What ethical issues should you consider?

There is a potential for archival researchers to overlook ethical issues altogether, on the grounds that they are at a distance from those being researched.55 This attitude is often intensified by institutional ethics committees and their policies; they often see historical work as being outside the normal ethical frameworks. I fundamentally disagree. I encourage those who use Statement Archaeology to carefully consider the ethical implications of their work.

There is a growing recognition that the historian does have an ethical responsibility. In recent years, for example, the ethical responsibilities associated with historical enquiry have been more openly discussed. Brian Fay raised the question, ‘Do historians have an ethical responsibility, and if so, to whom?’. This elicited a variety of responses, both positive and negative.56 More recently, Marek Tesar has set out, in some detail, the complexities of the ethical considerations relating to archive research.57

Thus, there are a number of considerations that arise in the use of Statement Archaeology. There is unquestionably an ethical responsibility to protect fragile historical materials in order to conserve them for the use of those who come after us. In addition, there is, as Foucault highlights, a need to avoid the danger of ‘projecting modern notions back into cultures where they had no role or “reality”’. There is also an implicit ethical responsibility to ‘those whose activities and relations’ are described.58

Institutional ethical guidelines rightly place a high priority on protecting ‘participants’.59 This protection generally includes the safeguarding of those involved through Voluntary Informed Consent (VIC) in order to prevent unknowing participation in work that may cause harm at some level.60 Likewise, anonymity is stressed in such guidelines, with the specifically stated exception that anonymity ‘is not considered the norm for research using historical or archival data’.61 Both these issues present significant difficulties for historians. To what extent can the individuals who are encountered in historical enquiry be considered ‘participants’? Historians are often dealing

Applying Statement Archaeology 167 with those from whom VIC can no longer be elicited. Further, anonymization can often stand counter to the development of historiography, especially where who does something is crucial in understanding context, event, or statement. In addition, the ethical consequences of selection and transcription policies are as relevant to historical enquiry as to interview-based inter-pretational approaches, yet historians arc not able to liaise with participants in the same way as other researchers.

There is further danger in historical work where it might be seen as an attempt to ‘speak for others’. As such, researchers run the risk of marginalizing their ‘participants’, performing acts of misguided ventriloquism or, as bcl hooks suggests, engaging in a ‘form of colonization’.62 Along these lines, Gert Biesta suggests that many well-intentioned acts of emancipation arc in fact acts of oppression.63 There is no doubt that hearing the voice of the marginalized is important; however, it is important to consider whether the marginalized need someone to speak for them. Ultimately, therefore, regardless of the timeframe within which they work, researchers cannot speak for others, ‘we can only tell our story about their lives’.64

Whilst these problems cannot be overcome completely, awareness of them is important. Resulting from the discussion engendered by Fay’s question, a suggested Code of Ethics for Historians was developed proposing that historians should, amongst other things, ‘respect the dignity of the living and the dead that they study’ (article 9), be transparent over their methods, impartiality, and objectivity (article 13) and ‘be sensitive to their implicit moral evaluations’ (article 15).65 In my work, I have been guided by this code, taking the view that rather than being seen as simply a checklist to be completed as a precursor to the research, ethical considerations should be a practical and reflexive outworking of the relevant guidelines that permeate every stage of the research.66 I encourage the reader to carefully consider their ethical approach and to be transparent in their methodological description.

What potential developments might affect your use of Statement Archaeology?

One of the key comments about Statement Archaeology is that it is labour-intensive. It is hard to deny this. The meticulous searching, particularly for the origin of a given statement, and for correlates and subsequent repetitions of a statement can indeed be time-consuming. One development that offers some hope in this regard is the progressive work on computer software that searches electronic corpuses for occurrences of particular terms. The processes required are familiar to those who work with Corpus Linguistics, Text Mining and other text-based research methods.

There is undoubtedly scope for such approaches to simplify the process, but with one central caveat; the materials all have to be in an electronic format. For the work presented here, in excess of 25,000 pages of source material were examined, of which less than 1500 were available inan electronic format. As many of these pages did not yield archaeological findings, the task of converting them to computer-readable formats would have taken more time than would have been saved. Where the material required is available electronically, there is certainly no reason to not use such a method. However, I would urge caution. Many of the key findings described here (and elsewhere) have been observed from the material around the statement itself. The most immediate promise that computer-based text-mining approaches might have is to identify which documents contain the statement being searched for, allowing more time for the researcher to examine and consider those documents in their entirety. Perhaps, in time, it might be possible to use such techniques to identify key-statements from which starting points can be identified, but that seems a little way hence at the moment.

One area where Digital Humanities approaches do have something significant to offer to Statement Archaeology is in the way in which original documents can be captured, stored, examined, and even annotated. All of the sources used for the research on which this book is based were digitized by the author. Many archives and repositories now allow photography of original items, albeit sometimes only within specific conditions. This allows the researcher to gather the materials quickly and then to examine them at a more leisurely pace. Increasingly, archives arc digitizing their holdings, as well as improving access; there is often opportunity to be involved either with the image capture and/or cataloguing the images themselves.

The reader must develop their own practice, according to their needs and the specific demands of their project; the practice I have developed, over the course of nearly a decade, follows the procedure outlined here. It can be carried out with a digital camera, smart phone, tablet, or similar device capable of image capturing. I always start by photographing the folder cover, or a handwritten sheet with the complete reference on it; this maintains accurate referencing. I will then capture every item within the folder in the order in which it is held; this both militates against selection in the archive and prevents the panic moment of ‘did I capture absolutely everything'-'. After a particular)' traumatic experience with a failed drive, I make a copy of the day’s work on another device or extra drive as soon as I can; increasingly I upload the images directly to a cloud server. This offers great peace of mind, especially when a visit to the archive has been costly and/or long distance. I keep all the materials using the same nomenclature and referencing system as the source. For example, I have a folder ‘National Archive’, within with there is a ‘ED’ folder; each folder in the ED series then has its own subfolder (c.g. ED 12-136). (Note that computer filing systems often baulk at the use of ‘/’ so I use a consistent replacement, such as ‘-’.) Finally, I always make my annotations on a copy of the original file, and the first thing I do is add the complete file reference to the image. This step alone has saved many hours of trying to match an image to a reference.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >