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About Archives

What is an archive?

An archive is a place (where archival materials are physically or digitally stored) as well as a collection of items related to a person’s life, the activities of a specific institution (such as a school or a business), a place, or a community. Archival collections are distinct from collections of library items, because they contain unique materials created by people, families, organizations, and communities. Archival materials are primary sources, which provide us with firsthand information about people, places, events, and time periods--directly from the people who experienced them. For example, a personal diary would be an archival item, because it is a first-person account (or narrative) of a unique person’s experience and times.

What is in an archive?

The contents of an archive can include many different kinds of items: paper-based items such as letters and diaries, photographic records such as prints, negatives, and slides, audio and video recordings, scrapbooks, art, clothing, and even what we call “born digital” items such as emails, digital photos or videos, social media posts and webpages. Everyone creates archival material, but not everyone is included in the archival record. Archivists today are working to change this and create a more thorough representation of history by including more voices, experiences and perspectives.

What can you use an archive for? 

Archival materials are collected and preserved so that researchers, students, and community members can make use of them. Archives can help answer questions you may have about: the history of your family or community, local businesses, architecture, politics, historical events, and more. Because archival materials serve as documentation of specific people, places, and time periods, archivists often consider the material to also have added value as evidence--or as testaments to the time and place of their creation. The materials collected by Maine Contemporary Archives projects will be used for public programming, lesson plans, and online exhibits, and will serve as primary sources for researchers, students, and community members in the future!