In historical inquiry, researchers identify the research questions, specify the domain which relates to the research questions, and familiarize themselves with how the documents are structured and managed in the host library. In collecting data, researchers don’t need to constrain themselves with how documents are labeled by the archivists. They can break the boundaries of the labeled documents and find out how seemingly unrelated documents are actually inter-related. In analyzing data, positivists and constructionists view history differently, which results in different approaches to how historical data can be analyzed. Positivists believe in transparency and universal truths across the historical data through data generalization and inference. In addition to generalization and inference, researchers should situate themselves in the historical context, establish empathy to feel the historical moments, and interpret data in the historical context. Revisiting and evaluating the process of a historical inquiry allows researchers to find out the patterns of historical events and the important points that might be missing in the field. This also provides a chance for researchers to evaluate the hosting, storage and management of historical data and identify the ways which can help improve data management so that future researchers can easily access the data.


Historical Method, Data Collection, Data Analysis, Document Management, History of Adult Education

Author Bio(s)

Bo Chang is an assistant professor of adult and community education in the Department of Educational Studies at the Teachers College, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA. Her research interests include: Adult learning; learning and tools such as culture, media, language, discourse and social networks; learning communities; community-based adult education; knowledge construction; and social constructionism. She has taught adult learners and facilitated training programmes for adults in a variety of contexts. She has published many articles in the areas of adult learning, training and adult education. Her most recent publications include: “Socio-Cultural Influences of Society on Knowledge Construction,” which was published in the International Journal of Knowledge Management, 10(1), 78–91, and “The Re-Socialization of Migrants in a Local Community in Shanghai, China,” which was published in the International Review of Education, 61(2), 211-233. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: bchang@bsu.edu.


I am very thankful for the Syracuse University Library Special Collections Research Center for financially supporting me through the Alexander N. Charters Adult Education Research Grant! This enabled me to collect the documents for my research project. I especially would like to thank the following people from the Special Collections Research Center who provided me with their great support, their professional help, and their hospitality during my trips to Syracuse University: Sean M. Quimby, Previous Senior Director of Special Collections; Barbara Brooker, Assistant to the Interim Senior Director of Special Collections; Nicole C. Dittrich, Reading Room Supervisor; Michele R Combs, Librarian/Lead Archivist; and Nicolette A. Dobrowolski, Head of Public Services, Reference Librarian. Other librarians at the Syracuse University Library who helped me during my visit were Dr. Alexander N. Charters and Dr. Tom Phelan who supported my project. All the adult educators who have been interviewed The author would also like to thank Dr. Leland Haraszti for his detailed editing of this paper.

Publication Date


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