Citing Archives Resources

Once you have done enough research that you’re ready to start writing, it’s time to consider how you will cite archival documents in your work. We’ve prepared this little guide to help you navigate the process of citing a variety of records from the UW Archives collections. Archivists strive to preserve the unique order of collections when they are donated. For this reason, the identifying information given to archival sources varies by institution. Whichever style guide (Chicago, MLA, APA) you use, your citations will require information that will allow your readers to locate the materials that you used to support your claims. Contact us with any questions! 

Please note that a citation does not replace any necessary permissions for use of copyrighted materials. Please see our Duplication and Use Policy for more information.

Gathering information required for citations

Most archives use some form of unique identifier (often, a number) associated with each set of archival materials. This unique identifier will need to be included in the citation so that your reader knows exactly which document or set of materials you’re referencing. At UW Archives, many of our collections have either an Accession Number or a Series Number

An Accession Number includes a year and a number reflecting that item’s order among the documents integrated into the archive during that year. For example, an Accession Number is formatted as follows: Accession 2008/500 or Accession 2011/073.

Some items have Accession Numbers, but others have Series Numbers. Series are often (though not always) grouped by theme. For example, Series 38 is the group of documents related to the Arboretum at UW Archives, and so it follows that the “Arboretum map collection” is Series 38/1/12. Some Series Numbers are long and contain four or five slashes, or even more.

Some of the collections at UW Archives have UAC Numbers. Because these unique identifiers contain “UAC,” they are clearly identifiable as UAC Numbers. For instance, UAC52 is the unique identifier associated with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Records at UW Archives.

Some collections, especially photographs, will have a different kind of unique identifier (instead of an Accession Number, Series Number, or UAC Number). Finding the unique identifier in these cases will be discussed more below. 

Whether your materials have an Accession Number, a Series Number, or a UAC Number, your materials will also likely have a Box and/or a Folder number.  Many Accession and Series Numbers include multiple boxes, so it is important to take note of the box numbers within a given collection to ensure that your documents would be locatable based on the information provided in the citation. All UW Archives collections also include a Collection Title, which you will need for your citation – we provide some examples of this below. 

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, songs, and television shows. 

Necessary elements for a citation

To sum up, for citations you will need the following elements:

  • Author. If there is no author indicated, begin with the Title.
  • Title for the individual item/document. If the item is untitled, you should provide a brief description of the item, capitalizing the first word of the description and any proper nouns within it (e.g., Letter from Chancellor Rebecca Blank to UW-Madison Provost). 
  • Date, formatted as Day Month Year, e.g., 1 April 1990)
  • Title for the collection 
  • Location, which can include the unique identifier, a box number, and a folder number (when applicable), along with the name and location of the archive (University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, Madison, Wisconsin).
  • URL (only required for digital content) we recommend folks look for a permalink when including a URL

If you have trouble locating the components needed for your citation, please feel free to contact the UW Archives staff for assistance. For specific examples for different types of documents, see below. Please note that our examples below are bibliography (not note) citations. For footnotes or endnotes, see the MLA style guide. The same information will be required for notes, but the formatting is slightly different from that of bibliographic citations.