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.