All posts by tayloringradschool

About tayloringradschool

M.A. History graduate student at Virginia Tech. Blog for my reflections on readings in Historical Methods.

Final Reflections

As a historian, I have grown exponentially over this year, especially this semester. From learning theory to content, all of my classes have contributed to my growth as a scholar. Although I know I will not incorporate everything that I have learned over the past year for my thesis, I know I will never forget it. The biggest thing  I will take away from this year is that being a historian is not about just doing research and writing, it’s about putting yourself into historical conversations and attempting to make your subject/topic well-rounded. I know we have not always been one hundred percent interested in each other’s projects, but this year also taught me that even through the extremely different conditions of each person’s research, we all provided each other with essential questions and feedback. Though no one else is working on French history, my peers offered me new ways and methods of seeing and approaching my topic. To me, that’s been another one of my greatest lessons–that a historian’s work does not only have to be relevant to their subject, but their theories and methodologies can be useful for other writers and academics. Over this year, at times, I was a little frustrated and discouraged when classes seemed to be too removed or unrelated to my area of interest, but I quickly found out that studying history would not be as fun if we all only took classes directly related to our fields. I never would have found out that I actually enjoyed gender history, and would probably not be choosing to focus on it now. That’s the main reason I want to continue on to hopefully be a professor one day, so I can help students understand that history is not founded on the memorization of facts but on the exploration of earlier peoples and time periods. I am really looking forward to continuing on in this process and delving more into my research this summer. Who knows what I’ll find next!

Committee Meeting!

This week I met with most of my committee, and it was super helpful! We mostly discussed a new, exciting way to incorporate gender into my topic. Dr. Agmon suggested focusing on two events or people related to or involved with the debates on women’s right and roles in the French Revolution. I thought this was a great idea, especially because it would help narrow down exactly what Americans were reacting to. I kind of chose a combination of people and events by looking at the executions of Marie Antoinette (queen of France) and Olympe de Gouges (activist/feminist during the Revolution). Although my project is based on American perceptions and attitudes of these women and their violent ends (guillotine), I think it’s a really interesting way of seeing how gender debates were similar in France and America. If people were commenting negatively on the actions of these women, then they effectively also told American women what actions were not appropriate for women. Plus, I think it will help me to think about the links between American and French revolutionary women. I go into a lot more detail about this in my thesis proposal, but just thought I’d share a little bit of it with you guys!

Committee!

I finally have a full committee! It was quite a process getting here, but I’m really excited. My members are Dr. Ekirch, Dr. Agmon, and Dr. Mollin.

This week I am meeting with Dr. Ekirch and Dr. Agmon to talk about the revisions I will be making next week to the thesis proposal for the second draft. Some things I would like to discuss are:

-the bibliography: what should I add to it, what should I be focusing more on
-the significance: this is what I usually struggle with, so I want help in verbalizing my thoughts
-sources: I want to incorporate ladies’ magazines – do they know of any?, where else can I be broadening my source base

Then the following week I will be meeting with (I think) the full committee where I want to discuss in more detail the second draft and summer plans:

-what can I add to any/all sections to make the proposal better (especially significance & sources)
-what should I be reading over the summer: I want to compile a summer reading list
-what does the committee expect out of me? and how can I better answer/address their questions?
-what the process in the fall will look like

This week I have been thumbing through some books principally about American culture (manners, morals, education, luxury, etc.) since I pretty much have the politics side down. I’ve also continued with these issues in the French Revolution. Don’t want to inundate you guys with the titles, but so far gained a lot of valuable information that will help with my thesis proposal and possible avenues within my paper. Plus, the talk last Thursday really got me thinking about “friendship” and small gatherings (which got me thinking about the salons in France) and how I can use this to understand interactions in my project.

Continued Secondary Research

Not much to report this week, just continuing on in my research towards the gender aspect of the French Revolution reception in the United States. Right now I am leaning towards focusing on dates around women’s rights (inheritance/divorce/citizenship) and cultural changes. Also, based on Amanda’s comment, I have been thinking about the link between American and French women revolutionaries. How can men in America not ostracize their own women who escaped the boundaries of gender during the American Revolution if they are presenting French women negatively? Is there some sort of rhetorical different between Americans and the French? Just some questions I’ve been considering.

This week I read:

1.The Family on Trial in the French Revolution by Suzanne Desan. In her work, Desan discusses the changes around and debates about women’s rights during the French Revolution. She shows how the familial household was reorganized by men and women who reimagined gender roles in response to revolutionary politics and law. Focusing on inheritance, divorce, illegitimate children, and parental authority, she argues that the Revolution did not relegate women to the domestic sphere, but instead provided opportunities for advancement and power. This book will help me in understanding the nature of the debates in France in order to compare their reception in America.

