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Archival Research: Ethics and Methodology

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Jennifer Dorsey

on 23 October 2012

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Transcript of Archival Research: Ethics and Methodology

Ethics and Methods Archival Research Current Issues in Archival Research How do we define "archive"? The Ethics of Archival Research What do researchers working in archives need to consider? Ethical questions raised in archival research: What are researchers' responsibilities to individuals and communities represented in the archives and their descendents?
With whom should archival researchers consult when addressing ethical issues?
What are the rights of the dead and living people represented in the archives?
How do issues of consent, particularly considerations of how materials got in the archives in the first place, impact how and whether archival work be conducted?
And how might different understandings of time affect ethical considerations? Archives have been reimagined by creative researchers as ways to create knowledge not just find it.
They have done so by means such as repurposing the information found in archives to describe different populations for the purpose of producing "a revolutionary shift in who chounts" (Ferreira-Buckley 578) by reading texts for what is NOT clearly evident.
This works, in part, because texts read by people of new time and value system can see differing meaning and values in the text. How our "positionality" colors our projects. Acknowledging reasons for choosing projects as well as potential biases can allow researchers to "write truer narratives" deepening the perspective and even creating "novel venues for rhetorical agency" (41).
Emotions related to projects in this regard should be considered a value to a project and not a problem.
However, to do this effectively:
listen rather than speak and teach
critically examine your location and point-of-view
be receptive to criticism and hold yourself accountable
understand the "weight of your claims" (Gaillet 42). Is there harm in borrowing methodologies from other disciplines? Borrowing can be useful if it is an actual assimilation into the process, not just a token gesture
The key seems to be using tools "responsibly, thoughtfully, and critically" (45).
In other words, be sure they are compatible with Rhet/Comp goals. Transforming the definition of archive requires redefining our idea of what constitutes a text The idea of text, especially when looking at underrepresented populations, should be expanded to different types of articles that are inclusive of the community.
This might include "letters, pictures, statues, government documents and records, committee reports, tools, pottery, interviews, musical recordings, textiles, clothing, quilts, mpas, coins, cookbooks, medical reports, etc...and yes, traditional materials" (Gaillet 46). What are the limits of online storage? Positives: greater accessibility, lower cost for travel, helpful for interdisciplinary research, and to augment regular archives.
Negatives: limits the opportunities for chance findings, some materials don't digitalize well, costs a lot to keep technologically up-to-date, no librarian to provide expertise. How can we codify methods? Methodology remains a secret due to a variety of issues from the conflicting needs to tell a story and yet discuss the messy process of archival research.
Triangulation seems to be of key importance--what you read/explore must "grow" into a story since the goal, overall, is storytelling built on a strong context that they "triangulate against the teller and told to garner a felt sense of how a people understands their collective experience" (51). How can we organize the data? Little has been written about organizing the data, and so its not surprising this is an area of difficulty.
Complicating organization:
not knowing what we will find
access and finances make organizing a challenge from Lynee Lewis Gaillet's "(Per)forming Archival Research Methodologies" by Heidi A. McKee and James E. Porter Storage Issues Methods Issues Papers aren't just paper, they symbolize people and communities.
Considering archives in the traditional manner is an exclusionary practice.
Leaves out the voices of groups such as women, indigenous people, LGBTQ, etc.
Or treats such groups as objects to be commented on by others (McKee and Porter 60). The "Official" (Narrow) Definition: The Society of American Archivists (SAA) give this as the traditional definition: "Public documents related to 'official' transactions preserved for 'official reference'" (McKee and Porter 60). How is this definition an ethical concern? The Official "Broad Definition: From the SAA: "Any collection of documents that are old or of historical interest, regardless of how they are organized" (60).
And they support this broader idea offering as a primary definition: "Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator" (61). What led to the concept of Archive changing? Strategy for considering these issues Dialogue with multiple stakeholders, the multiple audiences involved in any archival research project. Research Ethics as a Recursive Process Triagulation of Ethical Decision Making Archival Research & Ethnography Jacqueline Jones Royster describes herself as "operating ethnographically" but says ethnography and historical research are "strange bed fellows" (64). Why?

In Qualitative Research and Design Cresswell describes ethnography as:
Ethno--refers to human culture
Graphy--means description of
Ethnography--Qualitative research design in which the researcher describes and interprets the shared and learned patterns of values, behaviors, and language of a culture-sharing group. "(As researchers) we are challenged to think metacognitively about lines of accountability throughout the intellectual process. We see the importance of monitoring and measuring our methodologies from the beginning to the end of our actions [...] What also becomes clearer is the need to represent our work (whether in textual form or otherwise) in conscious regard of our ethical obligations". Ethical Considerations of the Dead Ethics of Care and the Dead A major ethical issue concerns whether research should respect the greater good of the living versus respecting the rights of the dead--how does a research decide what is right?
An archivist has to balance "the right to know" with "the right to privacy".
Research on the living involves seeking consent, but when the research is on the dead the process and considerations become complicated, especially when the research involves vulnerable populations. Royster enjoins us to 'listen and listen and listen again' to the documents and artifacts" (74) "In archival work you're very aware that there are people involved who may not have structured opportunities to shape what you're doing. In a lot of qualitative, ethnographic work with individuals, the [participants] have the opportunity to negotiate, regardless of what the power dynamics might be...but in archival work, often the people who might be affected by what you do are not actually involved in any explicit way" (68).
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