Committee Meeting

I met with my committee (Dr. Halpin, Dr. Mollin, Dr. Schneider) this week on Thursday and Friday and discussed some changes to my research. I’ll definitely be keeping maternalism in my research, but I’ll be widening my questions and argument by focusing primarily on gender dynamics within the New York Teachers Union/United Federation of Teachers. Maternalism will surely fall in there somehow, but because I don’t yet know what the sources hold, it’s better to go into the archives with a broader question rather than a narrower one. I’ve been given some suggested reading to familiarize myself with postwar feminism, maternalism, and anticommunism, and now have a lot of reading to do this summer.

 

On the homestretch!

Well, this semester went fast!  I can’t believe our proposals are due tomorrow!  As I finish up my revisions and hear about everyone else’s, it is really exciting to see how all of our projects have transformed since we first started bouncing around ideas about our interests.

On my end, I am finishing “tightening” my historiography section, working on “telling a story” with the literature more than I had in the previous draft.  I think I have finally added all of my new primary and secondary resources, but maybe I can sneak a few more in there.  The suggestions from Dr. Jones, Amanda, and my committee members have been really, really helpful in this revision process!

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!

Thesis Committee Meeting 4/30/2014

This past Wednesday, I took part in my first thesis committee meeting with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Shadle. I realize I might be a little late to the game, but I wanted to first contact Dr. Warren Milteer, the third member of my committee, before I met with the two on-campus members. The meeting went very well. I was somewhat nervous, as I expected pointed questions and criticism about my project. Both Dr. Quigley and Dr. Shadle, however, were very encouraging and helpful. This is not to say that they did not offer suggestions, but they did so in a way that was more conversational than biting. We talked about a variety of specific things that all three of us thought would benefit my proposal.

First, we discussed that it would be wise to focus initially on North Carolina. Only including one state would make the research and writing process more manageable, and I would not have to travel as much. More scholarship has been done on the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1835 than the Tennessee convention of 1834, so this would also present me with some historical work that I can base my analysis off of.

Second, we talked about my methodology. The graduate committee suggested to me that I primarily focus on race, rather than try to discuss race, class, and gender equally. Initially, I was a little hesitant, but after looking at more secondary sources and meeting with Dr. Quigley separately, I saw the light. Since Dr. Shadle specializes in race, he offered some excellent advice on my topic. He suggested I also check out some secondary works on the American Colonization Society (ACS), the organization responsible for raising money to send free people of color to Liberia.  Dr. Shadle then made the point that what was really being discussed in the convention was the disfranchisement of wealthy free persons of color. Those that were poor could not vote anyway. This discussion tied back to the issue of class in my study, and we all three agreed that I definitely need to be on the lookout for the combination of class and race in the primary sources.

The third major topic we discussed involved my primary sources and summer research trip. Neither Dr. Quigley not Dr. Shadle had any other suggestions for archival sources than the ones at UNC and ECU. However, Dr. Quigley did advise me to check to see if any of the sources are digitized before I journeyed to the archives for the physical copies. On the newspapers, they suggested that I begin by looking at how all of the newspapers across North Carolina reported the disfranchisement decision in the summer of 1835 and then work my way back in time as my research time allows. We all agreed that I did not want to spend hours poring over newspapers if I could help it. As a final discussion of the sources, both of them suggested I keep an open mind as I conducted research. It is natural for topics to change throughout the process, and I did not need to be completely wedded to an idea this early. For example, both thought that if issues of class and gender seem prevalent in the sources that intersectionality might  be more useful after all.

It was great to get together with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Shadle, and I look forward to working with them throughout the remainder of my time at Virginia Tech.

 

Adventures in Proposal Revising

Nothing much to report today, but I have officially scheduled my first “full” committee meeting for Friday, May 2! Dr. Gitre, my third committee member, won’t be joining us until the Fall, but I’m looking forward to meeting with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Dresser to see what input they have to share about my proposal revisions and summer research.

This week my plan is to get a few more readings under my belt to add to my historiography. I’ll be starting with recommendations given by Dr. Dresser last week when we met, but also will be doing a targeted search in the library for works on nationalism during the Civil War era. My other revisions for the proposal will involve doing some critical thinking about how I’ve phrased my argument and methodology sections. Lots to do and only a week to do it all in!

Upcoming Thesis Committee Meeting and Proposal Edits

(So, apparently my blog post from last week never got published. My apologies everyone. This blog will then be a bit longer to recap on the past few weeks!)

