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Citing Archives Resources

Once you have identified archival resources relevant to your research, you should determine how to reference them properly in your paper or project.

Citation is an important challenge when working with archives. Because archivists strive to preserve the unique order of collections when they are donated, citing archival sources varies by institution. To facilitate your work, we suggest the following methods based on best scholarly practices.

You have two viable options for citing archival sources:

  1. Contact the Archives for a preferred citation.
  2. Use the following adapted Modern Language Association (MLA) citation format:

Refer to the MLA citation practices most relevant to the particular genre of your materials. The most recent MLA handbook will contain citation guidelines for comic books, film strips, commercials, photographs, etc.

Include as much detail as possible to help a fellow researcher locate your resource in a given archive.

Depending on the archival system in place, you should refer to box numbers, folders, collections, archives name, institutional affiliation and location. Since archives are dynamic in the sense that collections may be sold, donated to another archives, reorganized and in extreme cases damaged or lost, you should always include the date you accessed the resource.

Manuscript Collections

The following example is based on a MLA citation best practices for manuscript collections:

Box number, Folder number. Unique identifier and collection name. Archives name, Institutional affiliation, Location. Date accessed.

BOX 21, Folder 3. Correspondence between Professor Johnson and faculty governance groups. Accession 2012/092. Jennifer Johnson papers (1982-1998). UW-Madison Archives, Madison Wisconsin. Accessed March 1, 2015.

See list below for our preferred citation format for various formats within our collections.


Please use the following text: “Image courtesy of the UW-Madison Archives, #Sxxxxx.” If you are unsure of the image ID, please contact the Image & Media Archivist. If you discovered the image in an online collection and are unsure of its provenance or image ID, send us a screen shot or low resolution copy and we’ll do our best to identify and provide citation information for you.

Oral History Interviews

Footnote or end note: Elizabeth and James Miller, interviewed by Laura Smail, 1985, OH #0316, digital audio file, University Archives and Records Management Services, Madison, Wisconsin.

Bibliography or reference list: Miller, Elizabeth and James. Interviewed by Laura Smail. 1985. OH #0316. Digital audio file. University Archives and Records Management Services, Madison, Wisconsin.

Contact the Oral History Program for more information about citing an interview.

Audio or Films

Please use the following text: “Courtesy of the UW-Madison Archives, #xxxxxx.” If you are unsure of the ID, please contact the Image & Media Archivist.

Artifact or Ephemeral Item

[Box number], [Folder number]. [Unique identifier], [Item title]. Artifact Collection. UW-Madison Archives, Madison, Wisconsin.

Contact the Archives if you require additional information about citing an Archives resource.