A Few Thoughts on Becoming a Historian, or Lessons Learned Along the Way…Plus a Possible New Focus Statement

After doing some careful soul searching and thinking about the direction in which my current research is leading me, I have come to the conclusion that I am not just a student of military history. Due to the ideas and theories being taught in my course work here at Virginia Tech, I am becoming a more well rounded historian and therefore feel that I am constantly learning.

I feel that I am working in not only the field of military history, I am becoming more of a social historian and am looking at history with a turn towards the spatial aspect of the past. This is a journey, and while I have learned so much along the way, I feel that I am learning so much more than just how to become a historian.

For my research project and my other areas of interest, i.e. passions in other time periods in history, I find myself increasingly stepping out of my comfort zone and willing to delve into other areas of examining the past.  I find myself still wanting to position myself in American military history, but, as I mentioned earlier, I am starting to find myself looking at these various time periods within our military past with new lenses. For example, I find I want to know more about the social, cultural, even political and spatial aspects, which will allow me to get a better idea of why things happened the way that they did in our past.

As far as where I see myself falling along the “fault lines” of historical methods as an author, I know that I face a challenge due to the fact that I tend to want to write in a very narrative style or provide too much detail on certain things, so I must focus on my writing style to help me in writing a solid thesis proposal, and ultimately, a solid thesis.

The methodology I plan to use in my thesis will be one of examining the social  aspects of the impact of supplying the Confederacy. This was a real surprise for me when we discussed this last week in class and I still wish to look deeper into how this will have an impact upon my research project/thesis overall.

After looking at the feedback on my thesis idea and talking with several faculty and staff, I am refocusing my research topic and trying to create a more thesis question driven research question. I hope that the question/idea that I am focusing on, will start to really shape itself into a workable thesis question, thus allowing me to move forward with research and writing on my project.

There is an oft overlooked portion of history when it comes to the American Civil War; Logistics and Supply within the Confederate States of America. There have been some historians that have written on the topic, yet new evidence has come to light in recent years and new technology has been made available, which allows us to re-examine previous evidence, and re-interpret previous theories/ideas.

New Focus Statement:
I wish to look at Supplying the Army of Northern Virginia: How was the Confederacy able to supply these soldiers from 1861 – 1865? The South, being a largely agrarian society, did not have the manufacturing based economy like the North did, and therefore had to find other ways to provide the supplies necessary to fight a war. These supplies included, but were not limited to, uniforms, shoes, small arms, artillery, horse equipment, ammunition, and accoutrements. Much of these supplies came from foreign sources, and as such, these supplies had an incredible impact on the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. In my thesis, I will argue that the South was able to get much of the supplies they needed to fight the war, from foreign imports, however, the inability to provision the army with adequate food supplies was a much larger issue.

5 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Becoming a Historian, or Lessons Learned Along the Way…Plus a Possible New Focus Statement”

  1. Tiny,
    Your focus statement is getting there! One suggestion for a small change is in the last sentence. When you say food “was a much larger issue” I know what you mean from your post last week, but other readers may not. So try to explain what you mean by “larger issue.” I think you are saying that that the provisioning agencies had a more difficult time feeding the army than supplying other material goods. This point is really interesting, given your point re the South as an agrarian economy–so if you want to make this point a part of your research you will want to begin to think about why food provisions were more problematic — perhaps because they couldn’t be imported as easily as other material goods?

  2. Tiny,

    I think it’s great that you are developing as a historian. I will be interested to see if in the next few months (or into next year) if you will choose to tackle other aspects of history that you mentioned, maybe political or cultural, and if you will see yourself as a historian in those fields as well.

    I believe I can offer you a little advice on writing in narrative form. I also struggle with being too “wordy” and including too many details. What has helped me tremendously in crafting my research project is focusing on being as succinct and to the point as possible. This is oftentimes easier said than done but definitely doable with a little bit of practice. Just continue to push yourself to be as clear and concise as you can and I’m sure you will produce a great thesis proposal and later the final draft of your thesis.

  3. I think your shift to questioning supply is great! Will you be looking at how foreign supply as a whole changed over the course of the war years, or focusing on one commodity as an indicative case study?

  4. Tiny,
    I agree with the others that your project/focus statement is making real progress. I think supply is an interesting approach, especially the food provisions. I also think Northern supply lines and systems may offer you an interesting means of comparison. This might be too big for your project but I think it is something to think about further.

  5. Thanks Tiny.
    The central question is definitely a good one: how did the ANV supply its troops, given shortages of pretty much everything in the Confederacy? And you’re right that foreign imports became very important. I think the nest steps are (1) to make sure you have the right kinds of evidence to answer that specific question, and (2) build out from that central question to ask related and more sophisticated questions about different aspects of the supply process, perhaps exploring the people and logistical methods involved, or the process of beating the blockade, or the distribution mechanisms. I’m not saying you have to explore all those aspects, but pushing a little further than simply asking how the army was supplied would be great.

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