 

After meeting with Dr. Kiechle I can say that I am definitely more toward the “acceptance” stage in thesis process. While she illustrated the most questions/ concerns regarding my proposal, I slowly began to understand, unsurprisingly, that she meant well and did so to ensure I crafted, in her words “the most intellectually  stimulant, but concise, Master’s thesis.” Of all of her constructive critiques, her belief that my research questions were appropriate but “too big” resonated the most to me. As I have prepared myself throughout this entire process, I appreciated her candidness in saying that I simply have way too much research to all fit within the parameters of an MA thesis. As a result, I had crafted research questions too broad and inclusive, rather than specific and inquisitive.

She also recommended a book whose author and title I had heard of before but never considered to include as part of my secondary literature bibliography. I will say that after reading most of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s most recent study, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (2002), I am very glad that I purchased a copy of it with my Amazon birthday gift cards :).  In her book, Ulrich takes a seemingly elementary concept, “the age of homespun,” and shows how it was constructed to fill the romantic needs of a feminized Victorian culture, dominated by the ideal of separate spheres, for a useable colonial heritage that celebrated the contributions of women alongside those of men. 

Any reviews searched for online will illustrate the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s brilliance.  One reviewer stated that Ulrich  narrates how “fourteen obscure museum objects, ranging from an Indian basket lined with wool to a half-finished silk stocking, to examine the gendered transformation of textile making in New England from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. In doing so, she links social history to cultural history by scrupulously detailing the origins of an imagined moment in the American past that was created, embraced, and preserved by nineteenth-century New Englanders who yearned for a pastoral heritage unspoiled by technology, of which the mill cities encroaching on their landscape were the emblems.”

“The Barnard Familly Cupboard,” Hadley, Massachusetts, ca.1710-1720. Housed in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Yet, to me this book’s value was not in her daring, albeit the always challenging task of longue duree histories, argument, rather it was the way she used one object per chapter (some even stretching to 4o pages!) to tell a history of society. As someone who foresees material culture as an integral component in my future historical work, her mastery, therefore, is exhibited by her placing mundane object within the lives of individuals, generation after generation. Supplemented with an extensive archival documentary record of letters, diaries, memoirs, probate inventories, and court records, she is able to tell richer tales that illuminate both the history of the object and likely reasons for the myth surrounding its creation. I particularly liked her chapter on a ca.1715 cupboard from Hadley, Massachusetts. Boldly constructed and colorfully decorated , this piece becomes in Ulrich’s hands a way to explore  questions of cultural history. It was ”a little castle” for the display and preservation of personal wealth, especially textiles, and also ”an assertion of life and order” in ”a world where Indians, witches and illness lurked.” Its overall ”flamboyance” reflected the ”upstart” Barnards’ family history. Its decorative patterning, full of hearts, pinwheels and lavish floral imagery, tapped an ancient vocabulary of fertility and ”fruitfulness.” Its inscribed name declared ”both ownership and literacy,” and ”assured some sort of immortality.” Its status as ”movable” property — the usual inheritance of women, in contrast to the lands and housing reserved for men — enabled future generations to mark a ”female line.” Each rests on a thick tableau of historical detail. Brought together, they reconstitute the world of Hannah Barnard and her peers — and it all starts from a cupboard. Most impressive is how Ulrich is able to demonstrate the changing delineations of meaning, ownership and use from generation to generation.

While she offered me several other outstanding suggestions for future development, Dr. Kiechle made sure I realize the importance in clarifying precisely: 1) who my historical actors are, 2) what questions I wish ask from both my material and text-based sources, 3) identify when, where, why and how community formation occurs (as she brilliantly noted that most early American migrants had already developed communal identities before arriving to their destinations) and lastly 4) hone in on and clarify what/ where the spatial boundaries of my research lies.

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After this past week I have taken Dr. Kiechle’s suggestions to heart, begun organizing a meeting with all four of my committee members and continued to edit, but also “fine tune,” my thesis proposal. Other than Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, I have begun reading, also suggested by Dr. Kiechle, Jane T. Merritt’s At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763 (2003), and several other material culture guides specifically for historians, (see History Beyond the Text and History and Material Culture). Before reading these several guidebooks I considered myslef already well-oriented with material culture methodology and interpretation. Yet,  after meeting with with Dr. Kiechle I felt like a touch up on some the basics would assist my efforts to reconfigure my research questions, argument, and topic’s spatial considerations. The biggest takeaway I have learned this week is while I am finishing my edits  on my proposal and future research within my thesis, I need to ask myself and tell my readers what type of material culture approach I am taking; 1) history from things–treatment of material items in same way texts are treated/ interpreted–, 2) history of things–analysis of the relationship between objects, people and their representations–, or 3) history and things–considers artifacts positioned outside history altogether  to permit historians to make creative and freer ways of conveying ideas about the past that are not not necessarily mediated by written language.

