Archival research is a type of primary research which involves seeking out and extracting evidence from original archivalrecords. These records may be held either in institutional archive repositories, or in the custody of the organisation (whether a government body, business, family, or other agency) that originally generated or accumulated them, or in that of a successor body. Archival research can be contrasted with (1) secondary research (undertaken in a library or online), which involves identifying and consulting secondary sources relating to the topic of enquiry; and (2) with other types of primary research and empirical investigation such as fieldwork and experiment.
Archival research is generally more complex and time-consuming than library and internet research, presenting challenges in identifying, locating and interpreting relevant documents. Archival records are often unique, and the researcher must be prepared to travel to reach them. Some finding aids to archival documents are hosted online, but many more are not, and some records lack any kind of finding aid at all. Although most archive repositories welcome researchers, and have professional staff tasked with assisting them, the sheer quantity of records means that finding aids may be of only limited usefulness: the researcher will need to hunt through large quantities of documents in search of material relevant to his or her particular enquiry. Some records may be closed to public access for reasons of confidentiality; and others may be written in archaic handwriting, in ancient or foreign languages, or in technical terminology. Archival documents were generally created for immediate practical or administrative purposes, not for the benefit of future researchers, and additional contextual research may be necessary to make sense of them. Many of these challenges are exacerbated when the records are still in the custody of the generating body or in private hands, where owners or custodians may be unwilling to provide access to external enquirers, and where finding aids may be even more rudimentary or non-existent.
Archival research lies at the heart of most academic and other forms of original historical research; but it is frequently also undertaken (in conjunction with parallel research methodologies) in other disciplines within the humanities and social sciences, including literary studies, archaeology, sociology, human geography, anthropology, and psychology. It may also be important in other non-academic types of enquiry, such as the tracing of birth families by adoptees, and criminal investigations.
History of archival research
The oldest archives have been in existence for hundreds of years. For instance, the Vatican Secret Archives was started in the 17th century AD and contains state papers, papal account books, and papal correspondence dating back to the 8th century. Most archives that are still in existence do not claim collections that date back quite as far as the Vatican Archive.
However, many national archives were established over one hundred years ago and contain collections going back three or four hundred years ago. The United States National Archives and Records Administration was established originally in 1934. The NARA contains records and collections dating back to the founding of the United States in the 18th century. Among the collections of the NARA are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and an original copy of the Magna Carta. Similarly, the Archives nationales in France was founded in 1790 during the French Revolution and has holdings that date back to AD 625.
Universities are another historic venue for archival holdings. Most universities have archival holdings that chronicle the business of the university. Some universities also have cultural archives that focus on one aspect or another of the culture of the state or country in which the university is located. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has archival collections on the subjects of Southern History and Southern Folklife.Boston University's Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Library has collections dedicated to chronicling advances and famous moments in American art, drama, and public/ political life.
The reason for highlighting the breadth and depth of historical archives is to give some idea of the difficulties facing archival researchers in the pre-digital age. Some of these archives were dauntingly vast in the quantity of records they held. For example, The Vatican Secret Archive had upwards of 52 miles of archival shelving. In an age where you could not simply enter your query into a search bar complete with Boolean operators the task of finding material that pertained to your topic would have been difficult at the least. The Finding aid made the work of sifting through these vast archives much more manageable. A finding aid is a document that is put together by an archivist or librarian that contains information about the individual documents in a specific collection in an archive. These documents can be used to determine if the collection is relevant to a designated topic. Finding aids made it so a researcher did not have to blindly search through collection after collection hoping to find pertinent information. However, in the pre-digital age a researcher still had to travel to the physical location of the archive and search through a card catalog of finding aids.
Pre-Internet data storage
Organizing, collecting, and archiving information using physical documents without the use of electronics is a daunting task. Magnetic storage devices provided the first means of storing electronic data. As technology has progressed over the years, so too has the ability to archive data using electronics. Long before the Internet, means of using technology to help archive information were in the works. The early forms of magnetic storage devices that would later be used to archive information were invented as early as the late 19th century, but were not used for organizing information until 1951 with the invention of the UNIVAC I.
