Non-Textual Sources

In her discussion of non-textual sources, Jenny Presnell touched on a few that I wouldn’t have considered. Music, for example, seems somewhat rare as an actual historical source– though after watching the documentary about the African song in class, I’m certainly aware that it can be one. Her discussion of photographs was interesting, as photographic history can be as fascinating and informative as the photographs themselves. For example, Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer, did very little of his own work due to his partial blindness; many of his photographs were staged and taken by apprentices, one of whom was Gardener, mentioned in this chapter. Images do say a great deal, but it’s what they don’t say that is important to keep in mind– you may see everything that’s in the picture, but the picture cannot show you what is just outside its edges, or what’s behind the camera. That’s why images and text work so well together.

The Internet as a Source

Jenny Presnell’s treatment of the Internet as a source for historical research was entertaining and not as out-of-touch as most such writings tend to be. It can be almost physically painful to read well-educated scholars treating the Internet as a strange and wonderful place, so the awkwardness of phrasing is amusing in the same way a Wikipedia article about a vulgar topic can often be. Presnell, however, obviously has a degree of familiarity with the Internet, so this pitfall is avoided. Most interesting to be was the discussion of the “deep web,” even though calling it that gives the impression that it’s a separate system or even a discrete area, when in fact the term applies only to sites or information which are somewhat more difficult to reach. Additionally, I was pleased to see information (albeit somewhat anachronistic information) about listservs. In use today mostly among professionals in a few select groups, they were in wider use about a decade ago, and I’ve actually been able to use listserv archives from fifteen years ago to uncover historical information about the development of one of my favorite online games– the discussions of its developer with the developers of other games are archived there for everyone to see, offering a unique sort of primary source.

Class and Gender

It took me some time to manage to get into Lenore Davidoff’s article, Class and Gender in Victorian England. Though I was interested in the subject– gender and sexuality are fascinating topics in their own right– the introduction section stretched on for a very long time, longer than I feel was strictly necessary to introduce the necessary background to analyze the primary sources. That said, I do get the feeling the author loves the topic, to spend such a long time expounding upon it! This meant relatively easy-to-read prose, of which I am always a fan. Once the article reached the analysis of the primary sources, it tightened somewhat and was a relatively excellent analysis of the sources in question.

Literature Reviews

I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that previously I actually did not understand what the “Review” category stood for in JSTOR. (Book reviews?) Now that I’ve read the readings from Wright and Mernard, that category makes a great deal more sense– and, for that matter, literature reviews in general make a great deal more sense. Wright’s review is succinct and to the point, summarizing effectively the argument of each book he is reviewing. He doesn’t comment upon the viability of the argument or his view thereof, though he does note that that one of them draws heavily upon a now-suspect source– showing how important bibliographies and proper sourcing is to the study of history. Mernard’s review was a lot more personal than I had expected a literature review to be. He comments freely on his view of each book, making each section an actual book review within the larger lit review. As someone used to dispassionate historical writing, such definite opinionated writing surprised me, and I wonder whether that’s usual for literature reviews.