Taming Abundance: Doing Digital Archival Research (as Political Scientists)

Taming Abundance: Doing Digital Archival Research (as Political Scientists)

By Diana S. Kim, Georgetown University

Political scientists are increasingly using digitized documents from archives. This article is a practical introduction to doing digital archival research. First, it explains when and why political scientists use evidence from archival research. Second, it argues that the remote accessibility of digitized records provides new opportunities for comparative and transnational research. However, digital archival research also risks aggravating five types of biases that pose challenges for qualitative, quantitative, interpretive, and mixed-methods research: survivaltransferdigitization, and reinforcement bias at the level of record collection and source bias at the level of record creation. Third, this article offers concrete strategies for anticipating and mitigating these biases by walking readers through the experience of entering, being in, and leaving an archive, while also underscoring the importance of learning the structure of an archive. The article concludes by addressing the ethical implications to archival research as a type of field research for political scientists.

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