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2016 Summer Institute for Conducting Archival Research: A Glimpse into This Year’s Institute

A report on the 2016 Summer Institute for Conducting Archival Research, a four-day workshop providing in-depth training to 23 Ph.D. students from around the world on the theories and practice of conducting archival research at the dissertation level.

“I found SICAR to be engaging, well organized, and highly informative.  [It] is true that there is little archival training in graduate school.  In this respect, SICAR is an indispensable supplement to my training that… will make me a better student, researcher, and historian.”—2016 SICAR Student Participant

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The 2016 SICAR participants

During the week of 24-27 May, 2016, the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program, in cooperation with The George Washington University’s Cold War Group, hosted the 2016 Summer Institute for Conducting Archival Research (SICAR).  An intensive four-day workshop, SICAR provided in-depth training to 23 Ph.D. students from around the world on the theories and practice of conducting archival research at the dissertation level.

Although archival research is a critical component of many academic disciplines, it is virtually never taught at the graduate level.  Often is the case that students arrive at an archive, attempting to conduct research—through trial and error—with little to no formal instruction.  Such is the experience of many graduate students.  With this educational gap in mind, SICAR aims to provide a foundational introduction and overview of archives and archival research.

SICAR 2016 student participants came from 18 universities in 8 countries and individually represented over 10 different nationalities.  Students’ research covered topics in field of history, political science, and international relations.  Examples of dissertation themes included US-East Asian relations, Cold War narratives in non-European countries, nuclear disarmament, national identity and nation-building policy, social development in Pakistan, and the history of women’s rights movements in South Africa.

During the course of the SICAR 2016, participants actively engaged in a series of lectures presented by world class faculty and researchers.  Presenters at this year’s Summer Institute included Elizabeth Charles (Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State), Malcolm Byrne (National Security Archive), Hope Harrison (George Washington University), David Langbart (National Archives and Records Administration), Trudy Peterson (Certified Archivist), Elizabeth Saunders (George Washington University), and Christa Williford (Council on Library and Information Resources), among many other distinguished speakers.

From practical advice on country-specific archives to workflow organizational strategies, SICAR offered participants the intellectual tools and foundational tips for how best to conduct archival research.  Lecture topics included panels on “Preparing to Go to An Archive,” “Researching in Foreign Archives,” “Organizing Your Materials and Creating and Managing Your Archival Digital Workflows,” and “Getting Your Research Published” to mention a few. 

In addition to the presentations, students had the opportunity to learn from their fellow SICAR participants through topic-specific breakout sessions, tailored for discussion of their dissertation themes.  Students also benefited from the collegial environment of SICAR, which offered important networking opportunities with leading experts and fellow graduate students.Image removed.

On the last day of SICAR, facilitators asked student participants to provide feedback in an open-ended, anonymous survey.  All 23 students responded to the survey, offering overwhelmingly positive comments about the entire program.  Here are a few examples of what students had to say about this year’s SICAR:

  • “An extremely valuable experience.”
  • “The program greatly complements the lack of archival method class[es] in PhD program[s].”
  • “The workshop was well organized, and truly educational.  Each theme of the workshop sessions was the very information I needed to proceed with my dissertation project.”
  • “Highly recommended for anyone interested in engaging in serious historical investigation.”
  • “It was an excellent program.  I learned a lot and finished the week with a long list of resources to look at and things to do.”
  • “I found SICAR to be engaging, well organized, and highly informative.  [It] is true that there is little archival training in graduate school.  In this respect, SICAR is an indispensable supplement to my training that… will make me a better student, researcher, and historian.”

All SICAR 2016 feedback will be analyzed, recorded and applied to future Summer Institutes in the hopes that the program will continue to grow and improve over the years.

The 2016 Summer Institute for Conducting Archival Research was made possible through the generous support of the Sidney Stern Memorial Trust.

The Wilson Center and George Washington University are currently seeking funds in order to continue hosting SICAR on an annual basis.  Details and application instructions for the 2017 Summer Institute will be posted in late 2016.

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