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Thoughts and Reflections on my Research Methods class

I would first like to start out by saying that this class was so much more than what I expected. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I when I had taken my research methods class as an undergraduate,  we did not really go into great deal of research methods. It was because of this that I was not sure if I would be able to keep up. I knew what I was hoping for as far as my goals were concerned, with the end goal being to earn an MA degree in history. I wanted to meet like-minded individuals, who wanted to work in the field of history, especially in the museum field. I also wanted to find out more about the actual museum field, the theory and practices, and how to garner knowledge to get a job working within a museum setting in a curator, or museum educational director type job.

Overall the readings were very helpful, except that some were very dense and heavy, which caused me great consternation and worry. I enjoyed the discussion format of the course, as it was was extremely helpful and I was able to incorporate a lot of ideas into my “toolbox” of ideas, however, some of the theory was something that I couldn’t really wrap my head around.

I enjoyed the way that the topics of discussion each week built upon the previous one and the variety of subject matter gave me a real feel for the intentions for the class. I feel that with all that I have learned in the class; this will be extremely helpful in my chosen career path and that the ideas and theories set forth in the class were meant to allow me to think about things in a different light. The chosen readings, were for the most part very enlightening (even if I had to read through them numerous times) and made me definitely want to know more.

I also enjoyed the various topics from everyone’s personal research, especially the ones which included the video and music portions, which were, in my opinion very helpful to help to grasp the key concepts intended for the class. The opportunity to choose our own topics and build upon those was also an aspect of the class that helped me focus on using the lessons learned in the class sessions to improve my thinking skills.

As I mentioned previously, I was a little unsure of what to expect from the class at first, I just knew that I had to take this class and it sounded kind of interesting as well. I did learn quite a bit as a historian and I know that the skills learned will help me become a better researcher, a better writer, and the critical thinking skills I have learned, I will be able to look at different topics in history in a much different light. I have come to realize more so than  before, that everything is not black and white when it comes to history and analyzing history. There are any number of shades of gray involved.

If I had to find anything wrong with the course, I would like to have focused more on the practical side of history, like museums or education and less on the theories, some of which seemed outdated and very dense, some feeling almost TOO scholarly. What I mean by this, is that some of the theories that we discussed  definitely seemed like the writers were trying too hard at sounding scholarly and that they were focusing on an already scholarly audience, not for students studying an MA degree. What I mean by this, is that we seemingly skirted around this topic all semester, I just would like to have seen more in regards to the actual day to day, hands on aspect of the education field, or the museum field as opposed to the theoretical side so much.

In conclusion, I would just like to say thank you and I really appreciate everything I learned so much more from the course than I expected. I do firmly believe that my research skills, my critical thinking skills, my reading and writing skills have all improved since I started this course. I do look forward to moving towards the end of the degree, so that I can take the skills learned and polished in this course, out into the career path of my choosing and make a difference as a historian.

First Draft Thoughts and Reflections

Well, the first draft is done and now after the dust has settled, I can look at all of the comments and use the critiques, suggestions, and tips to refine and make a much better second draft. I am a bit confused by the comments on my first draft, as each one says something different. With that being said, I am trying to figure out how to implement the suggestions to make a better proposal for my second draft.

I am finding it a bit difficult to roll all three sets of suggestions into a better proposal because some of the suggestions are similar, but some almost contradict the other, so it is a bit confusing. I am excited to move forward and refine this proposal, as it will allow me to do a much better second draft.

I plan on using a lot more footnotes to help my readers see where the information came from. I also intend to show my readers which books, journal articles, information, etc. I have read, and which ones I find will be of use towards my final draft.  Another thing that I intend to do, is to find more primary source materials and more ways to utilize digital sources like the Library of Congress photographs and records of Quartermaster requisitions, etc. The details found in original ship manifests are going to prove extremely useful, so I will include more evidence from those as well.

Overall, I will try to address all of the suggestions from my first draft, but am not sure if doing so will be totally possible, as like I mentioned earlier, some of these suggestions are conflicting. I am however going to push forward and work hard at refining my second draft, so that I can eventually produce a great research paper on a topic of great importance to me.

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.

How I Advanced My Research Over Spring Break

Because of the fact that I am an idiot…I somehow posted this original post on one of my old undergraduate blogs. Had Dr. Winling not pointed this out, I would never have thought to look there to find it, as I was frantically looking for it. I am posting this for my fellow cohort members to peruse….

Over Spring Break, I was able to advance my research by reading through many of the books and articles which I have been collecting over the last few weeks. I have been able to dig many different sources up, especially in the field of imported items into the Confederacy. The ability to uniform, arm, and equip the soldiers of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, (the specific army on which I am doing my research) more aptly than previously understood, makes for quite a compelling argument for the capabilities of the Confederate States of America’s Quartermaster system, as well as for the Confederate logistical system.

