Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research

Archiving and Reusing Qualitative Data: Theory, Method and Ethics across Disciplines

ESRC National Centre for Research Methods - Network for Methodological Innovation 2008

Through a series of four seminars and a conference we aim to develop approaches to archiving and reusing data which will both significantly develop recent debates in the social sciences and also contribute to a recent rethinking of the archive in history, oral history, cultural studies. While conversations about archiving and reuse are relatively recent in some social sciences, archival research is more routine in disciplines such as history. Nonetheless each research domain carries specific interests, concerns, questions and conceptions of the research process, which inflect understandings of archiving and reuse.

Through tracing these specificities in interdisciplinary conversations, and drawing on expertise from a range of disciplines with diverse engagements in archiving, particularly sociology, history, oral history, anthropology, literary studies and archival studies, we will reflect on key conceptual, ethical and methodological issues raised by the archiving and reuse of qualitative data.

Seminar 3: Methods and Archives (University of Sussex, 10 November 2008)
Certain social science concerns with validity, sampling, representativeness, generalisability, with the now and with mapping the future, seem to map uneasily onto the archive, and the historian's solitary search for unique and eccentric documents in an apparently archaic and dusty repository of texts. This seminar will focus on the methods used by those who routinely turn to archives for research, addressing: how historians conceive of their craft; what methods and methodologies historians employ in reading archival documents; how historians make knowledge claims on the basis of their documents; how researchers piece together different sources and documents which cannot be understood as commensurate, from official policy documents, and government statistics, to diaries letters and ad hoc notes and marginalia when 'doing research'; and how archivists understand the use of the archives they create and manage. How might these techniques enable us to think innovatively about data linkage across the social sciences; about integrating methods; and about the possibilities of comparative research?

View the programme for the seminar.

Seminar 4: The Epistemology of the Archive (University of Sussex, 11 November 2008)
This seminar will turn our attention to the production of the archive. In the social science literature archived data appears as 'secondary data', or 'pre-existing data', or even 'found data', as it is understood to have been generated in a different project by another researcher. Given the centrality of context and the reflexive production of data and analysis for social science researchers, the use of archived documents, particularly interview transcripts, has raised the challenge of research using data when the original context of the production of the data is not necessarily easily accessible. Here we examine what can be gained for the social science researcher of treating archival work as an ethnographic project in its own right, of understanding archival data not as found, but as generated by a particular archive. How do understandings of archival research change when we focus on such work, not as a project of recreating the 'original' research, and original research relationship, but as involving a new relationship, between researcher and the archive, and the artefacts in the archive, as an embodied and situated project, one which returns to questions of the temporality of archives. Such attention to the production of the archive, for example through even a cursory comparison of archives such as Qualidata and Mass Observation, reveals very different epistemologies at play. In calling for a new epistemology of the archive, we will also examine how ethical questions are reformulated.

View the programme for the seminar.

This is the archive of the presentations as presented at the NCRM Seminar Series on Archiving and Reusing Qualitative Data. Please note that archive includes drafts of papers, abstract of paper, and powerpoint presentations. The papers published here do not appear in their final form and appearance on this website does not preclude revision for submission to another forum.

Please note that all the enclosed documents are the property of the NCRM Seminar Series and should not be reproduced for publication in any other format. If you are interested in publishing any of the papers please get in touch with the author or authors who will in most cases already submitted this paper for publication in a learned journal.

All papers can be found at: http://www.restore.ac.uk/archiving_qualitative_data/projects/archive_series/index.shtml

Members of the Network

For queries please contact Niamh Moore

Dr Libby Bishop

Manager, ESDS Qualidata, University of Essex


Louise Corti

Head, ESDS Qualidata, University of Essex


Prof Mike Savage

Director, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), University of Manchester


Dr Till Geiger

Department of History, University of Manchester


Dr Margaretta Jolly

Co-Director, Centre for Life History Studies, University of Sussex


Dr Claire Langhamer

Co-Director, Centre for Life History Studies, University of Sussex


Dr Niamh Moore

Qualitative Research Laboratory, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), University of Manchester


Jane Stevenson

Archives Hub, MIMAS, University of Manchester