Historical Ethnography: Key Characteristics and the Journey Before, During, and After the Archival Field


  • Nir Rotem Hebrew University of Jerusalem




historical ethnography, archives, video-indexing, temporal codes, abductive methodology, deductive category application


The aim of this article is to elaborate on the overlooked strategy of historical ethnography. Drawing from the literature and sharing vignettes from my research at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees archive, I advance in two stages. First, by reviewing key works, I provide an overview of historical ethnography, focusing mainly on its distinct characteristics: The historical reach and reliance on a wide range of materials. I also present the inductive-deductive debate to consider the role of theory. Then I provide informed reflections about the different research stages: Before, during, and after leaving the archival field. Becoming immersed in the subject matter prior to the actual empirical examination opens the path to the archives and to a meaningful data collection endeavor. In turn, informed decisions, rather than luck, fuel the ongoing movement between data collection and analysis. Lastly, acknowledging the interpretive mindset involved with thinking ethnographically, I present indexing and temporal coding as helpful strategies for organizing a large corpus of historical data.


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Author Biography

Nir Rotem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Nir ROTEM is a postdoctoral fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In his research, he explores global knowledge dynamics, the exchange of global norms and contemporary contestations over liberal scripts. He also focuses on the science of science and the construction of scientific knowledge.


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How to Cite

Rotem, N. (2024). Historical Ethnography: Key Characteristics and the Journey Before, During, and After the Archival Field. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 25(2). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-25.2.4106



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