American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.

Out of the Zoo: Wins and Losses

IMG_20191020_185428_01Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about what it means to “win” as a historian. –JF

Messiah College had its homecoming last week. Various decorations made their yearly appearance on campus, sprucing up Messiah’s grounds for visitors. Banners reading “Messiah College Homecoming,” numerous flyers, and bouquets of blue and white balloons were strategically placed around the college to announce homecoming festivities. My school, normally relatively quiet on weekends, buzzed with alumni and their families who bounced between class reunions, open houses, and athletic events. 

Homecoming weekend also brought Messiah’s annual powderpuff tournament. This year, my team of sophomores (affectionately named “Green Machine” for our green shirts) had bi-weekly practices leading up to our yearly match. Our coaches wrote out numerous plays for us to learn, patiently explained them, and even let us come up with a creative name for each after they introduced it to us. They assigned positions, ran drills, and even sent us photos of our plays to study over fall break.

When game day came around, we were confident. Our coaches had done everything they could to prepare us for our row with the class of 2021. However, after a hard-fought bout with the juniors we pulled up short, losing 12-20. The whole team was pretty disappointed, and to be completely honest I was too. I’m not usually a competitive person, but I’ll admit that losing a game we had worked so hard for struck a painful chord. We were humbled, to say the least. However, the fun we had, the new things we learned, and the friendships we forged throughout the process afforded us a different sense of victory.

So what qualifies as a “win” for history students? Some might think that to be a successful historian you need to make some groundbreaking discovery or tie up all your research into a perfect conclusion. As a history student myself, however, I’m learning that this kind of victory is virtually impossible, even for the best scholars. Just like football, the study of history is defined by struggle. It’s characterized by setbacks and unexpected challenges that have to be met in stride. Sometimes we’re faced with complex or conflicting sources that we don’t understand. Or other times archives crumble (like the one in Cologne in 2009), burying thousands of documents in rubble. Still more frequently our own convictions and biases block us from our end goal of portraying the past honestly and objectively. No matter how much time we devote to a project, there will always be loose ends, lost sources, and unexplored paths that we never get to travel.

Challenges, struggles, and losses never fail to humble us, whether we’re playing football or doing historical research. No matter how hard we work at practice, there will always be something we could have done differently in the game. No matter how much effort we put into our research, there will always be something we don’t quite understand fully. If history students aren’t reminded of this truth—that although the study of history is rewarding, it comes with its own unique set of challenges—they will spend their days agonizing over a goal that is impossible to attain. 

So, as cliche as it may sound, perhaps we need to re-define what victory means in the realm of history. It shouldn’t mean scoring the most points in a trivia game, being able to find the most sources, or even conducting the most comprehensive study of the past. Instead, real victory is attained when we show up, put in the effort, and wrestle with the struggles that come our way. We win when we can pursue our passions in spite of challenges, and all the while humbly accept the fact that there are some things we will never know.

The David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing is Closing

David Library

I was recently contemplating a research trip to the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR) in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.  I have some left-over professional development money that I need to spend by the end of June and the DLAR offers me the best bang (in terms of collections) for my buck.

I enjoy research at the David Library for several reasons:

First, the early American history collections are outstanding.   I have so much stuff I still need to look at for my current project!

Second, the David Library farm is a wonderful place to work.  Fellows have 24-hour access to the library.  One does not have to worry about parking.  There is housing on site. And the farm’s location on the Delaware Canal provides opportunities for walking and other forms of exercising.  It has always been my favorite place to work.

Third, former fellows and other scholars can stay at the on-site residence at a discount.  I have taken advantage of this several times. Meg McSweeney has always been so hospitable.

Fourth, I am nostalgic.  I attended my first McNeil Center for Early American Studies (it was then called the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies) seminar at the David Library in 1995.  I held a research fellowship at the DLAR in 2008-2009.  I wrote my first The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog post in my room at the residence. I have lectured at the DLAR on several different occasions.  My family even visited one rainy Saturday afternoon during my fellowship and we organized baseball cards in my room.