Rear faces of gravestones carved by Laurence Crone, McGavock Family Cemetery, Fort Chiswell, Wythe County, Virginia.

In light of these considerations, I have changed my title  and time frame to: “Farmers, Entrepreneurs, and Craftsmen: Cross-Cultural Interaction and Community in Virginia’s Upper Valley Backcountry, 1760-1810.”  I believe such changes will 1) give me more reasonable/ practical time frame to address within a MA thesis, 2) specifically places the actors in the front of my work for  my audience to recognize how  my chapters will likely be organized, and 3) this more constrained/ specifically delineated topic allows me to precisely address how cross-cultural interaction facilitated social, economic and political development in the southern backcountry. While emphasis is placed on how cross-cultural interaction and cooperation occurred, I will also address how particular socio-cultural identities remained distinct if not disparate. For instance culturally distinct folk art such as gravestones carved by Wythe County ‘s German migrant, Laurence Krone reveal the cross-cultural understandings and interactions. While Krone and other skilled (primarily German) craftsmen carved a niche out of their own socio-cultural understanding of the means to prosperity, Scotch-Irish families like the McGavocks (who owned and operated the lead mine at Ft. Chiswell) recognized German families’ specialty in certain trades. Such is evident by the McGavock family cemetery in Ft. Chiswell whose gravestones were predominately carved and inscribed in the German tradition, Laurence Krone.

Other items reveal that particular cultures maintained certain socio-cultural values, distinct from others within the New River Valley settlements. For instance, bed chests and the fraktur-style Taufschiens (birth certificates) were distinctly German elements of craftsmanship

Bed Chest from the Umberger Family of Wythe County, VA, ca. 1820. Notice how the Taufschein is pasted inside of the chest, on the lid.

 that did not cross socio-cultural boundaries, whereas ledger account books and the items ordered and listed demonstrate the particularly merchant-based identities of Scotch-Irish and English families. Yet, the commonplace material objects on a landscape, such as a log house, demonstrate how cross-cultural interaction still remained an inseparable means of thriving within a frontier. While German vs. Irish floor plans in the lower Valley were distinguishable from 1720 to 1750, upper valley communities like in the NRV demonstrated how overtime migrant families came to interact, cooperated and learn from their frontier counterparts. These interactions  contributed developed more amalgamated designs of folk architecture that shared German, Scotch-Irish, English, and African elements. Nevertheless, as I illustrated earlier, this does not mean that these “acculturated,” since specific niches and identities remained distinct across socio-cultural boundaries. Yet, similarly, this does not mean these families “persisted,” as we have seen that their living across the landscape was shaped integrally shaped by cross-cultural networks of cooperation and interaction. Thus,  my work challenges the supposed “acculturation” “persistence” dichotomy that prior scholars have used in determining socio-cultural integration in frontier zones.

The "Holmes Place"- Pulaski County- 1790s, Near New River Bridge- West Side of Rt. 100

The “Holmes Place”- Pulaski County- 1790s, Near New River Bridge- West Side of Rt. 100. NRV folk houses with amalgamated cultural influences= Long house with parallel door entrances (Irish), two floor extension with high pitched roof (German)

As for meeting with my committee, it appears that next Monday morning (according to the Doodle poll sent to all of my members) will most likely be the ideal time and day for all of us to meet. I have shared my edited thesis proposal with each one and asked at the very least to scan over its main points and argument to allow each member to generate any questions, comments or concerns  concerning my proposed thesis work.

Post-Committee Meeting Comments

I am happy to report that I had my first committee meeting this week and it went well…and was a lot of fun, too!  It definitely helped that I have had Dr. Jones, Dr. Mollin, and Dr. Cline as professors before and was used to their style of feedback and this put me at ease for asking all of my follow-up questions.

We discussed ways to narrow down my topic.  I will not be looking at 1940-1950, rather than 1945-1960.  This narrows things down a bit, but will also add a really interesting aspect of how things differed right before, during, and after World War II.  For example, I can looking at how male-female rations changed during and after the war and how this affected how much effort women put into their appearances, as well as what type of military training programs were on campus.  Additionally, we decided that I only need to look at one college, rather than one co-ed and one women’s college.  I am still planning on looking at Carnegie Mellon University (with University of Pittsburgh still as a back-up option).  This cuts one facet of my research in half and will make discussing the “college student reception” part of my thesis a lot more focused.  In relation to looking at CMU, they raised some pertinent questions, such as how elite was the school?, did women live on or off campus?, and where did they come from?

