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Beyond the Archives

Research as a Lived Process

Edited by Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan Foreword by Lucille M. Schultz

Publication Year: 2008

This collection of highly readable essays reveals that research is not restricted to library archives. When researchers pursue information and perspectives from sources beyond the archives—from existing people and places— they are often rewarded with unexpected discoveries that enrich their research and their lives.

Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process presents narratives that demystify and illuminate the research process by showing how personal experiences, family history, and scholarly research intersect. Editors Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan emphasize how important it is for researchers to tap into their passions, pursuing research subjects that attract their attention with creativity and intuition without limiting themselves to traditional archival sources and research methods.   

Eighteen contributors from a number of disciplines detail inspiring research opportunities that led to recently published works, while offering insights on such topics as starting and finishing research projects, using a wide range of types of sources and methods, and taking advantage of unexpected leads, chance encounters and simple clues. In addition, the narratives trace the importance of place in archival research, the parallels between the lives of research subjects and researchers, and explore archives as sites that resurrect personal, cultural, and historical memory.

Beyond the Archives sheds light on the creative, joyful, and serendipitous nature of research, addressing what attracts researchers to their subjects, as well as what inspires them to produce the most thorough, complete, and engaged scholarly work. This timely and essential volume supplements traditional-method textbooks and effectively models concrete practices of retrieving and synthesizing information by professional researchers.




Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process marks the change from reading an archive not just as a source but also as a subject. That is, the authors of these interdisciplinary research narratives understand archives, in the words of anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler, not as “things” but as “epistemological experiments”; ...

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pp. xi-xii

Together, Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan would like to thank the contributors for sharing their stories of discovery, serendipity, and inspiration; for their care and thoughtfulness revising their work; and for their graciousness and patience with the editing and publishing process. ...

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Introduction: The Role of Serendipity, Family Connections, and Cultural Memory in Historical Research

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pp. 1-10

In her memoir French Lessons, Duke professor Alice Kaplan writes that literary critic and Yale professor Paul de Man “would have been a better teacher if he had given more of his game away” because she believes “the root of [his] intellectual questions was his own experience and pain” (172, 173). ...

Part One: When Serendipity, Creativity, and Place Come into Play

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1. The Accidental Archivist: Embracing Chance and Confusion in Historical Scholarship

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pp. 13-19

I have a confession to make: I didn’t plan on being a historian of rhetoric when I grew up. Instead, my research career began, like many of my colleagues’, I suspect, with a happy accident—or rather a series of them. ...

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2. Being on Location: Serendipity, Place, and Archival Research

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pp. 20-27

For several years now, I have been studying the life and work of Dr. Mary Bennett Ritter (1860–1949), a physician, women’s rights advocate, and civic leader active in California at the turn of the twentieth century.1 During one of my trips to the Bancroft Library Archives at the University of California, Berkeley, I learned that being there physically, ...

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3. Getting to Know Them: Concerning Research into Four Early Women Writers

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pp. 28-36

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” (Hartley 3). Those of us who engage in rhetorical criticism of works of the past can testify to the truth of those words. We are strangers in the past: we have to find our way about, learn the language, understand the culture, and sometimes come to terms with a very different set of values. ...

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4. Making Connections

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pp. 37-44

On the wall of my study at home hangs a head-and-shoulders photograph of a dark-haired, handsome man in his mid-forties wearing an army jacket and sitting in a car, leaning on his elbow. Wherever I am in the room, he appears to be looking directly at me and smiling. The photograph was taken in Munich in 1946, ...

Part Two: When Personal Experience, Family History, and Research Subjects Intersect

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5. Traces of the Familiar: Family Archives as Primary Source Material

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pp. 47-55

In the last year of my master’s program, my maternal grandmother suffered a severe heart attack—the beginning of a rapid decline that would ultimately lead to her death during my first year as a Ph.D. student. Only after my grandmother’s death did I realize that her life experiences dovetailed with my interest in the critical reading ...

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6. The Biography of a Graveyard

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pp. 56-65

There is a small town deep in the hills of southern Illinois with the odd name of Sesser. Tradition says it was named after the government official who filled out the incorporation papers a century ago. The area was first settled in the 1820s by people mostly from Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee. ...

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7. In a Treeless Landscape: A Research Narrative

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pp. 66-72

Because I am a philosopher by trade and training, most of my research begins in my head, first with an intuition and then with the development of rudimentary arguments to support that intuition. My reading of scholarly books and journal articles related to the issue I’m addressing follows these initial steps. ...