David Library 2

But the days of the David Library–at least the Washington Crossing days–are coming to an end. The DLAR has just announced that it will be selling the farm and moving its collections to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.  Here is a taste of the press release:

In a bold decision that will preserve the material record of American Revolutionary history and make it accessible to scholars across the globe, the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR) and the American Philosophical Society (APS) announce a new partnership that will create an unparalleled single site for the comprehensive study of early U.S. history.

The newly formed David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society will provide for the long-term care and protection of the David Library’s collections, permit expanded public access to the materials, advance the current fellowship program, and enable the digitization of the documents. This new model of preservation comes at a time when many American historical institutions are struggling to maintain their collections.

“As a former research fellow at both the David Library and the American Philosophical Society, I am incredibly excited about this partnership,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, President & CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution. “In an era of tight budgets and uncertainty about the future of some of our most venerable historical organizations, this collaboration will make the David Center a powerhouse of scholarship on the American Revolution.  With the 250th anniversary of the nation fast approaching, this is definitely a case of 1 + 1 = 3.”

The David Library will continue to operate as usual in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania until the end of 2019.The transition period is expected to begin as early as this summer, as various committees work to fulfill the joint vision of the partnering institutions. Relocation of the collection from the David Library’s Bucks County campus to the American Philosophical Society will begin after the Library closes at the end of this year.

James J. Linksz, President of the David Library said that the partnership will ensure the long-term success of the David Library. “For the David Library to fulfill its potential to be the pre-eminent institution for scholarship and study of American history in the era of the American Revolution, the Board of Trustees determined that we needed a strong and distinguished institutional partner. In the American Philosophical Society, we think we have found the best partner possible. We are sad to leave Bucks County, the David Library’s home since its founding in 1959, but we are excited to join the APS in Philadelphia, the city where the United States of America began, and we look forward to our future as the David Center.”

The new Center will house the vast collection of rare and important documents, microfilm and other material from the David Library of the American Revolution, including original letters and journals from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and other founding fathers.

The David Library Board of Trustees will be tasked with determining the next life for portions of the 118-acre Bucks County property along River Road in Upper Makefield Township (Washington Crossing), where the Library has been located for the past 45 years.  A significant portion of the property, 52.53 acres, has already been protected from development through the Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation program, and will remain open space. With that restriction, the entire property will be offered for sale and the proceeds will help to fund future programming and collections care at the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society.

“The DLAR and the APS have long shared missions to support scholarship and disseminate knowledge about the birth of our nation,” said Robert M. Hauser, Executive Officer of the APS. “This new partnership allows the DLAR to preserve that mission while leveraging professional, financial, and technological resources at APS that will expand the David Library’s reach and impact.”

Read the rest here.

I will reserve judgement until I learn more about the nature of “David Center for the American Revolution.”

Robert Caro on Working in Archives

Robert Caro, author of "The Power Broker," a biography on Ro

Robert Caro, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Lyndon Johnson biographer, recently published Working: Research, Interviewing, Writing.  Here is a the publisher’s description:

For the first time in book form, Robert Caro gives us a glimpse into his own life and work in these evocatively written, personal pieces. He describes what it was like to interview the mighty Robert Moses; what it felt like to begin discovering the extent of the political power Moses wielded; the combination of discouragement and exhilaration he felt confronting the vast holdings of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas; his encounters with witnesses, including longtime residents wrenchingly displaced by the construction of Moses’ Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lady Bird Johnson acknowledging the beauty and influence of one of LBJ’s mistresses. He gratefully remembers how, after years of working in solitude, he found a writers’ community at the New York Public Library, and details the ways he goes about planning and composing his books. 