The research that I have been able to uncover shows a significant increase in imported uniforms, shoes, accoutrements, weapons, including small arms, artillery, and edged weapons. What was the main source of the downfall with the Confederacy, was not the shortage of uniforms, weapons, and equipment, not the fewer numbers of fighting men, not even the overarching agenda of slavery, reprehensible as it was, it was due mainly to political infighting, the argument between states, over state’s rights vs. a central government, and the lack of being able to properly feed the men in the field.

In doing all of the reading on my sources and digging deeper into how I am going to frame my argument, ask my questions, and attempt to redefine my focus statement, I am suddenly aware of a new direction I wish to take my research. I feel that to try to engage with the idea of dispelling the myth of the “ragged” rebel, I will be unable to tackle the myth, the material culture aspect of an argument, and the origin/longevity of the myth in one paper, and still be able to meet the assignment parameters in a timely fashion.

I therefore wish to examine the evolution of the Confederate supply system and the way that the importation of foreign military goods helped to allow the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to fight on for four years.  This will allow me to examine ship manifests, ordnance records, diaries, journals, quartermaster reports, inspector general reports and analyses, as well as much of the secondary research into various aspects of material culture, which in turn, will help to help paint the picture of how the importation of foreign goods aided the Confederacy in its fight for Southern Independence.

The source which I chose to investigate for this blog post is an article by Leslie Jensen, in which he examines extant Confederate uniforms in particular. His ability to differentiate the various depot patterns, the changes over time, the origins of the patterns for the item, the construction techniques, i.e. hand sewn vs. machine, etc., and the artifact’s significance to the field of material culture is evident in his research into the field. In his article, Jensen breaks down several different surviving uniforms, and attempts to formulate a sort of typing system for these items.

The author uses extensive research into original sources materials, not only the uniforms themselves, but quartermaster records, requisition forms, journals, diaries, and goes into great detail in secondary sources. His methodology utilizes the lenses of material culture, cultural, social, political, and economic studies. The way that he examines these items alone, is material culture. As for the cultural and social aspects of researching the topic(s), this includes a look at Southern homefront ways of meeting the challenge of supplying the soldiers in a “stop gap” way of filling the need for outfitting the soldiers until foreign goods could be secured. This includes who would have been working on these items at the time, be it women, or men that were not fighting at the front. The political and economic lenses examine the Confederacy’s trade and purchasing operations abroad from foreign supporters, or military goods companies.

My research interests and my lenses of examination will follow Jensen’s model and will look more closely at the way that the Confederate supply system evolved and how the foreign partners in supplying the Confederacy’s war efforts made the Confederate cause last longer than it should have been able to on its own.

European Suppliers to the Confederacy, Major Caleb Huse’s Reminiscences

In my recent research, I found a short history of the experiences and reminiscences of Major Caleb Huse,  the purchasing agent for the Confederate States of America. This was a great source of information and it helped to bolster my belief that there were still yet new resources to investigate, even after 150 years. The significance of this source is that these are the personal recollections of the  purchasing agent for the Confederacy in England, and other European countries. This is important because it shows that foreign goods were making it through the Union navy’s blockade of Confederate ports and thus making a difference in how efficiently the war was fought by Southern troops.

  • Why did you choose this particular item as representative of the archive you’ve created at this point in the research process? I chose to use this source as my primary source this week because it was a recent find and it was written by the Confederate officer, Major Caleb Huse. He was the Purchasing Agent for the Confederate States of America. His main job was to procure military arms, equipment, uniforms, ammunition, and other supplies for waging the war against the North. This source includes his recollections and personal insight, which provides a rare view into this important aspect of supplying the Confederacy’s military.
  • How did you discover the source? Where is it located? This source was one that I ran across during a database mining search on Worldcat and I also found it on the America’s History and Life site.
  • How does the source help you locate an answer to your research question? What can this type of source tell you? When researching the Confederate States of America’s quartermaster supply/logistics system, I have been finding multiple references to English army cloth uniforms, Austrian rifles, English accouterments, imported shoes, and various other items necessary for fighting the war. This source gives Major Huse’s unique perspective on his experiences in acquiring the aforementioned goods. When you take these reminiscences into account, and compare them with surviving ship manifests of Confederate and foreign blockade runners,  you begin to gain a better picture of the supplies making to the front line soldiers. These supplies were instrumental in keeping the Confederate fighting men equipped and surprisingly well equipped at that, during the latter part of the war.
  • How will you interrogate the source-what methodology will you employ? I plan on interrogating this source using the methodological approach of material culture, military, political, and economic lenses.
  • What are the problems with this category of sources/what can’t you learn, what are the biases? Even though this is a primary source, it was written forty + years after the events and are told from a definite pro-Confederate point of view. The information that could be missing are various ship’s manifests and possible Confederate government records, as thousands of documents were destroyed in the last few days of the Confederacy’s existence, especially in the evacuation of the capital in Richmond, Virginia. Some of the biases that need to be overcome are preconceived notions of the Confederate soldier’s lack of supplies and the image that many people have conjured up in their own minds of “what” a Confederate soldier should look like.
  • What sorts of sources will you need to confirm/ complete/ complement this source? This source will be used to corroborate surviving ship’s manifests and will also be compared to the Library of Congress holdings of surviving quartermaster records and inspector general’s reports, showing actual issuance of uniforms, equipment, shoes, supplies, weapons, and ammunition. Surviving photographs and actual material culture items will also complement this source.

