Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Finding Empathy in Historical Inquiry and Data Management through an Educational Research Example

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Finding Empathy in Historical Inquiry and Data Management through an Educational Research Example

Article excerpt

Introduction to Historical Inquiry

History can find solutions from the past to inform the present and future trends. Hoxie (1906) regarded that "historical data are scientifically important only when they explain some matter of fact of vital interest to us" (p. 570), which is consistent with Dewey's idea that historical knowledge is useful only when it can inform the current problems (Fallace, 2010). Historical inquiry allows us to reevaluate the historical data which relate to our current generalizations of the past, to understand the dynamics of the changes in the field of education, and to know the relationship between education and its historical context and culture (Good, 1966; Hill & Kerbert, 1967).

History is not just about historical facts; studying history enables us to see how a collection of unrelated ideas tie together to form a pattern (Studying history, n. d.). Historical inquiry helps us find the repetitive patterns, gain lessons based on past experience, and find out how a field has evolved as time goes on. "History helps one understand the sources of contemporary problems, how they arose and how their characteristics unfolded through time. It also identifies the solutions that worked in the past and those that did not" (Mason, McKenney, & Copeland, 1997, p. 307). For example, to understand an organization, we can study its historical path in order to understand how it evolved through time (Mason, McKenney, & Copeland, 1997).

However, in the field of adult education, there are few studies in adult education with the historical perspective. Taylor (2001), after examining all the papers submitted to the Adult Education Quarterly from 1989 to 1999, stated that "In contrast to the increase of qualitative submissions, there continues to be a lack of historical research submitted to AEQ" (p. 336). There are few resources currently available which discuss the historical method. To support the development of historical research, it is important to know how to conduct research using the historical method and how to manage the chronological database to meet the needs of researchers. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how to collect, analyze, manage and evaluate data in the historical perspective. Specifically, I will focus on the process of targeting questions, specifying the domain areas from which I gathered the data, collecting and analyzing the data, as well as evaluating the whole process of historical inquiry to identify the important points reflected in the data. I will cite scholars' views to discuss the process of how to collect, analyze and manage data from the historical perspective, and then use my data collection experience at the Syracuse University Library in 2013 and 2014 as a case to demonstrate this process. The literature review will be integrated into each step of the historical inquiry, and specific examples will be provided respectively so that readers can clearly see how each step is interpreted/processed in practice.

Specifying the Domain

Historical data play an important role in research. Wallen (2009) regarded that:

   Archival material bears the imprint of the bureaucratic, of that
   which has been institutionally preserved. It gives us traces of the
   dead, evidence of the past that has been recorded but not (yet)
   brought into the public space of the published book, of the library
   or museum; it exists as a mnemonic device, as what awaits the
   coming of the researcher to be brought back to life. (p. 261)

However, conducting a project using historical inquiry can be a very time-consuming and complex process. It requires researchers to dig into archival materials and sort out the information they need for their projects. Mason, McKenney, and Copeland (1997) stated that the process of performing historical study includes: Begin with focusing questions, specify the domain, gather evidence, critique the evidence, determine patterns, tell the story, and write the transcript. …

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