Comparative research standards: National Park Service Cultural Resource Management

Two sets of standards have been defined in genealogical literature: the Genealogical Proof Standard and the BCG (Board for the Certification of Genealogists) Standards. Both standards have been defined and delineated by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. The Genealogical Proof Standard is designed to be applied to one’s research conclusions, as a means of verifying the validity of these conclusions. The BCG Standards have a much wider application, and outline standards to be applied to one’s research process as well as several genealogical work products, including reports, narrative genealogies, etc.

However, in order to further understand and augment these two sets of genealogical standards, I will periodically review standards defined by other historical fields. The process of reviewing related sets of standards should hopefully present an opportunity to widen our perspective on scholarly research.

The first subject will be the Research Standards defined in Chapter 2 of NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline, as published by the National Park Service. The introductory paragraph to this chapter outlines the purposes of its cultural resource research:

According to the NPS Management Policies, “The National Park Service will conduct a coordinated program of basic and applied research to support planning for and management of park cultural resources.” Such mission-related research can identify and evaluate historic properties, advance knowledge of ethnographic resources and their importance to Native Americans, provide background data on park issues, contribute to interpretive programs, help avoid adverse impacts, and develop technologies for treating, monitoring, and protecting cultural resources. Research will be accomplished with the participation and review of professionals in all disciplines concerned with its subject.

These standards, like genealogical standards, address interdisciplinary and multipurposed research. This similarity makes these standards particularly apt to this comparison.

The standards are broken into nine sections. These nine sections are defined as:

  • Research Methodology
  • Resource Identification, Evaluation, and Registration
  • Service-wide Inventories of Cultural Resources
  • Procedures for Established Areas
  • Baseline Research Reports
  • Abbreviated and Specific Resource Studies
  • Physical Documentation and Material Analysis
  • Qualifications of Researchers
  • Funding and Staffing

Only the first section, “Research Methodology” will be addressed in this comparison. The remaining sections deal with internal procedural and project management directives.

The first point under “Research Methodology,” addresses the “Task Directive”:

The first step in developing a research strategy is the task directive, which serves as the contract between management and the researcher(s). To ensure that the research will be mission-related, the task directive clearly states its purpose and scope and spells out issues to be resolved. It identifies the research team and its consultants. It outlines the specific steps to be taken and products to be prepared. It defines the level of investigation (see next page). It sets time limits and projects a research budget required to deliver specified product(s).

This directive finds its most direct equivalent in professional genealogy in particular, but also in any genealogical research project. A task directive, as defined here, is precisely how genealogists should begin each new project: by defining your problem and outlining a specific research plan. The second subsection, “Research Design,” addresses several of these same concepts as well: “The research design states the goals, methodology, and explicit assumptions of the researcher(s). It can be incorporated into the task directive or prepared separately. It should briefly summarize existing knowledge of the topic, identify research questions, and discuss the rationale for addressing them. It should provide for interdisciplinary study where appropriate, clearly defining relationships between disciplines. It should delineate the physical extent of the area to be investigated and the amount of information to be gathered. The methods to be used, such as documentary research, oral history, field investigation, excavation, destructive investigation, and anthropological fieldwork, should be discussed, and the expected results should be presented.”

When beginning any genealogy project, it will be found quite helpful to plan fully for the research that you will be conducting, in as great detail as possible, just as is prescribed in this passage.

The first section also defines three separate “Levels of Investigation”: “Exhaustive Investigation,” “Thorough Investigation,” and “Limited Investigation.”

  • Exhaustive Investigation is defined thus: “For historical studies this means employing all published and documentary sources of known or presumed relevance,interviewing all knowledgeable persons regardless of location, and thoroughly analyzing and presenting findings from all data of direct and indirect relevance. For archeological studies sufficient data are collected and analyzed to determine location, characteristics, and scientific values of archeological resources through systematic intensive surveys. Techniques include surface collection, subsurface testing, remote sensing, excavation, and thorough analysis of recovered materials. For architectural and landscape studies it means investigating all features, with destructive investigation asnecessary, to establish as exactly as possible all recoverable detail (usually in response to a restoration or reconstruction management objective). For museum objects it means exhausting all original documentary sources, making physical comparisons with similar objects,and sampling and testing fabric for identification, dating, and circumstantial evidence. For ethnographic studies it means collecting empirical data by observation, interviews, and censusing and reviewing and analyzing accessible archival and documentary materials, requiring at least a year of full-time work and a team approach.”
  • Thorough Investigation is defined, in part, thus: “For historical studies this means research in selected published and documentary sources of known or presumed relevance that are readily accessible without extensive travel and that promise expeditious extraction of relevant data, interviewing all knowledgeable persons who are readily available, and presenting findings in no greater detail than required by the task directive. …”
  • Limited Investigation is defined, in part, in this way: For historical studies this means research in available published sources, usually of a secondary character; research in documentary sources if easily accessible and known to be of high yield; brief interviews of readily available persons to answer specific questions; and a report in no greater detail than directly required by the task directive. …”

Only the Exhaustive Investigation definition was reprinted here in full. This should ultimately be the goal of all genealogical research projects, as outlined in the Genealogical Proof Standard’s first requirement of conducting a reasonably exhaustive search for all relevant records. However, the definition of Exhaustive Investigation provides a far more detailed review of just exactly what this type of research entails. Many genealogists struggle with the concept of “a reasonably exhaustive search”–what it means, how to accomplish it, and how you will know it has been completed. Reading the definition of an Exhaustive Investigation in several related fields of study may provide insight into the full scope of this concept.

Yet I also include here partial definitions of the Thorough Investigation and Limited Investigation concepts. These two concepts also have a place in genealogical research. In some cases, a full investigation may not be necessary to disprove a certain hypothesis or working theory. In these cases, one need not conduct “a reasonably exhaustive search” for all pertinent records, but only those records necessary to decide whether an Exhaustive Investigation should be conducted or not.

The fifth point under the “Research Methodology” section covers the “Report.” This point states, in part, that, “[o]nce the documentary research and field investigation (including physical examination) are completed, the photographs, drawings, material samples, field notes, data files, and construction files are analyzed and interpreted in preparation of the final report.” As I have stated repeatedly, identifying, locating, and collecting relevant records is only a small part of the research process. Far more important is the analysis of each individual record on its own, and the development of the combined evidence into a valid conclusion. It would seem that the NPS agrees.

Other Standards defined in this first section include the following:

  • Outside consultation and peer review provide opportunitiesfor other professionals and interested parties to comment.
  • Final reports concerning history, historic structures, cultural landscapes, and museum objects generally conform in punctuation, footnote and bibliographic form, and other stylistic matters to the latest edition of A Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes are preferred, but endnotes are permissible.) Final reports in archeology are consistent with the style prescribed by the Society for American Archaeology. Formal reports in ethnography and cultural anthropology conform to the style prescribed by the American Anthropological Association.

These two standards have been extracted specifically because they apply equally to genealogical research. The first of these two standards requires the submission and review of research by other researchers. Periodic peer review, when submitting case studies to journals or submitting work products to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, is vital to maintaining your own standards. It allows other skilled researchers to provide input and advise into the research that you are conducting, providing a unique learning experience. The second of these standards demands a consistent, industry-accepted format for all reporting and documentation. This has been addressed within this column previously in parts one, two, and three of “Source Citations: Why Form Matters.”

For further reference, read:

National Park Service. NPS- 28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline. Electronic publication. : 1998.

Chapter Two: Research.

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