Qualitative and Archival Methods Comprehensive Doctoral Field

Yale’s department is one of the few — indeed, we are not aware of any other — that offers qualitative and archival methods as a comprehensive doctoral field. Many departments offer graduate courses in qualitative methods. However, it appears that we are unique in offering a comprehensive field that certifies expertise in these methods.

Yale faculty members see the department’s commitment to doctoral training in qualitative and archival research as part of our overarching commitment to methodological pluralism. We regard these methods as complementary to statistical and formal methods, all of which have varied strengths and weaknesses in confronting the challenges of descriptive and causal inference.

We define “qualitative methods” broadly, including interviews, participant observation, ethnographic mapping, the recording of oral histories, focus groups, and historical source analysis, as well as some aspects of surveys (particularly less structured protocols) and experiments (e.g., debriefing after experiments). 

Archival methods often face the same challenges to descriptive and causal inference and are often combined with qualitative methods (and of course often also with formal and/or statistical methods) in research on topics ranging from state building to political violence to welfare state policies and practices to local governance.

As in most other comprehensive fields, doctoral students can qualify in the field either by passing a written exam that assesses mastery of a list of relevant readings, or by taking three courses and writing a seminar paper in one of them.

However, faculty members strongly encourage students to qualify through coursework as we believe that learning these methods is best done not only through the discussion of key works and methods but also by carrying out projects requiring significant field or archival research.

Participants carry out their projects in a wide range of sites and archives in the greater New Haven area, from New York City to Boston. Recent field research projects, for example,  include analyses of the social networks of Serbian immigrants; relations between African American congregations and criminal justice institutions in New Haven; the culture of those protesting outside Planned Parenthood every Saturday; and the experience of young Muslim men from various countries as immigrants new to New Haven.

Doctoral students specializing in all substantive fields of political science take courses in this field and some qualify in it as one of their three required comprehensive fields.

To qualify by coursework, students must take three of four core courses, Qualitative Field Research, Micro-historical Analysis in Social Science Research (or Historical and Archival Methods), Mixed Method Research, and Philosophy of Science for the Study of Politics, and write a seminar paper in one of the courses, which must be approved by the course instructor as a qualifying paper.

  • The Philosophy of Science of the Study of Politics focuses on topics such as causation; deduction, induction, and prediction; description, explanation, and interpretation; and the differences between the natural and social sciences.
  • Micro-historical Analysis in Social Science Research (or Historical and Archival Methods) analyzes pairs of ‘classic’ and contemporary research on some of the most important topics across social science disciplines, prioritizing a ‘hands-on’ approach based on discussion of how the archive came to be created, salient design choices, how to conduct archival research, and replication of the results of papers that use historical evidence. Recent students have consulted archives at Yale, and other private and government archives in the USA, and across the world, with topics as varied as race and the criminal justice system in the USA, the 1971 India-Pakistan war, ethnic politics in the Balkans, gender and politics in Ethiopia, and great power politics as seen through the various private archives collected at Yale, such as the Kissinger and Stimson archives. Other student projects include GIS-based research that combine historical with contemporary data, text-analysis that uses archival and historical parliamentary sources, the formulation of research projects that leverage historical natural experiments.
  • Qualitative Field Research focuses on developing skills in qualitative methods and expertise in descriptive and causal inference with qualitative data. Each student develops a project close to her own research interests, secures IRB approval, and engages in various qualitative methods to address her research question. Recent projects include analyses of the social networks of Serbian immigrants; relations between African American congregations and criminal justice institutions in New Haven; the culture of those protesting outside Planned Parenthood every Saturday; and the experience of young Muslim men from various countries as immigrants new to New Haven.
  • Mixed Methods Research bridges training in quantitative and qualitative methods. The course is intended as an overview for creating and critiquing sophisticated research designs using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, data, and analyses. The course begins with the logics and assumptions underpinning qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research, and then moves on to analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of specific combinations of quantitative tests, case studies, and narrative and interpretive work. The final assignment builds on the course material to produce a mixed method research design proposal, and is ideal for students in the prospectus writing stage of their dissertation.