We also discussed my evidence base at length.  All of my committee members are on board with my research trip to DC and had some great advice on how to prepare ahead of time and how to keep track of records.  They were also on board with the evidences I have in mind (magazines, advertisements, beauty manuals, sorority records, college newspapers, yearbooks) and also added student handbooks, course catalogs, and sorority recruitment records to the list.  We discussed how gathering all of this evidence will fit into my summer plans.

We began to hammer down some of the details about the Public History components of my thesis.  I will still be trying to collect oral histories this summer (probably 6) and aim to learn how to interpret these in the fall with the help of Dr. Cline.  We also talked about the digital component, which I have begun working on as my final project for my Digital History course.  I shared the website that I have coded from scratch, what I have already added to it, and how I see it being valuable for both sharing information, and acting as a digital archive/exhibit of sorts.  There are some procedural issues to work out with both of these, such as IRB protocols for the oral histories and copyright issues if I decide to host my website.

Overall, the committee gave me a lot to think about and I am even more excited to jump into my research this summer!

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.

Meeting news

I finally had my committee meeting this week, well, my partial committee meeting, that is since Dr. Gitre won’t be joining us until the fall. Dr. Halpin and Dr. Quigley were of great help, though. I think I have really ended up with a fantastic committee. We all seem to be on the same wavelength and they are tremendously supportive and encouraging.

One of the most interesting suggestions Dr. Quigley made that I had not really considered was to look at some works on transnational history. he suggested several helpful titles. Although at this point I’m not sure if I will have time to fit them into my proposal by its due date, I definitely will dig into them over the summer. I look forward to giving them a look.

in more practical terms, Dr. Halpin and Dr. Quigley, also gave me some great advice about researching in the archives. I came away from the meeting with a checklist of things to do before I begin my quest. I must say, having worked in two archives now, I think that has made me a much better patron. The more information you go in with the better and the more likely the archivist you are working with will like you. To be honest, I am so ready for this semester to be over so I can actually dive into my collections. I bought my plane tickets to New Haven this week, and my journey begins June 8th. I can’t wait!

Victorian SEX Scandal!

Now that I’ve got your attention….

“Sex scandal” was the buzzword that came out of my committee meeting this past Wednesday. I thought about Adelaide’s case as something unusual and weird, but not in terms of a sex scandal. Dr. Jones, Dr. Cline, and Dr. Mooney were all very excited about this project. It was nice meeting Dr. Mooney and discovering we have the same Anne Boleyn tattoo! She loaned me some books about Victorian culture and women. It was great getting everyone’s advice and perspectives on Adelaide’s case. Rather than include the medical and mesmerism part in my thesis, I was advised to drop it and focus more on the “sex scandal” aspect of it.

We discussed possible chapter titles, what I should be doing over the summer, types of media to look at (Punch cartoons and other illustrations), class perceptions and distinctions, what made Adelaide sympathetic, and what to do about getting sources located in the UK. The day of the meeting I received an email from the National Archives stating that my request to copy Adelaide’s and George Dyson’s depositions would exceed £500! That’s over $800! Also, the ILL was unable to locate the George Dyson book anywhere in the U.S. Luckily, Dr. Jones and Dr. Mooney have arranged for someone to copy the depositions at the National Archives this summer! I’m very grateful to Dr. Jones and Dr. Mooney for arranging that! Also to Jane and Ruth, who have never even met me, for making a stop at the National Archives!

I learned a lot at the committee meeting about where my project could go and how much potential it really has. It was very encouraging, and it was good to get some more perceptions of my thesis proposal. Melea sent me a few suggestions for books at the behest of Dr. Jones. So, I will be adding a new category to my bibliography: Sexuality and Scandal! The literature review portion of my thesis proposal is going to change quite a bit. I plan on following the model Dr. Jones suggested, which is to start with Victorian crime and narrow my way down to gender, class, and Adelaide Bartlett. Also should add deviant women and sexual deviance to that.

Next steps for the end of the semester:

  • Find sex scandal books suggested by Melea.
  • See if Cambridge can copy the George Dyson book.
  • Reorganize my thesis proposal to include chapter outlines, delete mesmerism, expand and change literature review based on the new-ish direction of my research, and highlight important sections for summer research in my bibliography.
  • Discuss a public history aspect of my thesis with Dr. Cline.
  • Read, read, read, read, read, and read some more.