Capturing the historical research methodology: an experimental approach

Torou Elena, Katifori Akrivi, Vassilakis Costas, Lepouras Georgios, Halatsis Constantin
Proceedings of International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (ICERI 2009), Madrid, November 16-18, 2009


This paper presents the results of a study on how historians conduct research in a historical archive, and the methodologies they use while searching. Historic research involves finding, using, interpreting and correlating information within primary and secondary sources, in order to understand past events. The collection of historical data is accomplished through methodical and comprehensive research in primary and secondary sources. An important factor in our study was to understand what kind of data and/or information historians are looking for in a library/historical archive, either printed or digitized, and which research methodologies or research models they use while they investigate a historical archive. Since this issue has not been addressed insofar, and therefore there are no methods for elucidating research methodologies or research models that historians employ / use, we formulated a questionnaire comprising of seven information retrieval tasks commonly addressed in the context of historic research. History researchers were asked to describe in detail how they would proceed in searching for the information they need for completing these tasks. Through this procedure we aimed to investigate the different ways a historian can use to tackle a specific question, examine whether there exists a common research methodology, and the historic researchers' expectations and preferences. The insight gained from this investigation can be used for educational purposes, since it could be useful in the creation / development of a methodology for conducting research on historical information. Furthermore, the findings can be exploited in the context of organizing documents within historical source repositories, so as to facilitate the retrieval of documents by historians; finally the presented findings can serve as a preliminary requirement analysis phase for building tools that will enable historians to access more rapidly and fully the information they need.

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