Archival Analysis

Time needed

Take-home assignment with in-class discussion.

Why do it?

This assignment introduces students to important internal documents written or commissioned by corporate, public, and multi-lateral global offices relevant to the environmental justice movement. It also asks students to assess claims of misuse of the documents.


Copies of the following documents:


  • Read the documents and choose questions to guide student writing.


  1. Assign students to read all three archival documents at home and write a paper that analyzes them. Use the questions below as a guide to shape the assignment:
    1. Did anything in these documents surprise you?
    2. Where does each document propose locating polluting industries and/or waste? Do you agree with their recommendations? Be specific about which considerations you agree with and which you do not, and why.
    3. Consider the seven political criteria proposed by the Cerrell Report for evaluating initial Waste-to-Energy sites prior to public involvement. Select three that you find interesting and discuss:
      1. What evidence does the report give for these criteria?
      2. How is the evidence used to justify the recommendations that the report gives for pursuing political processes with communities?
  2. Authors and/or recipients of all three documents claim that the documents were taken out of context and/or never acted on. Ask students to research how the writers of these documents responded when the documents were made public. Review the difference between assertions and claims that are supported by evidence and those that are not. Ask them to identify where responses to original documents are substantiated by evidence and where they are not. Ask students how accurately they think the original documents represent their authors’ views. Be sure they present evidence, not just their opinion.


  • Ask students to compare the internal documents listed above to documents created by the same offices for public consumption. Ask them to find documents created during the same time period on the same subject.
  • Compare one or all of the documents above to an archival document created from within the environmental justice movement, the Principles of Environmental Justiceadopted by the People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. Ask students to identify the environmental values that both sets of documents express. The readings listed below will support this assignment:
    • Cox, R. 2006. Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
      • Mapping the Terrain: Voices and Visions: pp. 20–29
      • Risk Communication: Nonexpert Publics and Acceptable Risk: pp. 205–227
      • Science and Symbolic Legitimacy: pp. 331–365