Monday, February 15, 2010

Research Confidential: How to Visit an Archive

The new anthology edited by Northwestern University sociologist Eszter Hargittai, Research Confidential: Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have (University of Michigan Press), features young researchers telling more truth than usual about the details of their research work. Some of the chapters are very relevant to genealogy, oral history, and microhistory.

My favorite one-liner came from editor Hargittai from the introduction: "Good research takes longer than you expect. . . . If one is lucky, the work will only take twice as long as planned." {3}

There's some amazing material on interviews after 9/11 and with people of different social classes and ethnicities than your own. But in the end my favorite of the individual contributions was Jason Gallo on doing archival research:

Having gained access to the collection, located a suitable desk, table, or carrel to set up your equipment, and then head straight to a reference librarian or archival specialist. This is perhaps the most important task on your first day . . . . On your first visit you will make dozens of mistakes; however, the biggest mistake that you can make is not to ask a trained professional to help you with your research. . . . A professional can point you toward that record groupo, box, series, or folder of documents that contains the missing piece -- the needle in the haystack -- of your research puzzle.

I have no idea what these people think about genealogy, but we and they clearly face, and hopefully surmount, many of the same situations.

1 comment:

Sheryl Trudgian Jones said...

A perfectly timed reminder for me. I and my co-founder of a small beginners' genealogy group are going to visit Western Michigan University's Archives and Regional Depository this Saturday to do a little genealogy and to scout it out for a field trip for our group