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Home / References & research guides, USDA History

References & research guides, USDA History


The USDA History Collection
References and Research Guides

Notes on the Finding Aid:   How to Use the Guide.

The USDA History Collection is a large assembly of diverse materials that was collected by many USDA employees working in several agencies over a period of more than 70 years. Its size and complexity make it unlikely that a researcher could find relevant materials in it by simply "browsing" through the files. Therefore, the finding aid, Guide to the USDA History Collection, has been created to help researchers focus on the parts of the Collection that will be most useful to them.

A finding aid is a research tool used to describe a collection of documents held by an archives, library or museum. It presents a detailed description of the collection, its major subdivisions, and the intellectual organization of the materials. The first page of the finding aid is located at the following URL:

Ideally, a researcher will be able to study the Guide before coming to NAL to consult the actual documents. However, the Guide itself is a large document, and some explanation of its structure, which mirrors that of the Collection, may be helpful.

The Guide begins with an introductory section that includes a title page and other front matter, an historical note about the origins of the collection, and a general scope and content note about the collection as a whole. Following the scope and content note are brief notes about the contents of each of the series. Together, these sections give an overview of the collection, and are the recommended starting point for anyone using the finding aid.

The Numbering System

The series in the collection are designated by both a number (given as a roman numeral) and a title, for example:
Series II, the Class File.
Series VI, Newsletters.

Several of the series are divided into subseries as well, which are noted by arabic numerals:
Series VI, subseries 1, USDA Newsletters.
Series VI, subseries 2, Non-USDA Newsletters.

The series and subseries numbers can be written briefly, separated by a period, e.g.: I.4, or VI.2.

Box numbers are written all in arabic numerals, including the series or series.subseries number first, followed by a slash (/), then the number of the box:
1.1/15 (Series I, subseries 1, Box 15)
2/23 (Series II, Box 23)
7.2/4 (Series VII, subseries 2, Box 4)

After the opening section, there are 12 main sections to the Guide, as there are 12 series in the Collection. Each section in the Guide describes a series, and includes at least two main parts.

The first part is the Scope and Content Note, which includes the series title, dates and quantities of the materials, a description of types and forms included, and other information such as the origin, significance and arrangement of the material. The second part is the Container List or "box list", which lists the folders or items found in each box. The scope notes and box lists for each series are linked together.

The largest series in the collection is Series I, the Documentary Files. The scope and content note for this series begins with a general description of the series as a whole, followed by scope and content notes for each of the six subseries. Each subseries is described on a separate Web page, linked to a page holding the container list for that subseries.

Most of the other series, including those with several subseries, are described each with just one Web page for the scope note and one page for the container list. (Each Web page may be equal to many printed pages.) As work progresses on this Web site, some pages, especially very long container lists, may be subdivided to ease browsing and printing of information, but hypertext links will be used to maintain the original integrity of each page.

A Collection Map  Map has been constructed with links that connect to every part of the Guide. Using this, one may navigate quickly through the many scope notes and box lists for the series and subseries in the collection.

The Collection Map can also be accessed through the Navigation Bar at the bottom of this and most other pages in this site. This tool also contains a link to the introductory section of the Guide, and other important features of the Web site, including this page.

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