Though we all seemed to be on some level of agreement about the value of Bazerman’s piece (“Theories of the Middle Range in Historical Studies of Writing Practice”) as a practical approach to doing historical, archival work, Tim’s criticism of Bazerman’s inattention to his own positionality stuck with me during this week’s readings. These readings were an interesting reinforcement of some of Bazerman’s points and his pragmatic approach, yet all of them urged us to do more—asking us to broaden our notions of what constitutes the archive, to more carefully consider our own positionalities, and to recognize the human impact of archival work.
Broadening what counts as archival work.
In “Archival Survival: Navigating Historical Research,” Gaillet offers an extended definition of what counts as archival texts:
“a wide range of artifacts and documents, such as (unpublished and published) letters, diaries and journals, student notes, committee reports, documents and wills, newspaper articles, university calendars/handbooks/catalogs, various editions of manuscripts and print documents (books, pamphlets, essays, etc.), memos, course materials, online sources, audiotapes, videotapes, and even ‘archeological’ fragments and finds” (30).
Glenn and Enoch also ask us to move away from the “upper-case-A Archives” defined by Connors (and reiterated by Bazerman) as “‘specialized kinds of libraries’ containing those ‘rarest and most valuable of data’ that usually exist in ‘only a single copy’” (225 qtd. in 16). This could mean a spatial shift from large research-university libraries to local community archives, but it also necessitates a shift in what kind of texts we value. Glenn and Enos see archival work extending beyond the university, beyond prestigious research libraries to explore more local and situational sites (something that Stake echoes again and again). This expansion allows us to collect information and gain insights about groups and communities who are not represented within the capital-A archives.
Considering our researcher positionalities.
I was excited by the attention to researcher positionality throughout these readings because our readings thus far have addressed it only in terms of feminist research. And certainly, Glenn and Enos have some important things to say on this topic. They “acknowledge that histories are always partial and always interested” (21), arguing that researchers must continually “try to uncover the ways our positionality operates and to consider, throughout the historiographic process, how this stance channels us to write one kind of history and directs us away from other possibilities” (22). For me, this statement clarifies some of the conversations we’ve had about the role of ideology in research and how evidence is analyzed through particular lenses. Glenn and Enos warn against allowing our personal interests to misrepresent the evidence, arguing that “the reading and the theory should inform each other” (23).
Gaillet also acknowledges that historiographic projects require the researcher to become a part of—and participant within—the project, but she also extends this argument to archival work. Framed as storytelling, Gaillet argues that archival research “[makes] clear the teller’s prejudices” (36). In order to weave together facts, stories, histories and perspectives, these prejudices must be constantly negotiated.
Stake defines this negotiation as part of what distinguishes qualitative research from quantitative. He writes, “For qualitative research, the researcher him- or herself is an instrument, observing action and contexts, often intentionally playing a subjective role in the study, using his or her own personal experience in making interpretations” (20). Because qualitative research is interpretive, the researcher must always filter observations, data, and analysis through her own experiences and knowledge. And in this way, Stake argues that positionality must be considered for all researchers. Even quantitative researchers who strive for objectivity must, at times, be interpretive and thus qualitative (30).
Recognizing the human impact.
In many ways, acknowledging the human impact of archival work is a continuation of the previous section. At the same time, though, it extends to a larger argument about the importance of who is represented (and how they are represented). Stake blends these two sides when he writes, “Human are the researchers. Humans are being studied. Humans are the interpreters” (36). The human element becomes important not only for the researcher but also for the researched.
“The topic of the research is not always human activity, but the perspective is the human perspective” (Stake 70).
In their discussion of historiographic research, Glenn and Enos argue that we must always think about the impact that the research will have on other “agents” of the archival process—namely, the people who are researched. They reference Royster (“When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own”), who claims that research projects must try to both understand and benefit the communities and people who are “subject matter but not subjects” (32 qtd. in 24). Harking back to Moss, all qualitative projects must always consider how to most accurately and fairly represent the people and communities that are studied.
Glenn and Enos’s conclusion is a great way to think about some larger implications for archival research and qualitative research more generally. They write, “When we engage in research, we need to know what our self-interest is, how that interest might enrich our disciplinary field as it affects others (perhaps even bridging the gap between academia and other communities), and resolve to participate in a reciprocal cross-boundary exchange, in which we talk with and listen to Others, whether they are speaking to us in person or via archival materials” (24). As qualitative researchers, we must negotiate our own interests and positionalities with those who are studied, whether those people are studied directly (as in ethnographic study) or indirectly (through the archives).
Glenn, Cheryl, and Jessica Enoch. “Invigorating Historiographic Practices in Rhetoric and Composition Studies.” Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2010. 11-27.
Gaillet, Lynée Lewis. “Archival Survival: Navigating Historical Research.” Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition. Eds. Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo.Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2010. 28-39.
Stake, Robert E. Qualitative Research: Studying How Things Work. New York, Guilford Press, 2010.