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8. My Grandfather’s Trunk

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pp. 73-80

His name was Barry Conners. He was an actor who wrote half a dozen plays that ran on Broadway in its golden era, the 1920s. His words launched the Broadway acting careers of Shirley Booth and Humphrey Bogart. He invented the role of a madcap heroine that Marion Davies catapulted to fame in a movie that eighty years later is still shown on Turner Classic Movies. ...

Part Three: When Personal, Cultural, and Historical Memory Shape the Politics of the Archives

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9. Colonial Memory, Colonial Research: A Preamble to a Case Study

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pp. 83-92

But I had to know. This might be the postcolonial era, but here remains the colony, no matter the convolutions and euphemisms. And here remains this man, this man who had a revolutionary force and no revolution, things I knew nothing about apart from my father’s nostalgia about the man of el Yunque, mi tía’s boyfriend. ...

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10. Unbundling: Archival Research and Japanese American Communal Memory of U.S. Justice Department Internment, 1941–45

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pp. 93-106

I was born during a World War II blackout, I’ve been told. My mother was carried to Queen’s Hospital in an ambulance, probably one of the only vehicles allowed on the road under those conditions in Honolulu, even a year after Pearl Harbor was attacked. As a child, I was shielded completely from the war with the exception of duck-and-cover exercises in preschool ...

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11. Mississippi on My Mind

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pp. 107-114

“Mississippi Reveals Dark Secrets of a Racist Time,” read the headline on the front page of the New York Times that March morning. It was 1998, and the files of the once-secret Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission had just been opened. Up until I began to read the Times that morning and other newspaper articles throughout the spring of that year, ...

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12. Dreaming Charles Eastman: Cultural Memory, Autobiography, and Geography in Indigenous Rhetorical Histories

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pp. 115-127

The version of the story you’re reading began as a ghost story told out loud around kitchen tables, on porches, at powwows, in archives. It’s important to begin with this bit of knowledge, I think, because when talk turns into text, something happens to it—something else arises as the words get inscribed, revised, polished, distressed, and re-presented. ...

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13. Cultural Memory and the Lesbian Archive

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pp. 128-136

On a winter night in 1984, I encountered the WOW Café Theatre for the first time in its storefront home on East 11th Street in Manhattan’s East Village. The show was Alice Forrester’s Heart of the Scorpion, billed as a “romance for the girls.” On the same evening, I walked a few blocks farther east to catch the late show at Club Chandalier, ...

Part Four: When the Lives of Our Research Subjects Parallel Our Own

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14. “I See Dead People”: Archive, Crypt, and an Argument for the Researcher’s Sixth Sense

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pp. 139-146

In M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 movie The Sixth Sense, the child-protagonist, Cole Sear, communicates—against his will and with some horror—with spirits of the dead. The movie’s plot becomes increasingly complex when the child whispers to his psychologist, Malcolm Crowe, that the spirits “don’t know they’re dead.” ...

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15. Stitching and Writing a Life

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pp. 147-153

I found my research subject Janette Miller (1879–1969), a librarian, diarist, missionary, preacher, and poet, and she “found” me about fifteen years ago at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library. A senior at the university, I was researching the diaries of a man who had owned a home in Ann Arbor that I was studying for an architecture project. ...

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16. When Two Stories Collide, They Catch Fire

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pp. 154-160

In 2001, there were only fourteen hundred of these birds alive in the world. Each summer, a few die unnatural deaths as they get tangled up in long lines of fishing vessels and then drown. ...

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17. Stumbling in the Archives: A Tale of Two Novices

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pp. 161-170

Recently, we were honored to be on-line guest lecturers in a rhetoric and composition graduate methodology class. The teacher of the class wrote to us that he couldn’t find anything about “doing” archival work—could we please fill in the blanks? This unnerved us a bit as neither of us had had any specific training in archival work. ...

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Contributors, Back Cover

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pp. 171-173

Elizabeth (Betsy) Birmingham teaches professional writing and gender studies in the English department at North Dakota State University. Her research concerns the role of women in architectural practice and history; she has published this scholarship in architecture, rhetoric, and women’s studies journals. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780809386956
E-ISBN-10: 080938695X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328406
Print-ISBN-10: 080938695X

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2008