Caro recalls the moments at which he came to understand that he wanted to write not just about the men who wielded power but about the people and the politics that were shaped by that power. And he talks about the importance to him of the writing itself, of how he tries to infuse it with a sense of place and mood to bring characters and situations to life on the page. Taken together, these reminiscences–some previously published, some written expressly for this book–bring into focus the passion, the wry self-deprecation, and the integrity with which this brilliant historian has always approached his work.

Over at Popular Mechanics, Eleanor Hildebrandt talks to Caro about his work in the archives.  Here is a taste of their conversation:

Popular Mechanics: What do you bring with you when you go to the archives?

Robert Caro: It depends on the archive. I have a computer on my desk [a Lenovo Thinkpad], although I still write and do most of my stuff on this typewriter. The reason I have a computer is that some years ago, the Johnson library said that my typewriter was so noisy, it was disturbing the other researchers. So I bought a computer and I took all my Vietnam notes on it, but I still write on the typewriter and in longhand.

It makes me think more. Today everybody believes fast is good. Sometimes slow is good.

Almost two years ago, Ina [Caro’s wife] and I went down [to the archives], and I’m sitting there, in the reading room, writing my notes. Everybody else is standing there taking photographs of their documents. They do it with cell phones now. If you saw me there, you’d see one person who’s not in the modern age.

PM: Have you ever been tempted to switch to pictures?

RC: No. I feel there’s something very important, to be able to turn the pages yourself. I don’t want anything standing in between me and the paper. People compliment me on finding out how [Johnson] rose to power so fast in Congress by using money. That happened down there, and it was a vague, amorphous thing. I was sitting there with all these boxes, taking all these notes. And you saw letters, his very subservient letters—“Can I have five minutes of your time?”—and then you see the same letters coming back to him. And I said, Something happened here. What’s the explanation? Why is a committee chairman writing to Lyndon Johnson, asking for a few minutes of his time? So I sat there and put my notes into chronological order. And then it became absolutely clear.

Would the same thing have happened if I’d stood there taking photographs and went back? Possibly. But I don’t believe it. To me, being in the papers is really important.

Read the entire interview here.

Slavery Databases

9d6eb-slaveryOver at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell has a nice roundup of some of the best databases about enslaved people.

Here is a taste:

This is just one of several online databases about enslaved people that researchers can now use. There’s the venerable Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which has numbers (not names) of every known slaving voyage from Africa to the New World. This project has recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to expand with information about shipments from one American port to another.

The New York Slavery Records Index has collected records that “identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War.”

Runaway Connecticut is based on a selection of the runaway notices that appeared in the Connecticut Courant between 1765 and 1820. Those advertisements involve different sorts of people—escaping slaves, runaway apprentices, deserting soldiers, escaped prisoners, and dissatisfied husbands and wives.

The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy site is based on databases created by Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and published on CD-ROM by the Louisiana State University Press in 2000.

The Virginia Historical Society’s Unknown No Longer website collects “the names of all the enslaved Virginians that appear in our unpublished documents.” That means it’s not as comprehensive as other compilations, but the society felt it was better to share what they had which would otherwise remain hidden than to wait for more. 

Read the entire post here.

The Penn Slavery Project

Penn.jpg

Students at the University of Pennsylvania have been exploring the university’s connection to slavery through the Penn Slavery Project.  The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on how things are going.

Here is a taste of Giovanna Paz’s piece, “New findings from Penn Slavery Project show how U. benefited financially from enslaved labor“:

The students unearthed evidence that implicated several leading figures, such as Robert Smith, a prominent architect for the Academy and a slaveholder, as having substantial involvement in the slave trade. There is also significant evidence that the University had considerable knowledge of the connections, which included a campaign soliciting funds from a number of wealthy donors, many of whom owned slaves. 

Perhaps the most explicit evidence that Penn documented and was aware of connections to the slave trade involved Ebenezer Kinnersley, an early professor of the Academy who worked alongside Penn founder Benjamin Franklin. Kinnersley was reimbursed by the University from 1757 to 1770 for the work done by his enslaved person on campus.

