Archival Research: Using Modern Techniques to Reveal the Past


In 2014, I began dissertation research examining the leadership of Father Paul Reinert, S.J., former president and chancellor at Saint Louis University. Father Reinert was an influential figure within the field of Catholic higher education at the local, national, and international levels; however, despite his significant contributions to higher education, he had never been formally studied. Because he is deceased, I had to rely on archival material, including speeches, essays, letters, and newspaper articles written by or about Father Reinert. My goal was to uncover influences on Father Reinert’s leadership and to explore how his leadership was shaped by the context of his time period to analyze his governance style.

This case study is an account of my research project to give readers unfamiliar with document-based studies a glimpse into how to conduct archival research. The case study explores traditional archival research conducted at an archive and includes electronic archival research since an increasing number of digitized original documents are available online. Readers will learn how to locate archival material, how to assess the accuracy and meaning of original manuscripts, and basic etiquette when visiting an archive in person. Archival research has become an easily accessible form of research; however, without understanding how to locate and interpret original documents, it can be intimidating. The purpose of this case study is to introduce readers to archival research by sharing my own experience and lessons learned during my time in various archives across the United States.

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