Introduction days

The National Archives holds one of the largest collections in the world, containing over 11 million historical government and public records. From Domesday Book to the Leveson Enquiry, our records offer students a myriad of untapped research opportunities across a wide range of time periods and disciplines.

With so many options, however, getting started in the archives can be a daunting prospect. Many students have questions which they are too afraid to ask. How will I know where to go? What do I need to bring with me? How do I find records for my research? How do I order documents? Do I need to use gloves? How can I be sure I’m not wasting my time?

It can often feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not true!

To demystify the research process The National Archives has developed a programme of Postgraduate Archival Skills Training, PAST, providing students with the key skills and knowledge needed to undertake academic research using the archives.

Our Introduction to Archival Research days explain how to get started with archival research, the importance of knowing the history and structure of a collection to navigate the records, and how to make the most of your time on site.

Sessions include an introduction to using Discovery, our online catalogue, a behind-the-scenes tour of the archives, and a display of some of the documents in our collection.

Students will also have the opportunity to identify, order, and view original documents for their research, guided by our record specialists.

For further details, please see the programme below.

Upcoming sessions

Our next Introduction to Archival Research days are running in October and November 2017. Please follow the links to book:

These events are aimed at third year undergraduate and postgraduate students. If you are not a student or looking to commence study please do not book on to these courses unless you have received prior permission from the PAST team by contacting us using the email below.

Registration is £20, including refreshments on arrival and lunch.

If you have any questions or for more information, please see our website or email the team at


09:00–10:00 Coffee & reader registration

  • Tea, coffee & pastries in the public restaurant area.
  • You will also need to use this time to register for a Reader’s Ticket in order to order documents later in the day. Reader registration can be busy so please arrive as close to 9am as possible to give yourself time to do this.

10:00–10:15 Welcome & introductions

  • An introduction to the staff who will be looking after you and an explanation of the aims and objectives of the day.
  • You will be asked to introduce yourself to your fellow students and share your research interests.

10:15–11:00 About archives

  • What is an archive?
  • A brief history of The National Archives (TNA).
  • Why it is important to know the provenance and structure of an archive for your research.

11:00-12:00 Behind the scenes tour

  • Tour of the reading rooms and an introduction to the onsite resources available for your research.
  • You will also have the opportunity go behind the scenes into the repositories to see how we keep and maintain our documents.

12:00–13:00 Lunch

  • Lunch of sandwiches, crisps and fruit in the public restaurant area.

13:00–13:45 Archival skills

  • How to plan and organise your archival research.
  • Introduction to using Discovery, our online catalogue.
  • How to order original documents at The National Archives.

13:45-14:30 Finding and ordering documents

  • Practical session in the reading room to practice searching for documents useful to your research using Discovery, our online catalogue.
  • You will be asked to order 2 or 3 documents to look at during the reading room practical during the afternoon session.

14:30–14:45 Break

14:45–15:30 Records & document display

  • A chance to look at and handle some of the broad range of documents held at The National Archives, introduced and explained by our specialist staff.

15:30–16:30 Reading room practical & document handling

  • An opportunity to start your research with the documents ordered earlier during the day in the document reading rooms, with staff members on hand for guidance.
  • There will also be a document handling session aimed at students using medieval and early modern documents.

16:30–17:00 Round-up & questions