On September 22, 1859, 30-year-old Margaret Merchant of Philadelphia was admitted to the obstetrical ward at the Blockley Almshouse. She was pregnant with her sixth child — a boy, though with the ultrasound almost exactly a century in the future, Mrs. Merchant could not have known that at the time. A mother of five, Mrs…. Read more →
Category: Adventures in the Archives
The possibility of having an “adventure in the archives” always seemed a bit far-fetched. My perceptions of academia, particularly as they related to notions of adventurousness, were dominated by images of Indiana Jones holding a dirty artifact and marking an X on a map. When Professor Carolyn Lewis (the adviser to whatever academic adventures loomed… Read more →
By Jacqueline Antonovich
A wise woman once remarked, “We are living in a material world and I am a material girl.” And while this ode to consumption may have been referring to the procurement and enjoyment of luxury items, I think Madonna may have been on to something – though perhaps not in the way she intended. You see, over this past summer I had an unintentional, but deeply meaningful, love affair with . . . material culture.
This summer I worked with Professor Carolyn Herbst Lewis and three other students on a research project in which we explored the history of reproductive health care in Chicago. Part of our summer included a trip to Chicago to do archival research on our subjects, and, after a month of poring over secondary research, I… Read more →
This summer I, like many of my colleagues, packed up my laptop and #2 pencil and headed out to foreign archives in distant lands—and by that I mean I took a research trip through the beautiful U.S. Southwest. I had two archives to visit, and I was sure to contact both a couple of weeks… Read more →
By Rachel Epp Buller
As historians, we often work with primary sources – documents about a place or records of a person’s existence. Paging through issues of a journal from a hundred years ago can feel like traveling through time, and reading personal letters now held in an archive offers not only remarkable insights but also feelings of intimacy and privilege. But, what happens when you see something that you wish you hadn’t?
by Sarah Handley-Cousins
For much of this past year, I’ve been entrenched in dissertation research. Despite the long hours hunched over dusty papers, trying to decipher century-old handwriting, generally while cold and hungry, I’m not complaining. I’m continually amazed that I’m getting the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve always wanted: the work of history. What I wasn’t prepared for, necessarily, was the emotional work that would come along with it.
This semester, I taught an introductory-level course on historical methods. One of our tasks was to consider an array of historical materials. We read novels and memoirs; watched documentaries and Hollywood films; read speeches and government policies; looked at architectural plans and advertisements for suburban homes. We even watched an episode of Star Trek. Throughout this exploration, a theme we kept coming back to was how people of the past documented their daily lives. This prompted us to consider how historians of the future will examine our daily lives. What sources will they use? What sources are we leaving behind?
The stereotype of historians isolated in archives with dusty papers and dim lighting has more than a grain of truth to it. Granted, my archive experiences have been more ice cold and brightly lit than dank, but the isolation can be striking. I’ve spent entire days immersed more in the past than in the world… Read more →
By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
One of the writing assignments that I use in my American women’s history class is a series of primary document analyses. Each one uses a different digital database or archive to locate a document and analyze it using course materials. I like to imagine this is building twenty-first century research skills and teaching responsible use of the Internet, as well as our more traditional goal of critical thinking skills. As I was constructing the assignment, I explored several digital repositories, including the North American Women’s Letters and Diaries collection from Alexander Street Press. In the process, I stumbled upon an item that very quickly sucked me in. I had no choice but to drop everything else and read it very, very carefully.