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Tales from the archive: methodological and ethical issues in historical geography research

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This paper is an exploration of methodological and ethical issues in historical geography research. Drawing on the experience of researching the historical geographies of abortion in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Lancashire, the paper discusses some of the ethical and methodological questions that historical research on sensitive topics raises. This paper investigates the politics of the archive and the forms of censorship researchers may encounter. It also explores the possibility of a conflict of interest between researcher and participant, including the dilemmas researchers face when research participants are dead, but remain important figures in the community. Moreover, the paper argues that the recent burgeoning interest in family and local history makes questions of method and ethics far more urgent for the geographer. In conclusion, the paper calls for more dialogue within geography about researching sensitive subjects, and also between geography and other disciplines.

Keywords: Lancashire; archive; case study; historical geography; reflexive geography; research ethics

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EN, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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