“These funds are coming directly from people who are benefiting from the slave labor and the exploitation of enslaved bodies and the University was aware,” College senior and PSP member Caitlin Doolittle said during the presentation. “None of this is happening in a vacuum. They are not ignorant to the fact that these people are slaveowners.”

For two semesters, a group of undergraduate students has explored Penn’s ties to the slavery and the slave trade. Throughout the process, the students used material from local, online, and University archives. 

Read the entire piece here.  Also check out this recent piece at The Progressive.

The Author’s Corner with Paul Escott

53299415Paul Escott is Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University. This interview is based on his new book, Rethinking the Civil War Era: Directions for Research (The University Press of Kentucky, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: I was invited to take on this project by the editors of the New Directions in Southern History series at the University Press of Kentucky. As part of the invitation we agreed that this book would have a slightly different format. Instead of writing in an entirely historiographical style, I have used a more personal tone and have thought of each chapter as an essay focused on both the extant scholarship and on questions or interpretive issues that interest or puzzle me.

Frankly, writing this book was not something I had ever imagined myself doing, and the challenge was more than a little intimidating. There are a great many very talented and energetic historians working in the field of the Civil War Era, and to master all the important and recent work is virtually impossible. I have read as widely as possible, within the practical constraints of producing a book within some reasonable period, and I have tried to comment on important new directions or possibilities for research. In the Preface I comment on the immense talent at work in this area and apologize that I could not cite all the deserving recent studies.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: This book identifies important questions, issues, and new directions of research in the Civil War Era. Its chapters cover the roots of war, the challenges to wartime societies North and South, the war’s consequences, and important work or questions in African American history, military history, environmental history, and digital research.

JF: Why do we need to read Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: The Press and I hope that this book will be useful both to established scholars and to younger historians who may want to survey opportunities in the field and target their own work. Books such as this one often serve a purpose in a rapidly developing field.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PE: I was in college during the Civil Rights Movement, and the stirring events of that era naturally stimulated one’s curiosity about the roots of our nation’s racial problems. As a result, I entered graduate school eager to learn more about southern history and the era of the Civil War. I was extremely fortunate to have outstanding professors and mentors at Duke University, namely Robert F. Durden and Raymond Gavins.

JF: What is your next project? 

PE: After many years of focusing on the South and the Confederacy, I more recently shifted my attention to the North. I now am working on a study of racism and racial attitudes in the North during the Civil War.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

An Unusual Damage Claim Sheds Some Light on the Battle of Connecticut Farms

plaque

This summer, when I am not writing about the court evangelicals, I have been working on a book on the American Revolution.  On a good day I get in about five hours of research, and I am fortunate to have a couple of former students helping me.

One of my research assistants, Abigail, is transcribing damage claim reports from the Revolution.  These virtually untapped sources (at least for New Jersey, where I am working right now) tell us a lot about the kinds of goods ordinary people owned at the time of the Revolution.  They also give us a glimpse of the damage and destruction caused by both the Continental and British armies as they rolled through local communities.

Nearly all of the damage claims in New Jersey were filed by individual property owners, but every now and then we find a break in this pattern.  Today, as I was reading through the material Abigail transcribed, I found a note calling my attention to a claim from the Presbyterian “parish” at Connecticut Farms.  Here it is (with Abigail’s not to me embedded):

Damage Claim No. 22 (NJ0407) made at Connecticut Farms on May 28, 1789, for damage done on June 7, 1780. [Dr. Fea, this claim is for the Connecticut Farms parish (including a meeting house, parsonage house, barn, and chair and school houses) and not a person/family—very different from the other claims so far.]

