Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide, edited by Ye Wa and Joseph Esherick. Also essential for any scholar is the series of “guides” (zhinan) published by Archives Press (Dang’an chubanshe). An example is the Guide to the Sichuan Provincial Archives (Sichuan sheng dang’an guan zhinan 四川省档案馆指南) published in 2001. The same publisher has also released guides to provincial and municipal archives in Yunnan, Liaoning, Fujian and many others locales.
In order to supplement existing references and guides to Chinese archives, Chinese History Dissertation Reviews is launching a new series called “Fresh from the Archives.” The series will feature brief, up-to-date introductions to individual Chinese archives, written by scholars who have just returned from research. Each installment of “Fresh from the Archives” will feature one archive, providing an overview of the basics (e.g., current address, required documentation, the status of digital cameras, photocopying fees and times, etc.) as well as types of information that one can only learn on-the-spot (e.g., the pace and rhythm of the office, the ambient noise level, relevant personal anecdotes, etc.). Each installment will also provide a comment field in which readers can pose further questions and supply further information.
If you are interested in contributing a piece for this new series, please make contact with Tom Mullaney at firstname.lastname@example.org . The word count is rather short (800-1000 words), the turn-around time is generous (80 days, but flexible), and the contribution it would make to the field is greater than you might expect! To assist you in writing the piece, moreover, we would provide you with a list of questions as well as a basic style guide.
Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Tom Mullaney, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Stanford University
Gina Russo, Ph.D. Student, Department of History, Stanford University