Friday, November 8, 2013

Historical Research

by Lani Walker
Currently in the Master’s level class ARC 500 - Research Methods, we are learning about the different types of architectural research and the numerous ways to perform this research.  The book we are using, Architectural Research Methods by David Wang and Linda Groat, covers seven types of research, including historical, qualitative, correlational, experimental, simulation, logical argumentation, and case studies and mixed methods.  This week we have focused on Chapter Six in this book; historical research.  This article below is a collection of the terms and practices I learned from Chapter Six this week.  In this chapter, perspectives, theories, and strategies in historical research are analyzed. 
Traditional and new perspectives on historical research are formed from a fictional account from the past, a historian’s viewpoint or interpretation of the past, or a narrative and other literary forms.  The ‘new’ perspectives in the current practice of history are based around two influential bodies of theory.  The first theory is the ‘cultural turn,’ where historians seek to interpret cultural meaning from cultural anthropology.  The second theory, the ‘spatial turn,’ derives from various social theories, especially the Marxist theory.  In both theories, physical objects and the physical space become key issues in historical analysis. 
               In analyzing the perspectives on historical research, it is imperial to understand how the history is narrated and if the information is valid.  Some historical narratives might overstep into the bounds of fiction.  The three perspectives on historical research include the historical narrative, literary constructions, imagination and comprehension.  In the historical narrative, the narrator describes their account of a past experience.  In literary constructions, the idea of the ‘ideal chronicle’ in examined.  In imagination and comprehension, human thought is compared to animal nature. 
            The schools of thought in historical research have evolved with the ever-changing culture.  The positivist explanation bases human knowledge solely on the scientific interpretation of observational data.   Another school of thought in historical research is the ‘movement of spirit,’ in which all people and things are imprisoned in their own time frame.  This approach explains how an event can only truly be judges in the time period in which it took place.  The structuralist approach focuses on the universal truths that occur as the overall system of historical research evolves.  The poststructuralist approach examines the people and institutions in power within a places history.
            While doing historical research in architecture, certain strategies can be applied to assist in successful research methods.  Strategies in historical research include determining fact verses opinion and realizing biases in literary works.  It is important to find the determinative evidence; facts of who, what, when, where, and why.  While finding determinative evidence, historical research also uses contextual evidence, inferential evidence, and recollected evidence.  Contextual evidence is provided by cultural factors and the context in which the event took place.  Inferential evidence makes a connection between two seemingly different pieces of historical evidence found.  Recollective evidence is evidence that is recorded, with the exclusion of hearsay. 
            Perspectives, theories, and strategies in historical research, as examined in chapter six of Architectural Research Methods, can be used as a guide for preforming successful architectural research.  These methods in historical research can be implemented in many of the architectural thesis projects currently being researched within the graduate studio.  Research is a crucial tool that architectural graduate students must learn in order to effectively address the technical, aesthetic, and behavioral issues that arise in their architectural work.

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