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Analysis of Archaeological and Cultural Materials: Researching a Museum Object

Virtually Tour the Penn Museum

Penn Museum

  • Digital Penn Museum is the portal for the Penn Museum's digital content, including over 379,000 object records representing over 1 million objects in the collections and accompanied by more than 200,000 images.

More information is available through Penn Museum publications, including:

  • Expedition, the current publication of the Penn Museum. Volumes 1 (1958) - present are available at the Museum Library (call # GN1 .E9), and all but the current issues are available free online.
  • The University Museum Bulletin. Volumes 1 (1930) - 22 (1958) are available at the Museum Library desk and Van Pelt Library (call # CC21 .P46)
  • The Museum Journal. All volumes 1 (1910) - 24 (1935) are available at the Museum Library desk and online through the Penn Museum website. Additionally, full text of volumes 1 (1910) - 13 (1922) is available and searchable through the HathiTrust.
  • The Bulletin of the then-named Free Museum of Science and Art. Volumes 1 (1897) - 3 (1901-1902) are available online through the HathiTrust, as well at the Museum Library desk and in the Van Pelt Library (call # CC91 .P39).

Using Archives for Research

Using Archives: a Guide to Effective Research, prepared by the Society of American Archivists:

  • ArchiveGrid is an index consisting of over 5 million records describing archival materials in over 1,000 institutions (archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies) including the American Philosophical Society and Smithsonian collections.  Be aware: not all institutions with archives participate in ArchiveGrid, for example, the United Nations.
  • Philadelphia Area Archives Site provides access to descriptions of more than 5,000 collections from over 200 regional institutions documenting the region's vital role in our collective history. You can find and view finding aids for the Penn Museum Archives, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library in Van Pelt, Archives at the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, Annenberg Library Archives, the Biddle Law Library, and the University Archives and Records Center. Not included at this site are the Architectural Archives on the lower level of the Fisher Fine Arts building and the Pennsylvania Hospital Archives.



  • Find and browse the website for the archive. Look for descriptions of collections, finding aids, and information about using the archives.
  • Contact the archives. Not only do most archives require that you make an appointment in order to do research, but many archivists and local reference staff will offer more information than the finding aids or records in a database and can even direct you to other collections that were not on your radar. Replies can take time so be patient! 
  • Plan your visit ahead of time. Because materials are usually stored in a secure and carefully organized manner, you will not be permitted to “browse” and pull your own materials. Walk-ins are rarely permitted, and many archives will require appointments made in advance. When making the appointment, make sure you have read through the available finding aids and descriptions, and tell the staff about your topic and the items you are specifically hoping to find to save time for you and them.  Staff will retrieve items for your use, often including items that they think might interest you.
  • Be prepared for your appointment. The archival staff or website should tell you rules and policies. Typically, you will be expected to show a photo ID and register. Make sure your hands are clean, and use gloves if instructed. Food, drink, bags, and indelible markers are strictly forbidden. Policies about photography vary, and ask if you are uncertain about the policies.

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