UNIVAC I, which stands for Universal Automatic Computer 1, used magnetic tape to store data, and was the first commercial computer produced in the United States. Early computers such as UNIVAC I were enormous and sometimes took up entire rooms, rendering them completely obsolete in today's technological society. But the central idea of using magnetic tape to store information is a concept that is still in use today.
While most magnetic storage devices have been replaced by optical storage devices such as CDs and DVDs, some are still in use today. In fact, the floppy drive is one example of a magnetic storage device that became extremely popular in the 1970s through the 1990s. Floppy disks have for years been used by millions of people to back up the information on their hard drives.
Magnetic tape has proven to be a very effective means of archiving data as large amounts of data that don’t need to be quickly accessed can be found on magnetic tape. That is especially true of aging data that may not need to be accessed again at all, but for different reasons still needs to be stored “just in case”.
Internet age archiving
With the development of the Internet in recent decades, archiving has begun to make its way online. The days of using electronic devices such as magnetic tape are coming to an end as people start to use the internet to archive their information.
Internet archiving has become extremely popular for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, the attempt to have as much information take up as little space as possible is very helpful for many archivers. Using the Internet to archive allows for this to be possible as well as many other benefits. Internet archiving can be used to store as little information needed for a single person, or for as much information needed for a major company. Internet archives can contain large-scale digitization as well as provide long term management and preservation of the digital resources similar to the electronics used in the pre-Internet data storage era. Along with the idea of storage benefits, archiving via Internet ensures that ones information is safe. There is risk of misplacing your information, or having it get destroyed by water or fire etc. Those are problems that may occur when archiving using floppy discs, hard drives, and computers. Lastly, the ability to access the information from almost anywhere is one of the main attractions to online archiving. As long as one has access to the Internet they can edit and retrieve the information they are looking for.
Most institutions with physical archives have begun to digitize their holdings and make them available on the Internet. Notably the National Archive and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. has a clearly defined initiative that was started in 1998 in an attempt to digitize many of their holdings and make them available on the Internet.
In February 1997, key figures from the academic, archival, corporate, government, legal, and technology communities came together for the first time at a groundbreaking conference in San Francisco. The conference, “Documenting the Digital Age,” was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, MCI Communications Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, and History Associates Incorporated, and was a special initiative to discuss the preservation of electronic records.
American Archives month
October is officially noticed throughout the United States as American Archives month, with both Ireland and the United Kingdom noticing the event as well. The month was founded in 1969 by the Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, but now Archives Month is a collaborative effort by professional organizations and repositories. Their main point of American Archives month was and is to celebrate the importance of archives and to raise awareness about the value of archives. Lessons of how to preserve certain photographs and documents are also provided for each state. Each state normally celebrates the affair through a series of week-long events. The majority of the states get involved and plan out different sorts of activities that pertain to archiving. There is also a guide that goes into detail about planning for the event. For the most part, each state coins a phrase each year to describe their interest in archiving. For example:
- Georgia: "Quench your thirst for History."
- North Dakota: "That's Entertainment."
- North Carolina: "Celebrating the NC Record."
Wisconsin was the most recent state to join National Archive Month, joining in 2009, coining the phrase "Scrapbook Wisconsin." One of the major events is hosted by the staff at the University Archives & Historical Collections. They contribute to American Archives Month by hosting a contest about trivia questions pertaining to archives, but it is only open to MSU faculty, staff and students, MSU alumni, and the greater Lansing community.
National Archives and Records Administration  Trace Your Birth Family In The UK https://web.archive.org/web/20150218205915/http://ukadoptionregister.org/
- ^[Archive.gov. National Records and Archive Administration, 1 December 2009. Web. 5 December 2009 <https://www.archives.gov/research/start/>.]
- ^[The Louis Round Wilson Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 20 November 2009. Web. 4 December 2009 <http://www.lib.unc.edu/wilson/>.]
- ^Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center, 01 Dec. 2009. Web. 05 Dec. 2009 <http://www.bu.edu/dbin/archives/index.php?pid=401>.
- ^[University of Toronto Library Glossary. University of Toronto, 15 November 2009. Web. 4 December 2009 <http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utarms/info/glossary.html>.]