§ “Inventory and Apprisal of the Property of the Parish of Connecticut Farms Burnt, taken and destroyed by the British Army or their Adherents on the 7th of June 1780”

· Items: 1 large well finished meeting house burnt (1500 L), 1 bell (65 L), 1 large Bible (1 L, 10 S), 1 velvet cushion for the pulpit (2 L), parsonage house 40 by 24 (250 L), 1 barn 24 by 24 (30 L), chair house (10 L), school house (15 L), sundry sacramental vessels, de—[?], 1 large silver cup (6 L), 2 large black tin cups (10 L), 2 large pewter platters (1 L, 4 S), 1 basin (3 S), 1 fine diaper table cloth (16 S), and cloth used at buryings (3 L), for a total of 1885 pounds, 3 shillings.

June 7, 1780 was the date of the Battle of Connecticut Farms.  The British planned for one final attack on Washington’s troops in the North.  Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen received a report that Washington’s army in Morristown had been reduced, through illness and desertions, to about 3500 men. Spies had informed him that mutinies were occurring in the ranks and morale was at an all-time low.  Knyphausen thought that the time was right to attack Morristown, capture Washington’s army, and perhaps bring an end to the war.

With approximately 6000 men from three different divisions under his command, Knyphausen’s army crossed Staten Island by boat on June 6, 1780 and landed at Elizabeth-Town Point. The following morning the British forces were met by Continental troops from New Jersey under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton whose troops slowed the British advance, but they were eventually forced to retreat to Connecticut Farms later in the morning.  By 8am, Knyphausen troops and the New Jersey Brigade under the command of William Maxwell clashed in Connecticut Farms.  With superior numbers, the British forced Maxwell to retreat to Springfield.  Knyphausen’s troops moved into Connecticut Farms, set part of the town on fire, and eventually halted his attack as the sun set.  At some time during the day George Washington arrived from Morristown and employed his personal guard in an attempt to stop the British advance.

The destruction of the parish property sheds light on one of the great mysteries of the battle. During the battle, Hannah Caldwell, the wife of the Elizabeth-Town Presbyterian clergyman James Caldwell, was shot to death by a British soldier as she stood in the window of the Presbyterian parsonage. News of Hannah’s death spread quickly.  New jersey Governor William Livingston received the news in a letter from brigadier-general Nathaniel Heard.  Greene informed Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth in Springfield that Hannah had been shot in a “barbarous manner.”

A rather lengthy letter describing the battle and Hannah’s death was published in the June 13, 1780 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet.  The unidentified author of the article believed that Hannah’s death was an attempt to punish James Caldwell, “an object worthy of the enemy’s keenest resentment,” for his patriotic activity and zeal.  The article implies that clergyman had a target on his back, but had always “evaded every attempt to injure him.”  Earlier in the day, the author claimed, a woman on the street in Connecticut Farms was approached by a British soldier who put a bayonet to her breast and threatened to kill her because she was the wife of James Caldwell.  The woman was spared when a young officer who knew her told the soldier that she was not Hannah Caldwell. Eventually, however, they did find the real Hannah. The author of the Pennsylvania Packet story described a British soldier coming to the window of the room of the Connecticut Farms parsonage where Hannah, her maid, and some of her smaller children were seated, and shooting Hannah in the lungs. Immediately following the shooting, a British officer and two Hessians dug a hole, placed the body inside it, and set the house on fire.  All of James Caldwell’s personal effects and papers were lost in the fire. Later an American officer managed to pull Hannah’s body from the grave and bring it to a “small house in the neighborhood.”  There was also a rumor circulating that the soldier who shot Hannah was later seen bragging about the killing.

Seal_of_Union_County,_New_Jersey

The seal of Union County, New Jersey represents the “murder” of Hannah Caldwell

There is more to this story, and I hope to tell it soon.  But this damage claim is going to help me flesh out the impact of the American Revolution on religious life in this New Jersey town.  Not only was the church and the outbuildings burned, but the British troops desecrated several of the church’s sacred and sacramental objects. This was not an unusual practice, but such detailed damage claims, at least for New Jersey, are rather rare.