I believe that this source will be of great value to my overall research and end research proposal. I am excited about finding this source and look forward to investigating this source along with the possible implications of what it could bring to future historians studying this subject.

Research is Really Starting to Build … LOTS to Read

Research is going very well and after talking with Dr. Quigley on the sources I am coming across, he and I are working closely to narrow my original thesis topic question. I have been busy on Worldcat, EbscoHost, American History and Life, and others just to name a few.

I have found multiple journals, diaries, and various letter excerpts. I have also uncovered several theses, which are proving to be a wealth of information on sources, both primary and secondary, which has been very exciting. I have found secondary sources of ship manifests of blockade runners that made it through the Union naval blockade, as well as several books on British imported uniforms, weapons, equipment, and various supplies.

I have also found seemingly endless records and reports located in the National Archives, and all kinds of photographs, which have been digitized in the Library of Congress. There are many different locations which have repositories of original uniforms, weapons, equipment, and gear, which will help to substantiate the research that I am uncovering, going a long way towards helping to dispel that myth I have been chasing…

Current Events that Resonate with My Research Topic and Interests

As many of you may know, or for  those of you that do not know, I am a Civil War reeanctor and living historian. As you read through many of my blog postings, you can see that have a great passion for studying the American Civil War. My research topic for my thesis is based upon dispelling the myth surrounding the “Ragged Rebel” of Southern history notoriety. Obviously, I am not the only reenactor or living historian out there, as there are thousands of people who are serious students of history, that reenact the American Civil War. The opportunity to meet with kindred spirits, who are just as passionate about the study of the American Civil War, who portray both Northern and Southern soldiers, gives us many opportunities to network and fellowship with people who are studying many different aspects of the American Civil War. These reenactors encompass a wide array of professions, such as doctors, lawyers, contractors, students, teachers, college professors, professional historians, truck drivers, real life soldiers, and many others from various walks of life.

I wrote the previous to explain the types of people that you run across at various events in this fascinating hobby. I am writing about several events over the next few months that will give rise to talking with a lot of different people who are experts on many different parts of my research.  For example, I will be attending the North Carolina State Historical site in Newton Grove, NC for the 150th Anniversary commemoration of the battle of Bentonville, the last major battle of the American Civil War in North Carolina. Then I will be attending an event to be held on part of the original battlefield at Sailor’s Creek, VA, where Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia lost over 6,000 men captured on April 6th, 1865, leading to the ultimate defeat and surrender at Appomattox Court House. I will also be working very closely with the National Park Service at Appomattox Court House on the 150th Anniversary commemorative, providing “real time” living history programs for thousands of visitors.

While attending these events, there will be many speakers and lecturers on topics which will help with my overall research. In the past, I have been able to work with park historians, museum curators, archivists, etc to network and work with them on various research topics.

Past and present have a unique way of interacting with each other when you are involved with living history and reenacting. It presents a way of actually experiencing an inkling of what the soldiers themselves did, minus the fleas, lice, sickness, death, fear, hunger, loneliness, homesickness, and any number of other obstacles. However, you do get to experience the sight of thousands of men in formations, under arms, the heat,the cold, the miserable food, the drill, the camaraderie, and yes the wool uniforms.

While experiencing some of these things, you get to meet historians such as Robert Krick, “Bud” Robertson, Ed Bearrs, Chris Calkins, John Heiser, and Rod Gragg, just to name a few, as well as many thousands of people who have an interest and possible research leads into the past and often on your particular topic of research.