2. Visualizing the Nation: Gender, Representation, and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France by Joan Landes. Instead of the normal linguistic emphasis, Landes focuses on pictorial representations of women during the French Revolution. Women were used as political icons through their sexualized bodies while their political actions were limited. This is important for my project in understanding the differences between the representations and actualities of women’s roles. Also, it would be really cool to incorporate images in my thesis, so hopefully the Americans are commenting on them!

Continued reflections & research

After meeting with Dr. Jones, Dr. Ekirch, and Dr. Agmon, I realized that one of the biggest drawbacks of my project is that I never clearly defined what I wanted the US to react to about the French Revolution. Through these discussions, I have found the way to incorporate gender more specifically into my project (thus reaffirming my place in the Methods gender group!). There are different routes that I can take with this, so I’m spending more time with primary resources to see exactly where the information is and what it is about. But two of the biggest ones right now are reactions to the debate on women’s rights and the presence of women revolutionaries. To see how French influence might have changed during the Revolution, I could also focus on fashion, education, and luxury. Yet, I think the civil rights could prove very interesting since men and women in the new American republic are also trying to understand their place in the government, which opens up more space to use writings by American (and possibly French) women. I think this new direction will not only help me narrow down my project, but will get me out of the party politics slump. Although the party politics is definitely integral to understanding the 18th century context in America, I definitely want to move away from that path. In order to revise it, I plan on reading more about civil/women’s rights in the French Revolution, women’s roles in the Revolution, and general ideas of gender during this time. As for the primary resources, I will focus less on which papers were which party and just what is being said about these debates. I also think that expanding my search terms to include the names of influential French women will help uncover more general feelings.

Secondary readings this week:

1. Parlor Politics by Catherine Allgor. Although this work begins after 1800, and thus my time period, Dr. Kiechle recommended this to me for being a helpful methodological approach to understanding women’s roles and influence on politics. Set in Washington, D.C., the book details the ladies of Washington and their use of public space in a private way (lunches, receptions, etc.) to foster political relationships that helped the new republic work. I already know some general information on the gendering of “private” and “public” spaces, so that seems like an interesting comparison to make with the women French revolutionaries who would’ve been using them the wrong way.

2. Deviant Women of the French Revolution and the Rise of Feminism by Lisa Beckstrand. Using Olympe de Gouges and Manon Roland, this work demonstrates two different ways French women sought to use the Revolution as means to garner more rights. Gouges wrote The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen (along with numerous other writings) while Roland used her house as a salon and published under her husband’s name. Sent the guillotine along with Marie Antoinette where all three were considered deviant women and made an example out of for all other women. This book gave me a lot of names that will hopefully prove fruitful in my primary researching.

Thesis Proposal Reflections

Writing the first draft of the thesis proposal was actually not as difficult as I originally imagined it would be. I even discovered that I knew a lot more about my topic through the readings and activities in class than I thought. Getting to the final draft will be a long and arduous process, but at least now I know that I can actually do it (or at least I will when I get some comments back)!

What I learned while writing the draft (which also applies to what I want to add in the next revision) is that it’s not enough to answer the research question with supporting evidence. It’s important to highlight why you’re choosing that answer and why your answer is important (to the given scholarship, historical study, etc.). Although I have my working arguments and hypotheses with some evidence backing it up, now I need to think about why my answers are appropriate/significant. The shortest section of my proposal was the significance part, and that I what I’m really going to work on in the coming month. Focusing on and including more primary resources will definitely help me do this.

Furthermore, in the next draft I want to give some more context because I think that will also help me to think of the significance as well as where I think my study specifically fits into the literature. After turning in the first draft I realized that I did want to give more detail about both the American and French Revolutions, especially so I could talk more generally about how coming out of a revolution can affect how you perceive of someone else’s. I know we don’t need to inundate the readers with every single detail, but I definitely need to provide a more concise overview of the international scene of this part of the 18th century.

But overall I learned that (while stressful) thesis proposal writing actually makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something in my thesis process.

Revised Focus Statement and Methodology Reflections

Reflective Essay on Methodology

Now that I feel I have a (somewhat, VERY somewhat) better idea of methodology, I have given it quite a bit of thought over the past few days. After Dr. Jones suggested looking at “discourse communities,” I really tried to think about the use of words such as “faction” and “party.” Although I think it safe to call at least the Federalists a party at this time, I’m less sure of how to approach the Democratic-Republicans. In using print culture (such as newspapers) and person accounts (travel guides and papers), I will definitely be using a discourse analysis as part of my methodology. Furthermore, as some (or most) of this writing will include rhetoric, usually about patriotism, a rhetorical analysis goes along with the discourse analysis. I may not be as language-focused at some post-structuralists, but language, text, and image (hopefully if I can find some) analysis will inform my interpretations of these sources. Going along with our recent conversations of aggressiveness, I now boldly place myself in the politico-cultural category of historians. Political because I am interested in American party politics, foreign policy, domestic policy, and transnational (France <-> US mainly) shared political ideas. Cultural in that my project rests on a period in the throws of revolutionary culture. As the US just finished a revolution and the French are embroiled in one, I very much want to understand how people felt of themselves and others within this culture.