How to Have a Great Experience in the Archives

Archives 3

Apparently today is archive day at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

If you are new to working in the archives, I recommend taking a look at Andrea Turpin’s recent post at Religion in American History: “Adventures in the Archives: Tips for Minimizing Expenses, Maximizing Time, & Having Fun.”

Turpin offers five pieces of advice:

  1. Apply for grants
  2. Be shameless
  3. Let archivists help
  4. Tailor your research style to the nature of the archives
  5. Have fun both inside and outside the archives

See how Turpin unpacks these points at Religion in American History blog.  This is helpful stuff.

Summer in the Archives

ArchivesMicrofilm

I will be in the archives this summer.  If all works out as I have planned it, I hope to be spending some time at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.  Stay tuned.

Over at Religion in American History, Cara Burnridge has collected some of that blog’s “‘greatest hits” on American religious history archives.

Here’s a small taste:

Now that RAAC2017 has come and gone,* summer is in full swing. For me, and I suspect many readers too, that means it’s time for archival research. Fortunately, we’ve accumulated a quite a few posts for those who might be researching for the first time or heading somewhere new. Here’s a round-up of what we’ve posted previously.

Read the rest here.

From the Archives: Messiah College History Department in *The American Scholar*

9e36b-boyerThis post originally ran at The Way of Improvement Leads Home on December 14, 2014–JF

Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the “No More Plan B” proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research.

I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build “a self and a soul and a mind” that they can take with them wherever they go.

Here is a taste of their article, “Habits of the Mind“:

Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds…Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.

Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?

The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.

But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.

Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.

The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.

This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.

A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.

That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.

History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.

As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.

When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

More Archival Research Tips from Lisa Munro

Archival

Last week we did a post on Lisa Munro‘s tips for historians doing archival research.  Now Munro is back with a second post on the topic.

Here are some of her thoughts on organization in the archives:

The other thing that is vitally important to your research mission is keeping a log of some kind of what documents you’ve already read. This is absolutely necessary to avoid duplicating research efforts and saving time. Everyone develops their own system eventually. My first step involves an Excel spreadsheet with columns for the date I read the documents and the metadata mentioned above, as well as whether I photographed the document and the date of my photos. I also record all relevant data about documents I will read in the future. I like the Excel method, as I can see all of my research efforts in one place. It’s like having a main index to my research.

Second, anything that has the kind of metadata I mentioned above goes on both the spreadsheet and in my Zotero library. I cross reference the data on my Excel sheet with my Zotero database, which is where I take notes on the documents I read.

I also attach individual archive photos to my Zotero items, as seen above. If you use Zotero, be warned that it cannot perform OCR (optical character recognition) on digital photos. Performing OCR on all of my archive photos is beyond even my obsessive nature, so I just attach them to the main item and make sure that I can find it again. I’ve found that tags work better for me than collections, as an item can have more than one tag. If you look at the bottom left of my Zotero photo, you can see that I’ve tagged this with AGCA, history of archaeology, primary source, and Tikal. Once I’ve got the item tagged, I can find it again easily.

Anything I need to write down that doesn’t have specific metadata attached to it (for example, my nightly archive notes) gets stored in Evernote. If I take notes by hand, I snap photos of them and upload them to EN, which will OCR and index handwriting.  I make sure to tag all of my research notes for easy retrieval later. I use tags like: archive notes, AGCA, research, etc.     

So after all this notetaking and organizing, I’m left with an Excel sheet to index and track my research, which is then cross-referenced with my Zotero database for notes on specific documents, which is cross referenced with my photos, which is all finally cross-referenced with my Evernote research notes. If I need to find this document about Tikal, for example, I can find its metadata by searching my tag for Tikal in Zotero, find it on my research spreadsheet, find all my photos of this document, and check my research notes about it in Evernote.