Bringing My Focus Statement Into Sharper Focus

Do you believe that Southern soldiers who fought for the Confederacy were barefoot, clothed in tattered uniforms,  and faced the problem of a dwindling supply of uniforms, arms, and equipment, as the war drug out, leading to the emergence of the myth of the “Ragged Rebel” from the American Civil War? Scholars, historians, and history buffs alike, have been led to believe this over the last century and a half. My research includes close scrutiny of period photographs of Confederate prisoners of war, and soldiers killed in action, as well as period engravings, paintings, lithographs, Quartermaster depot records, unit requisitions, ship manifests, letters, journals, and diaries, to paint a very different picture of what the average Confederate soldier was wearing and fighting with throughout the four years of conflict. The significance of this research will lend itself to deconstructing the myth which has been a tenet of the “Ragged Rebel” myth, and in doing so, will show how the Confederate States of America was able to survive for four long and bitter years.

Sources and Work in Progress Bibliography

HIST 5134 – Research Methods

First Draft Bibliography

Kevin “Tiny” Dawson

(I wasn’t quite sure where to place the numbers 1,2,3, as it would have gotten mixed in with the dates and web addresses, but I can explain which items are of what importance.)


*Adolphus, Frederick R., Civil War Sesquicentennial Uniform Series: Volume 1, Imported Confederate Uniforms of Peter Tait & Co., Limerick, Ireland, 2010.

Barry, Craig L., and David C. Burt, Supplier to the Confederacy: Peter Tait & Co., Limerick, Authors OnLine, Ltd. Bedfordshire, England, 2011.

Burt, David, Major Caleb Huse C.S.A. & S. Isaac Campbell & Co.: The Arms, Clothing and Equipment Supplied to the Confederate States of America 1861 – 1864, Author House, Bloomington, Indiana, 2009.

McCluney, Larry A., Jr., Confederate Uniforms: A Case Study in Confederate Supply, MA Thesis, Mississippi State, Mississippi, 1993.

*Wilson, Harold S., Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War, University of Mississippi, Jackson, 2002.


*Heiser, John S., The High Water Mark of an Army: The Characteristics of the Army of Northern Virginia During the Gettysburg Campaign,

*Jensen, Leslie D., “A Survey of Confederate Central Government Quartermaster Issue Jackets, Part I”, Military Collector and Historian, The Company of Military Historians, Volume XLI, No.3, Fall, 1989.

*Jensen, Leslie D., “A Survey of Confederate Central Government Quartermaster Issue Jackets, Parts II &III”, Military Collector and Historian, The Company of Military Historians, Volume XLI, No.4, Winter, 1989.

Digital Images:

The following are just a few links to the types of photographs I intend to use in my research, (These images are found at the Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Section)

A Source, A Source, My Kingdom for a Source…Well, I Guess I Have to Give Up My Kingdom

I have been talking with my adviser Dr. Quigley about places and ideas of places to search for credible resources and information. We discussed the sources at the Library of Congress as well as Confederate Quartermaster records and I began my mining operations. All of my dig sites were planned out in advance, my dig permits were in place, and the machinery was ready to go…, so I just got ready for the adventures and went to work.

This week I spent time mining the databases of the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Both of these massive collections have several very fine finding aids on their searchable websites. I am enclosing the addresses for two of these within this blog. These finding aids were very helpful in the way that they were able to help me narrow my search and with the way that key terms, i.e. names, identifiers, subject matter, etc. were collected together.

I searched both of the sites using the finding aids that were available and found a wealth of information. On the National Archives one, I found records such as Confederate Quartermaster reports, requisitions, returns, and depot supply records. These are part of a much larger collection of records of the Confederate States Government records held by the Federal Government regarding the Confederacy’s role in the American Civil War.
War Department Collection of Confederate Records (Record Group 109) 1825-1900 (bulk 1861-65)

The second finding aid was son the Library of Congress’s website, which led to a plethora of original photographs of Confederate prisoners of war, and Confederate war dead. These photographs tell a very vivid story in and of themselves and by looking under great scrutiny, on can see details about Confederate Government supply systems in the uniforms and shoes that they are wearing, how the equipment and accoutrements are being worn, what type of weapons were found on the battlefields, etc. This is also a way to see the progression of uniformity within the Confederate ranks, especially when taking the date of the photograph into account. Another source that I found within this amazing source, was a prints and art section, showing original sketches and paintings within the Library of Congress’s collection of original artwork.
Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Section

I had requested an MA thesis from Mississippi State University by a former MA student there, which I was in hopes of getting, to see his sources and findings; that came in and did not disappoint, it was filled with great information and multiple source references.

I also spent time reading through several secondary sources that will be very helpful to the overall success of my thesis. I will include those in my first draft of my bibliography. I have been very pleased with the amount of headway that I have been able to make this week.