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Southeastern Regional Seminar in African Studies (SERSAS)

Fall Meeting
27 - 28 October 2000
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Methodological and Procedural Difficulties in 'Archiving at a Distance':
From Nigeria to the U.S.A.

Nonso Okereafoezeke, Ph.D, Esq.
Department of Criminal Justice
Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC 28723
Phone: 828 227 2177
Fax: 828 227 7705

nonso@wcu.edu

Abstract

The use of archival research strategies to study a population when the researcher is not physically present in the study population raises major problems. The problems increase with the distance between the researcher and the population. Thus, a long- distance study between countries raises more problems than such a study within a country. Against this background, some of the problems and issues involved in an archival study of the relationship between the native Igbo justice system and the official Nigerian justice system are examined. The author concludes that the key question to be answered on a research strategy involving archiving at a distance is as follows: How does the data qualitatively and quantitatively respond to the research question/s - is the response satisfactory?

Paper Outline

This paper is based on an on going research project. The issues outlined and discussed here are some of those that have confronted the author in the course of the project. The use of archival research strategies to study a population when the researcher is not physically present in the study population raises major problems (Hill, 1993). The problems increase with the distance between the researcher and the population. Thus, a long-distance study between countries raises more problems than such a study within a country. Against this background, some of the problems and issues involved in an archival study of the relationship between the native Igbo justice system and the official Nigerian justice system (Okereafoezeke, 1996) are examined.

Four major difficulties were encountered in the course of the research. First, at the early stage of the study, the availability of some of the archives was not certain. In particularly, the amount of such archives available was unclear. With efforts and some luck, the needed data became available. Second, limited funds constrained the research. Money was needed for data collection. Among other things, the money was used to pay for photocopying about two thousand pages of documents that were gathered in Nigeria. Also, a reasonable amount of money was paid to each of the eight persons that took part in the data collection in Nigeria because the data collection often interfered with their jobs. Third, getting the assembled archives to the researcher in the USA proved difficult. Three key issues were of primary concern: cost of postage, safety of the archival records, and the time to be lost between posting the materials in Nigeria and receiving them in the US. The safety of the records was definitely the number one issue. Documents were sometimes lost in transit through the postal system. Such a phenomenon in this study would be debilitating. The researcher therefore had the records sent to the US by courier service. It would take more than two months for a piece of mail sent through NIPOST (the Nigerian postal agency) to be delivered in the US. If sent by courier, such mail would be delivered in the US in four days. However, the courier service was at least ten times more expensive. Fourth, and perhaps the most excruciating dilemma, concerned communication. It was impossible to stay in constant communication with the coordinator of the data collection efforts in Nigeria. This resulted from the unreliable telephone network within Nigeria. In the nine months of data collection, it was necessary to call Nigeria dozens of times. Sometimes, it was impossible to reach the person called because the telephone line had become "temporarily out of service". At other times, it was just impossible to get a phone line to Nigeria. Such a situation was particularly frustrating when the researcher was calling to find out why certain records were delayed in reaching the US.

Conclusion

Using archival research strategies from a distance is one of the least desirable means of research principally because the researcher is thereby relying on somebody else exclusively to collect the needed data. Where they are an attractive option (such as where funds are not available for other, more expensive research strategies), archival strategies may be used. Ultimately, the researcher has to demonstrate that the data, in both quantity and quality, is sufficient to answer the research questions.


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First Online Edition: 24 October 2000
Last Revised: 24 October 2000