Wow!  This is some great stuff.  I am hoping to get back in the archives later this week and Munro’s post has definitely provided some inspiration.  I only wish I was this organized and had started earlier in familiarizing myself with these tools.

Read Munro’s entire post here.

Some Great Tips for Archival Research

archive

Lisa Munro, a recent Ph.D in Latin American history, has started what appears to be a great introduction to archival research for historians.  (It is the first of a multi-post series at her blog).

Munro starts her series with four general tips:

  1. “Network early and often”
  2. “Do as much research ahead of time as possible”
  3. “Get a good camera”
  4. “Practice self-care

See how Munro develops each one of these points here.

Time Travel Can Get Tiring

The George Washington Presidential Library - DC

I am in Mount Vernon, Virginia for a month.  I am working on my next book project at the Fred W. Smith Memorial Library for the Study of George Washington.  I am sure I will write more about my experience at the library (and perhaps post some pictures) as my fellowship here unfolds. Stay tuned.

But in this post I want to talk about historians as time travelers.  For the past several weeks, as anyone who reads this blog knows,  I have been writing a lot about religion and politics in the 2016 presidential primary season.

Yesterday I journeyed back to the eighteenth century.  I spent most of the day in the library reading letters written by and to George Washington in November 1776. (More on this project later).

After spending a day with documents related to the American Revolution, I returned to my room and started  blogging about election coverage again. Today I am back in the 18th-century.

These kinds of transitions–from the 21st century to the 18th century and back again–can be intellectual exhausting.  Think of it in terms of the jet lag one might experience when they visit a foreign country.

If you are doing history well you should probably be experiencing such jet-lag.  If you are teaching history well, your students should also feel it.

A Pastor’s Guide to Historical Research

Pulpit-largeIn a world in which ministers are encouraged to run for office and bombarded with claims about religion and the nation’s founding, Beth Allison Barr of Baylor University has written a very useful post titled “A Pastor’s Guide to Reliable Historical Research.”

Barr challenges members of the clergy to critically evaluate websites, check their sources, and check their own bias.  Maybe she will turn her post into a book!

In the meantime, here is a taste of her post at The Anxious Bench:

A friend of mine was preparing his sermon. We happened to be at the same social function, and so he casually asked me what I knew about medieval illuminations (i.e. fireworks). To be honest, I didn’t know much. From my years of teaching world history I knew that gunpowder and fireworks had originated in Asia and spread rather slowly (along trade routes and through military ventures) to Europe. Hence European fireworks are really an early modern/modern phenomenon.

My friend’s question, however, was fairly specific: when was the earliest use of fireworks for a royal event in England? This was beyond my general knowledge.

I wasn’t worried. I knew I could quickly find the answer. So I did, and told my friend what he needed the next day (late fifteenth century, for those of you interested).

I am a professional historian. But the methods I employed to help my friend are not monopolized by my profession. Most of the tools pastors need for basic yet reliable historical research are readily available in our digital age. 

Read the rest here.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #97

My last post in this series was November 18, 2014.  I have actually done very little writing on the American Bible Society book since then.  I had some health issues that disrupted my work flow on the project, but my health is now improving and I am starting to get back into the swing things.

Those who have been following these posts have no need to fret. Work is still being accomplished on the project and I am still very optimistic that the manuscript will be delivered to Oxford University Press on May 1, 2015.

Here is what has been going on:

  • Katie is still helping me with research.  She is currently working on the ABS story in the years between World War I and World War II
  • Alyssa is working on the history of the United Bible Societies
  • Katy is back from Oxford and is now working on the history of ABS in the 1970s.
  • I am reading through Annual Reports and other records from the post World War II period, scheduling a slew of oral history interviews which I hope to conduct in February and early March, and writing the nineteenth-century chapters.
  • Mary and Kristin and the ABS have been providing me with the resources I need to keep things moving.  Thanks!
I am not sure if I will be posting everyday, but I will, at the very least, try to be consistent.  Stay tuned.