- ^ ab(2009). Data Storage. Retrieved 7 Dec. 2009, from Directory M articles, Articles. DirectoryM.com 100 Franklin St, 9th Floor Boston, MA 02110. Web site: http://articles.directorym.com/Data_Storage-a486.html.
- ^Building an electronic records archive at the National Archives and Records Administration recommendations for a long-term strategy. Washington, D.C: National Academies, 2005. Print.
- ^"Documenting The Digital Age". History Associates. Retrieved 2014-12-23.
- ^[(2009). CoSA-Directory of Archives Month and Archives Week Activities. Retrieved 7 Dec. 2009, from Council of State Archivists. Web site: http://www.statearchivists.org/archivesmonth/AAM-directory.htm.]
- ^[Retrieved 7 Dec. 2009. Web site: http://www.archivists.org/archivesmonth/EventPlanning.pdf.]
A very extensive summary of Robert K. Yin’s famous book "Case Study Research: design and methods." 4-th edition, 2009. Advise: Read the book first before this summary.
(Een zeer uitgebreide samenvatting van Robert K. Yin's boek "Research: design and methods." 4-th edition, 2009)
For the whole summary (and donate a very small contribution for the summary), go to:
For the whole summary, for free click on:
Very extensive summary Case Study Research, Yin
Yin distinguishes the following activities when doing a case study research:
3. Prepare (and share your preparation)
4. Collect (sometimes going back to Design when collecting data)
Chapter 1: How to Know Whether and When to Use Case Studies as a Research Method
Your goal is to design good case studies and to collect, present and analyse data fairly. A further goal is tob ring the case study to closure by writing a compelling report or book. Important is to follow a rigorous methodological path. Equally important is a dedication to formal and explicit procedures when doing your research. Also be aware of tha fact that different social science research methods fill different needs and situations for investigating social topics.
A case study is relevant the more your research questions seek to explain some present circumstances: how and why some social phenomenon works or if your research questions require an “in-depth” sedcription of some social phenomenon. The focus is non understanding these social phenomenons.
A common misinterpretation is that the various research methods should be arrayed hierarchically. Many social scientist still believe that case studies are only appropriate for the descriptive phase, that surveys and histories are appropriate for the descriptive phase, and that experiments are the only way for doing explanatory or causal inquiries. So case studies are only a preliminary research method and can not be used to describe or test propositions.
This hierarchical view, however, may be questioned. Some of the best and most famous case studies have been explanatory case studies (f.i. Street Corner Society by Williman F. Whyte).
When to use each method?
|Method||Form of Research Question||Requires Control of Behaviour Events?||Focusses on Contemporary Events?|
|Survey||Who, what, where, how many, how much?||no||Yes|
|Archival Analysis||who, what, where, how many, how much||no||Yes/no|
|Case Study||How, why?||no||Yes|
If research focusses on what questions, either of two positions arises.
- Explanatory for example what can be learned from a study from a start of startup business?
- What as a form of ‘how many?’. What have been the way’s……
Who and where (or how much or how many) questions are more likely to favor survey methods or the analysis of archival data, as in economic studies. They are advantageous when the research goal is to describe the prevalence of a certain phenomenon or to be predictive of a certain outcome.
In contrast ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions are more explanatory and likely to lead us to the use of case studies, histories and experiments as the preferred research methods.
The key is to understand that your research questions have both substance – for example what is my study about and form for example am I asking a who, what, where, why or how question.
Assuming that the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions are to be the focus of the study, a further distinction among history, case study and experiment is the extent of the investigator’s control over and access to actual behavioral events.
Histories are preferred when there is virtually no access or control, and can of course be done about contemporary events: in this situation the method begins to overlap with that of the case study.
Experiments are done when an investigator can manipulate behavior directly, precisely and systematically.
The case study is preferred in examining contemporary events, but when the relevant behaviors can not be manipulated.
So in general the case study has a general advantage when a ‘how’ or ‘why’ question is being asked about a contemporary set of events over which the investigator has little or no control.
Perhaps the greatest concern has been the lack of rigor of case study research. To many times,the case study researcher has been sloppy, has not followed systematically procedures, or has allowed equivocal evidence or biased views to influence the directions of the findings of the conclusions.
