Using Historical Methods in Information Systems: A Primer for Researchers

Janet Toland, Pak Yoong


This article describes the use of historical methods in information systems research and provides a practical example of how this technique was used in a recent research project. Though the information systems researcher already has a rich cornucopia of research methods to choose from, historical research has the power to offer insights over and above those provided by other techniques. The researcher is forced to step away from a narrow focus on the research question in order to examine the “big picture”. This big picture approach means that recurring patterns are identified providing a broad set of findings that are applicable in many different settings. However the flip side is that historical research can have a lack of focus and does not always offer immediate answers to specific research questions.

This paper provides guidelines for the use of historical methods by information systems researchers by demonstrating how the seven step approach developed by Mason, McKenney and Copeland was applied to an historical research study which explored the relationship between ICTs and regional development in New Zealand between 1985 and 2005. This research reveals the value of historical research for information systems researchers by showing the effects of long term social trends on ICT use. It also highlights some of the pitfalls that potential users of historical research need to be aware of such as gaps in the data trail and the questionable credibility of some historic records.


Historical Research;Historical Methods; Information & Communication Technologies;New Zealand

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ISSN: Online: 1326-2238 Hard copy: 1449-8618
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