L’Eplattenier, Barbara E. (2009). An argument for archival research methods: Thinking beyond methodology. College English, 72(1), p. 67-79.
L’Eplattenier is responding in the text to the need for the discipline of rhetoric and composition/writing studies to develop practical understandings of how to do archival work. L’Eplattenier notes that the methods employed may often be too specific toward particular projects and archives, but encourages thoughtfully articulating thorough methods sections to create incremental disciplinary understandings of archival work that may allow for more generalizing.
Keywords: Archives, historiography, histories of rhetoric, methodology
“Finally, because archival historical work is often so unique—each archive, each situation, each study is different, with different resources, different access, different constraints—generalizing about archival work can be difficult, especially for the individual researcher” (p. 68).
“A good methods section, however we construct it, offers us details regarding the circumstances of the research and pulls back the curtain on work done. It lets us see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. It is a pedagogical model to show our students—a way to familiarize ourselves with how to ‘do’ histories” (p. 72).
As terms that often become vexed, fraught, or problematically reduced, I appreciated L’Eplattenier giving a clear differentiation between method and methodology. She writes, “Just as methodology allows us to theorize the goals of our research, methods allow us to contextualize the research process or the researched subject and materials” (p. 69). I was reminded of something that Derek said after our think-tank session at Cs this passed year on the middle ground between method and methodology, when he said, “Something we call methodology might travel by the name of theory. Something we call method might travel by the name of practice.” It seems important to L’Eplattenier’s central concern in the piece to do some of this differentiation. The importance of this differentiation allows for research to be engaged with by not only novices, but other audiences with each project more fully.
Her discussion of the work that a methods section does seems important across research methods, as they allow for interrogation of the work and allow for a conversation about how knowledge is produced disciplinarily. She writes,
An actual methods section shows us the cracks, fissures, and gaps to allow us to see the construction. It allows us to more clearly point out our blind spots, our areas we didn’t realize we could research, our awareness of the fragmentary nature of archival work. If all histories are constructions, then a methods section allows us to see the building blocks of that construction. We can see which section of the foundation is strong or weak, where we can build a wing, where we can add a door (p. 74).
This in some ways reminds me a bit of a hauntology that leaves a certain openness for others to enter into and the work that hauntology does to interrogate histories as constructed, but on a different scale and talking about a different relationship. Rather than discussing the relationship between researcher and subject, L’Eplattenier discusses the relationship between the researcher, audience, and future researchers.
Provenance also seems like a compelling means to discuss the representation of evidence that speaks to the work of doing history. She writes, “By positioning the transcript with other documents and stating the difficulties with it, we did not accidentally misrepresent it or what we learned from it” (p. 73). This speaks to some of the ways that research design can be accomplished, but also makes as visible as one perhaps can the means by which a history is constructed.