Messiah College History Department in The American Scholar: The Power of Undergraduate Research

Messiah College history students conducting research in a 19th c. cemetery
Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the “No More Plan B” proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research. 
 
I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build “a self and a soul and a mind” that they can take with them wherever they go.
 
Here is a taste of their article, “Habits of the Mind“:
 
Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds…Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.
Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?
The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.
But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.
Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.
The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.
This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.
A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.
That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.
History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.
As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.
When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

Serendipity in the Archives

Last week the Messiah College History Department hosted Philip Deloria of the University of Michigan for our annual American Democracy Lecture.  Deloria was very gracious with his time. Not only did he deliver an evening lecture to about 350 students, faculty, and community members, but he also agreed to lead a few classes.

One of those classes was our Sophomore “Historical Methods” course.  In this course we teach students how to produce a first-rate historical research paper on a topic of their choice.  In the course of the conversation in the class he visited, Deloria discussed how historians work in the archives.  All historians hope to have a moment of serendipity when they enter the archives. (“Serendipity is defined by Webster as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for”).They want to find a document that no other historian before them has seen or considered. Or they want to have an “aha” moment in which they encounter a document or series of documents that can be interpreted in a way that reshapes or fundamentally changes the way we have long understood the historic subject matter at hand.

Sometimes these serendipitous moments happen by sheer luck (or providence, depending on your theology). We find something we never expected to find that totally transforms the way we think about our project.  But most of the time, as Deloria told our students, serendipitous moments in the archives or with primary sources happen because we are prepared.  In other words, these kinds of moments usually happen not because we simply got lucky, but because we have done the necessary secondary reading and we understanding the historiography of the particular subject.  When this happens–when we are prepared to do historical research– we are more prone to find things that are useful, if not groundbreaking, for our work.  We begin to look at primary sources or archival material in a new way.

Deloria’s remarks reinforced what we have been trying to teach our history majors about writing a research paper.  A good piece of historical scholarship–even an undergraduate piece of scholarship–must always be forged out of a regular and ongoing conversation between the secondary literature and the primary/archival material.  The more one reads and prepares before encountering the primary material, the more likely that such an serendipitous moment might occur.

I think this is an important reminder for both students and the seasoned historical researcher.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #90



Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Mama said there’d days like this. 

I was unable to carve out any time today to work on the American Bible Society project. Instead, I was in a local diner at 4:45 this morning sipping coffee and eating oatmeal trying to write a grant proposal for my upcoming sabbatical.  I am driving hard to meet my November 1 grant deadlines and I am bit worried that my work on the ABS project will slow down as a result.

Meanwhile the reports I am receiving from the project’s other research fronts are very positive. Katie is hard at work doing research on chapters related to the ABS labors in Mexico and the Levant.  Alyssa is nearing completion of the research on a chapter devoted to Eugene Nida and the Good News Bible.  

The whole project is currently behind schedule, but I still think we can get back on track by the end of the year.   Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #68

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

After a four hour work session this morning I think I am ready to start writing Chapter Four: “A Bible for Every American Family.”  This morning I read a few more articles in the anti-benevolent society, anti-ABS periodical The Reformer.  This periodical has helped me to better understand the opposition to the General Supply (1829-1831) and the opposition to the ABS in general.  (See yesterday’s post).

I also finished organizing my notes for this chapter and established an outline.  Here is what I have so far:

I.  Early examples of auxiliaries trying to supply everyone in their locales with a Bible

II. Production:  How the ABS Bible House at 72 Nassau Street in New York prepared for the General Supply

III. The role of auxiliaries in the General Supply

IV. Special General Supply agents and their stories

V.  The announcement of the General Supply

VI.  Progress and resistance:  1829

VII:  Progress and resistance: 1830

VIII. Progress and resistance:  1831

IX.  The ABS assesses the General Supply

Writing commences tomorrow morning.