Whereas once archival research may have conjured up images of dull historians leafing through grey documents in a dusty old room in search of official facts, the possibilities of archival research have been thoroughly transformed by a number of conceptual, political and technological shifts which we explore in addressing what is archival research, and how and why one might go about doing it.
Thus, as well as introducing more conventional practices, we also examine the multiple ways in which archival research is currently being refigured. We take a multidisciplinary approach, drawing on historians’ own rethinking of the truths and certainties of archival research, as well as outlining how other disciplines are taking up the challenges posed by their particular encounter with the archive (eg anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, performance studies, literature).
This includes an exploration of the thorny question for researchers of putting our own data in the archive, a novel take for some on what archival research might entail. However, archives are no longer only the preserve of professional historians, archivists, or even other academics, as the archive has been opened up by the popularity of family history research, by the ease of creating online archives taken up by countless individuals and communities, as well as the emergence of web 2.0 technologies which allow user generated content and metadata.
At the same time we see the persistence of practices of radical archiving and diy archiving, where those excluded from or marginalised in official records have insisted on documenting their own histories. Thus archives offer wonderful possibilities for finding data and materials for research projects, as well as opening up the potential for public engagement work with communities developing their own archives, further expanding the domain of archival research.