A second concern is that they provide little basis for scientific generalization. The short answer is that case studies, like experiments, are generalizable to theoretical propositions and not to populations or universes.
A third concern is that case studies take to long. This incorrectly confuses the case study method with a specific method of data collection, such as ethnography or participant observation.
Case studies are a form of inquiry that does not depend solely on ethnographic or participant observer data. You could even do a high level case study without leaving the telephone or the internet.
A fourth possible objection to case studies has seemingly emerged with the renewal emphasis on randomized field trials or ‘true experiments’, to establish causal relations. Overlooked has been the possibility that case studies can offer important evidence to complement experiments.
Different kind of case studies but a common definition
The essence of a case study, the central tendency among all types of case study, is that it tries to illuminate a decision or set of decisions: why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what result (Schramm, 1971, emphasis added)
This definition thus cites cases of “decisions” as the major focus of case studies. Other common cases include “individuals,” “organisations,” “processes,” “programs,” “neighborhoods,” “institutions,” and even “events.”
A case study is an empirical inquiry that:
• Investigates a contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context, especially when
• The boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident.
In other words you use the case study method because you want to understand a real-life phenomenon in depth, but such understanding encompasses important contextual conditions – because they were highly pertinent to your phenomenon of study (e.g. Yin & Davis, 2007)
However a definition of case studies as a research method is necessary.
Because phenomenon and context are not always distinguishable in real life situations, other technical characteristics, including data collection and data analysis strategies, become the second part of our technical definition of case studies:
The case study inquiry:
• copes with the technical distinctive situation in which there will be many more variables of interest than data points (f.i. compared with experiments), and as one result
• Relies on multiple sources of evidence, with data needing to converge in a triangular fashion, and as another result
• Benefits from the prior development of theoretical propositions to guide data collection and data analysis.
Case studies include both single and multiple-case studies.
Some case study research goes beyond being a type of qualitative research, by using a mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence.
Case studies have a distinctive place in evaluation research.
• The most important is to explain the presumed causal links in real-life events that are too complex for the survey or experimental strategies
• A second application is to describe an intervention and the real-life context in which it occurred.
• Third, case studies can illustrate certain topics within an evaluation, again in a descriptive mode
• Fourth, the case study strategy may be used to enlighten those situations in which the intervention being evaluated has no clear single set of outcomes.
Also case studies can be conducted and written with many different motives. These motives vary from the simple presentation of individual cases to desire to arrive at broad generalizations based on case study evidence but without presenting any of the case studies separately.
Chapter 2: Designing Case Studies
The next task is to design your case study. For this purpose you need a plan or research design.
The case study is a separate research method that has its own research design.
A research design is a logical plan for getting from here to there, where here may be defined as the initial set of questions to be answered and there is some set of conclusions (answers) about these questions.
Between “here” and “there” may be found a number of major steps, including the collection and analysis of relevant data.
A research plan guides the investigator in the process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting observations. It is a logical proof that allows the researcher to draw inferences concerning causal relations among the variables under investigation (Nachmias & Nachmias, 1992)
Another way of thinking about a research design is a “blueprint” for your research dealing with at least four problems:
• What questions to study
• What data are relevant
• What data to collect
• How to analyse the results
Components of research design
For case studies five components of a research design are especially important:
1. a study’s question.
2. its propositions, if any.
Only if you are forced to state some propostions will you move in the right direction. For instance, you might think that organisations collaborate because they derive mutual benefits. This proposition begins to tell you where to look for relevant evidence.
At the same time some studies have a legitimate reason for not having any propositions. This is the condition-which exists in experiments, surveys and the other research methods alike – which a topic is the subject of exploration.
3. Its unit(s) of analysis.
This is the defining of what the “case” is. Keep also in mind that each unit of analysis and its related questions and propositions would call for a slightly different research design and data collection strategy.
There is often also a need for spatial, temporal, and other concrete boundaries. The desired case should be a real life phenomenon, not an abstraction. If you want to compare your findings with previous research, the key definitions in your study should not be idiosyncratic.
4. The logic linking the data to the propositions.
How will you link the data to the propositions? Techniques are for instance pattern matching, explanation building, time-series analysis, logic models, and cross-case synthesis.
