Modern Language Association (MLA)

Drawn from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. For additional guidance with citing archival material using MLA style, see the supplementary article "A Guide to Citing Materials from Physical Archives and Collections."

In MLA style, sources are documented using two components:

  • A parenthetical citation of the source in the body of the text you are producing

  • A Works Cited page at the end of your text listing all the sources you employed in full detail

The current (8th) edition of the MLA Handbook does not offer specific guidance for citing archival material. However, many of the general guidelines it provides for in-text citations and Works Cited entries can be applied to citing archival material.

In-Text Citations

For in-text citations, MLA style uses the format of the author of the source’s last name and the specific page number or page range you are referencing, all of which is placed in parentheses. For example: (Smith 24). There is no comma following the author name, and the punctuation for your sentence should appear following the closing parenthesis.

Alternatively, the author name can appear within the body of your text, but the page number should still appear in parentheses. For example: Smith writes that citing archival material properly is very important (24).

If there is no author name, use the next available element listed in the “Core Elements” for the source (see below). If there are no explicitly labeled page numbers (or paragraph or section numbers), omit them from the parentheses.

The in-text citation is meant to direct your reader to your Works Cited page and allow for a relatively seamless reading experience.

Works Cited Page

MLA style employs nine “Core Elements” that are generally required for each entry on the Works Cited page. The elements are listed below. Take special note of the punctuation following each one. Omit any elements that are not applicable to the specific source you are citing. Some elements are accompanied by notes and information about slight adjustments that are likely needed for citing archival material in particular.


The format should be the author's last name, a comma, and the author's first name.

Title of the source.

If citing a letter, include the recipient as "Letter to..."

[Optional Source Title Element.]

If citing a letter, include the date here.

Title of the container of the source,

If the item is part of a collection, list the collection name here.

Other contributors,


Ex: vol. 5


Ex: no. 2


Publication date,

If the date is uncertain, include a question mark after the date listing.


This will likely be the name of the archive or library that houses the item, as well as the item's call number. This must also include the box and folder number for the item, if it has one. If you are citing a specific page or page range, include it here.

[Optional Location Element.]

Here you have the option to indicate the medium or format of the source, such as "manuscript" if the item is handwritten.

Examples of Citations in MLA Style

The following are example citations for various sources and source types located in Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s holdings. Remember that citing sources isn’t an exact science. You may need to tweak the citations shown here depending on factors such as the context of your project or instructions from your instructor. Be sure to use these examples in conjunction with the MLA Handbook.


In-text citation: (Ogden).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted, as this letter’s pages are not explicitly numbered.

Works Cited entry: Ogden, Sarah J. Letter to Sarah A. Kimball. 31 Jan. 1859. Pillsbury Family Papers, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, RH MS 802, box 1, folder 5.


In-text citation: (North).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted, as this diary’s pages are not explicitly numbered.

Works Cited entry: North, Lillian. Diary of Lillian North. 1 Jan. 1915 – 14 May 1917, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, MS B173.

Photograph (Physical Item)

In-text citation: (D’Ambra).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted.

Works Cited entry: D’Ambra, Duke. Photograph of James Naismith and Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen. Athletic Department: Coaches and Staff photographs, 1932, University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, RG 66/22 photographs, folder “Naismith w/ Phog Allen.”

Photograph (Digital Item)

In-text citation: (D’Ambra).

  • Hint: Page numbers are omitted.

Works Cited entry: D’Ambra, Duke. “Dr. James Naismith (left) and Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen (right).” KU Libraries Digital Collections, University Archives Photographs, 1932,

Item in a University Archives Record Group

In-text citation: (Women’s Student Government Association, Article 10).

  • Hint: The item has a group as author. The item has no page numbers, but its paragraphs are explicitly labeled with article numbers.

Works Cited entry: [Women’s Student Government Association?]. [circa 1909]. “Constitution and By-Laws of the Women’s Student Government Association.” Women’s Student Government Association Records, University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, RG 67/43, box 1 records 1909-1947, folder 1909.

  • Hint: This entry is shown with square brackets and a question mark on the author since the author is not explicitly listed on the work. Similarly the square brackets and “circa” is used to indicate the item doesn’t have an explicitly listed date, though there is a great deal of evidence to suggest both this date and author.
  • Hint: Some records in University Archives have subsections that are important to note in a citation. For example, the correspondence of each Chancellor is frequently subdivided into sections such as “General,” “State,” and “Departmental.” These sections also frequently have multiple boxes with the same number that are differentiated by the date range of the records included, e.g. Box 1 for the year 1925 and Box 1 for the year 1930. When citing these records, it’s important to be as specific as possible, including all subsection names, box numbers, box date ranges, and folder names/numbers.