Revised Focus Statement

Contrary to beliefs that the French Revolution remained strictly bound to the physical territory of France, the Revolution persisted in an era of international influence and communication. Although not directly causing the rise of the two party system in American during the 1780s and 90s, the French Revolution definitely highlighted the political, social, cultural, and economic differences between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. In accentuating these distinctions between the parties, the French Revolution allowed Americans to publicly enter into conversations about politics, economics, culture, and the military that previously were kept more private.

While it might seem that these two groups possessed strictly opposite views of the French Revolution, the Federalists actually remained pretty open to the Revolution. As sharper lines between the parties materialized with the Terror, Federalists grew more opposed to the Revolution as Democratic-Republicans situated themselves as pro-Revolution. I argue that party politics impacted the perceptions, attitudes, and reactions of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans to the French Revolution. Through a discourse and rhetorical analysis of contemporaneous newspapers with party affiliations and the papers of chief political persons (such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abigail Adams, and Benjamin Franklin), I show that  the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans both understood the French Revolution in distinct ways. Even though party sentiments might not have applied to each member or group within the party, this politico-cultural framework underlines patterns rooted in the language of these parties.

Secondary Literature

1. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis. Recommended to me as a very important read for my project, it seemed a little too Constitution focused. Although that would be great for a project like that, it still helped in further explaining this party politics stuff in America. Ellis mentions and engages with recent (and some not so) about this time and people, so it will also be helpful in bulking up my historiography section. Also using a type of discourse analysis, Ellis provides a good base for understanding these men and Abigail’s thoughts on different parts of American culture.

Sort of switched back to some French happenings to keep myself grounded in the time!

2. “Trans-Atlantic Anti-Jacobinism: Reaction and Religion” by Jonathan Den Hartog. Going along with my transnational theme, Hartog brought up an element that I had previously given little thought to: religion. I knew that the FR was controversial, especially in the later stages, for seemingly discarding religion, but I hadn’t really considered how that would affect American sentiments. Furthermore, the idea of politics as religion (civil religion) is something I want to explore more. He also uses a discourse analysis in highlighting how “practices of writing and printing, correspondence, diplomacy, and travel” solidified transnational communication lines. Very beneficial and helpful, if not only for the methodology!

3. “Imaging the French Revolution: Depiction of the French Revolutionary Crowd” by Jack Censer and Lynn Hunt. While not always referring to illustrations or physical images of the crowd, this article provides another valuable look into rhetoric/discourse analysis. I have been hoping that violence would come into play in my project somehow, and I think I found a way to see if it will. Not only do I need understand conceptions of “the people,” “masses,” “crowds,” but I also need to consider different opinions on popular violence. Since the American just got out of a revolution rooted in a different kind of popular violence, it will be interesting to see how the authors’ depictions vary from the Americans.

Bertoti Reflections

I think Bertoti went very well this year! Of course there were the little things you can’t control like late comers and some talks running over, but overall it was a smooth running day. If I had to offer anything, it would be probably just to make sure that things are double and triple checked, such as the rooms for sessions and name tags. Although there will always be late/non registers, but just making sure that everyone who registers has all their materials. But, to me, it seemed that everyone was well prepared and very professional. I enjoyed speaking with the keynote speakers as well as the other presenters and prospective students.

Focus Statement

Focus Statement

Contrary to beliefs that the French Revolution remained strictly bound to the physical territory of France, the Revolution persisted in an era of international influence and communication. Not only did the Revolution affect other nations, colonies, and non-French people, it also forced these external communities into factions that constantly quarreled over the events. Although not directly causing the rise of the two party system in American during the 1780s and 90s, the French Revolution definitely highlighted the political, social, cultural, and economic differences between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. While the Federalists remained pro-Revolution (though anti-paper money), the Democratic-Republicans did not support the Revolution. As sharper lines between the parties materialized with the Terror, I argue that party politics impacted the perceptions, attitudes, and reactions of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans to the French Revolution. By using contemporaneous newspapers with party affiliations and the papers of chief political persons (such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abigail Adams, and Benjamin Franklin), I aim to show that even though party sentiments might not have applied to each member or group within the party, the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans both understood the French Revolution in distinct ways.

