What are “good” kinds of archival evidence for theorizing? Surprisingly, the word archive and discussions of the archival process rarely appear in methods textbooks or discussions of methods in historical sociology. Yet, much recent historicized sociology relies upon documents left over by a small group of actors to make large-scale claims. To address this oversight, we leverage the evidentiary strengths of qualitative sociology and translate them for historical sociology. Our central argument is that three kinds of archival evidence are likely to produce generalizable claims: positive contingency, learning by mistakes, and plausible alternatives. Examples are illustrated with the cases of jail overcrowding in Los Angeles County, anti-redlining policy in the Federal Reserve, and immigration policy in the Dillingham commission.
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We would like to thank the editors of the Qualitative Sociology and anonymous reviewers for their feedback in the process. Freeden Blume Oeur, Cybelle Fox, Anna Skarpelis, and Emily Erikson read previous versions of this article and provided valuable comments. We appreciate their support. The authors contributed equally to the article.
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Lara-Millán, A., Sargent, B. & Kim, S. Theorizing with Archives: Contingency, Mistakes, and Plausible Alternatives. Qual Sociol 43, 345–365 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-020-09461-0
- Historical sociology