5. The criteria for interpreting the findings.
A major and important alternative strategy is to identify and address rival; explanations for your findings. If you only think of rival explanations after data collection has been completed, you will be starting to justify and design a future study, but you will not be helping to complete your current case study. For this reason, specifying important rival explanations is a part of a case study’s research design work.
The Role of Theory in Design Work
Covering these preceding five components of research design will effectively force you to begin constructive a preliminary theory related to your topic of study. Be aware of the differences with methods such as ethnography and grounded theory. These related methods deliberately avoid specifying any theoretical propositions at the outset of an inquiry. As a result, students confusing these methods with case studies wrongly think that, by having selected the case study method, they can proceed quickly into the data collection phase of their work, and they may have been encouraged to make their “field contacts” as possible. No guidance could be more misleading. Among other considerations, the relevant field contacts depend upon an understanding – or theory – of what is being studied.
Having a research question or questions theory development is an essential part of the design phase.
The simplest ingredient of a theory is a statement such as follows:
“The case study will show why implementation of Management Information System X only succeeds when the organization was able to re-structure itself, and not just overlay the new MIS on the old organization structure”.
An additional ingredient could be:
“The case study will also show why the simple replacement of key persons was not sufficient for successful implementation”
Keep in mind that this second statement presents the nutshell of a ‘rival theory’.
The stated ideas / ingredient will increasingly cover the questions, propositions, units of analysis, logic connecting data to propositions , and criteria for interpreting the findings.
The simple goal is to have a sufficient blueprint for your study, and this requires theoretical propositions, usefully noted by Sutton and Staw (1995) as “a (hypothetical) story about why acts, events, structure and thoughts occur.”
Illustrative types of theories
* implementation theories;
* individual theories (individual development, cognitive behavior etc.);
* group theories (family functioning, informal groups etc.)
* organizational theories (theories of bureaucracies, organizational structure and functioning etc.);
* societal theories (theories of urban development, cultural institutions etc.)
Other theories cut across these illustrative types. Decision-making theoryfor instance can involve individuals, organizations and social groups
Generalizing from case study to theory
Theory development does not only facilitate the collection phase of the ensuing case study. The appropriate developed theory also is the level at which the generalization of the case study results will occur.
The role of theory has been characterized throughout this book as “analytical generalization” and has been contrasted with another way of generalizing results, known as “statistical generalization”.
In statistical generalization, an inference is made about a population (or universe) is made on the basis of empirical data collected about a sample from that universe.
A fatal flaw in doing case studies is to conceive of statistical generalization as the method of generalizing the results of your case study. This is because your cases are not “sampling units” and should not be chosen for this reason.
Analytical generalization can be used whether your case study involves one or several cases, which shall be later referenced as single or multiple case studies. You should try to aim towards analytical generalization in doing case studies and you should avoid thinking in such confusing terms as “the sample of cases” or “the small sample size of cases,” as if a single – case study were like a single respondent in a survey or a single subject in an experiment. The replication logic, whether applied to experiments or to case studies, must also be distinguished from the sampling logic commonly used in surveys.
The reasons are:
1. Case studies are not the best method for assessing the prevalence of phenomena
2. A case study would have to cover both the phenomenon of interest and its context, yielding a large number of potentially relevant variables. This would require an impossible large number of cases – too large to allow any statistical consideration of the relevant variables.
3. If a sampling logic had to be applied to all types of research, many important problems could not ne empirically investigated.
The methodological differences between these two views are revealed by the different rationales underlying the replication as opposed to sampling design
Replication logic not sampling logic
Multiple cases resemble multiple experiments. So you need replication logic, not sampling logic, for multiple-case studies. That means that each case must be carefully selected so that it (a) predict similar (a literal replication) or (b) predicts contrasting results but for anticipatable reasons (a theoretical replication). The ability to conduct 6 or 10 case studies, arranged effectively within a multiple-case design, is analogous to the ability to conduct 6 to 10 experiments on related topics. A few cases (2 or 3) would be literal replications, whereas a few other cases (4 to 6) might be design to pursue two different patterns of theoretical replications.
For more information about the book: Yin, R.K (2009) Case Study Research: Design and Methods. London: Sage