Cambria Press is pleased to announce that Doing Archival Research in Political Science by Scott Frisch, Douglas Harris, Sean Q Kelly, and David C. W. Parker was very well received at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, where three of the four authors were on hand to discuss their book, published just in time for the conference.
For those who were not able to attend the conference, below is a transcript of the Q&A session with Professor Sean Q Kelly (coeditor of the Cambria Studies in Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy in America and coauthor of CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, Jimmy Carter and the Water Wars) responding on behalf of his coeditors (professors Scott A. Frisch, Douglas B. Harris, and David C. W. Parker) and contributors to the volume.
1. Why did you decide to write this book?
We assembled Doing Archival Research in Political Science to convince political scientists to take advantage of valuable data that are available in archival collections. Political papers were largely abandoned by political science decades ago; they were ceded to historians. It was an over-correction in the behavioral revolution, which sought to focus on observing the behaviors of politicians. It was a mistake.
What each of us learned in our research using these collections is that there are materials there that serve the political science enterprise. Political scientists have ignored a vast deposit of rich qualitative and quantitative data.
Political science’s extended hiatus from archival research means that students are not trained in archival research methods. Part of our purpose was to bring together the sort of book that we wish existed when each of us began our work with archival collections; a book providing encouragement, direction and instruction. The book is intended to demystify archival research and arm the reader against the inevitable (and often misguided) criticisms of archival research.
2. What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
We hope readers will be convinced of the value of using political papers collections. The substantive essays in the volume illustrate how archival collections can be employed to study a variety of topics that are interesting to political scientists; political institutions, public opinion, the development of the American state, and the like. Each chapter is a valuable piece of research in its own right, but each chapter is also an illustration of how archival data can be employed to improve research.
We also hope that the book flattens the learning curve for researchers intrepid enough to pursue archival research. These essays are meant, in part, to get researchers up to speed with the distinctive language of archival research. That was the reason we include a chapter written by two archivists capable of “pulling back the curtain” on the arrangement of these collections. After all, successful archival research depends, in the first instance, upon finding what one is looking for; who knows better than archivists the logic that will lead a researcher to the evidence they are pursuing.
3. What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
Much more research based on archival collections. The benefits are many. Archival research tends to keep one’s theorizing grounded in the realities of politics. The nearly instantaneous interaction of theory and data helps to sharpen theoretical arguments, suggesting new theoretical and empirical directions.
Archival research also allows the researcher to appreciate politics in real time, to get beyond the shroud that often obscures politics in the making. Congressional leadership races, for example, take place well behind the scenes; but the evidence of the activities surrounding a leadership race persists in the papers of the participants. Previously opaque institutional behaviors become clearer in the light of the archival record. Empirical patterns are discovered where once there was mysterious conjecture.