Readings Over Break, Updates, etc.

Over the break I advanced my research by delving into some of the larger books on my reading list. I again sought to focus on the nature of party politics in America during this time as well as the French Revolution in a global context (i.e. my choice for the methodological article). Also, after meeting with Dr. Ekirch last week, I decided to add names of important French actors to my list of keywords in primary source searches. Primarily Marie Antoinette and Charlotte Corday (Marat’s killer). Since I am hoping to bring some sort of gendered look into this project, I am hoping to hone in on some female characters (including Abigail Adams).

Secondarly Literature read over the break:

1. Age of Federalism by Eric McKitrick and Stanley Elkins. The authors go into great detail about most of the Founding Fathers that I want to study- Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Hamilton. Surprisingly, they spend a great deal of time with French affairs from domestic politics to Edmund Genet (who I’m not sure if I want to spend time on). Overall, a lot of good information and background to the Federalist vs. DR period!

2. Scandal & Civility : Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy by Marcus Daniel. A good book in helping me to decide how far into the 1790s I want to go. Recently I have been thinking that I will have to go past the Terror, as that’s when most DR newspapers begin to surface. The section that focuses on newspaper editors should really help me when i start to interpret my primary sources, as it allows me to understand some of their motivations.

3. The Jeffersonian Republicans; the Formation of Party Organization, 1789-1801 by Noble E. Cunningham. Finally, something that’s not about the Federalists! I seem to be running into a lot about the Federalists (especially in the newspapers), or everything just centers on Jefferson. Although more about leadership & political machinery, Cunningham’s book inspired and is used in a lot of more recent scholarship dealing with the economic/social/cultural aspects of the party. Focusing on more middle political members and Pennsylvania (with a few other states), the study is not comprehensive, but is a great starting point to lead me to other works!

4. American Politics in the Early Republic : the New Nation in Crisis by James Roger Sharp. In referring to the Feds and DRs as “proto-parties,” Sharp really helped in reminding me that what we think of now as political parties is not the same as in the 1790s. Focusing more on elite members, this book definitely fits into my research questions and goes quite a way to answering them.

I read “Internationalizing the French Revolution” by Suzanne Desan for my methodological article. I chose this one because although I am using press studies, gender, nationalism, etc. in my work, I first need to understand how to internationally contextualize the French Revolution. Desan also has a book (I think an edited volume with articles) on this subject, so I will be looking further into that. Although focusing more on how France negotiated with foreign influences/powers during the time, it offered me a good starting point for how I can connect these two Atlantic powers. Automatic thesis statement: Although historians concentrate on the notion of exceptionalism of the French Revolution, nevertheless a transnational approach better contextualizes the French Revolution because international correspondence spread shared ideas, influenced political culture, promoted global commerce, and affected colonial perspectives.

Argument & focus sentences

First, the 3 secondary sources I read this week.

1. American Creation, Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis. Still on my Federalist vs. Democratic-Republican debate, this book contains a lot of information about not only the big guys in the parties, but also the press of each and the debates between the two. Although not really delving too deep into the foreign (especially French) relations, it’s a good book that provides greater understanding of 18th century American party politics.

The next two deal a little bit more with the French Revolution in American Press. I realized when starting to compile my bibliography that I was severely neglecting articles, so I rounded up a few.

2. “The American Press and the French Revolution of 1789″ by Beatrice F. Hyslop is an older article, from 1960, that will provide a starting point for my research into how the Revolution was presented in the press, especially along party lines. With a very nice table of contents (that more articles should have), it was very easy to navigate the article and decide which sections are the most important for my topic. The sections are broken down into background information and revolutionary events.

3. “Another Test of the News: American Partisan Press Coverage of the French Revolution” by Jaci Cole and Maxwell Hamilton helped me to keep in mind the drawbacks/limitations/biases of using print culture, especially in studying foreign responses to an event. The article illuminates similarities in press coverage between Russian, Chinese, and the French Revolution, which might not help me that much. I probably won’t be using this article in any depth, but it is always nice to be reminded that historians can’t use print culture as the end all be all. YET I am still very committed to newspapers :)

Not that I (kind of) have my questions down, I need to start focusing on my argument and focus statement! So far, the secondary readings I have done (along with Turabian and the Belcher article) have helped to form some running hypotheses. First off (and maybe goes without saying) there is a difference in party reactions to the French Revolution. They seem to pretty much follow party lines (Federalists skeptical, D-Rs pro), but I’m sure I’ll find some people who throw that off for me. Now I just have to figure out exactly why. I haven’t quite mastered the sectional divide, but I am finding hints to suggest there is one. I am going to try and fit my topic into the formula offered by Single pretty soon when I feel comfortable enough making an exact statement!