Now that we have gone over the basics of the AMST PI (read, write, take risks), some of you may think we are going on a stakeout or lurking around some smoky bar or even following some femme fatale. If so, you watch too much TV. We are hitting the books… and journal articles, and newspapers, and maps, and archives. While you will be “hitting the books” over the next week with your first cultural documentation assignment (see Blackboard under assignments for the specifics) we will also be taking our first trip to “hit the streets” of the community we are researching.
On Saturday we will meet at the Filbert Street Garden (1317 Filbert St.) in Curtis Bay at 10:30am to speak with garden director Jason Reed. Then we will head out to the industrial peninsula where Wagner’s Point and Fairfield were once located, by the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, up the main street of Brooklyn (Patapsco Ave.), and end up for lunch at Fred and Margie’s (3605 Fairhaven Ave.). There is also a reading by Sparrows Point steel workers at the Windup Space at 5pm on Saturday.
For the AMST PI, scholarship is grounded in place–research, people, and place are all connected. In the conclusion to “Axioms for Reading the Landscape,” Pierce Lewis writes, “landscape-reading [learning to see the cultural landscape that surrounds us… to see place] is not going to put libraries out of business.” Lewis continues:
One can, however, quite literally teach oneself how to see, and that is something that most Americans have not done and should do. To be sure, neither looking by itself, nor reading by itself is likely to give us very satisfactory answers to the basic cultural questions that landscape poses. But the alternation of looking, and reading, and thinking, and then looking and reading again, can yield remarkable results, if only to raise questions we had not asked before. Indeed, that alternation may also teach us more than we had ever dreamed: that there is order in the landscape where we had seen only bedlam before. That may not be the road to salvation, but it may be the road to sanity.
Lewis gives good advice for the AMST PI. Now here are some places to begin your first case.
To begin this process we want to start with secondary sources because we are entering an ongoing intellectual conversation and we need to know the landscape. Most of the readings we have done in the first four weeks of classes are secondary sources (interpretation and analysis) but some are primary (original docs). There are few secondary sources on Baybrook specifically… but do not despair, private eyes.
As Betsy Nix writes in her article we read on the Baltimore ’68 project, “The discovery of uncharted territory is every historian’s goal, but it proved unnerving for students who came to their history courses with stereotypical expectations: they thought they would read a processed account, memorize the salient facts, and regurgitate them on an exam.” No way. That’s no what AMST PIs do. Like Nix’s students at UB, we ask the big questions and do whatever it takes to answer them with the resources and tools available.
All students have (or should have) read my forthcoming article “Preserving Places, Making Spaces in Baltimore” (Journal of Urban History, May 2014), which focuses on Baybrook’s history, for the first week of class. There is also community history produced by residents from 1976 (it’s referenced in the “History of the Curtis Bay Improvement Association: 1962-1977” document I handed out in our last class). You can and should download this community-produced history here. Now that we have some texts as starting points, we need to move the project—the case—further. Everyone has signed up for a topic (or if you missed class I just gave you one). Now we need to find out EVERYTHING we can about our topics.
An excellent guide to research on history (specifically environmental history) can be found on William Cronon’s Learning To Do Historical Research website. Baltimore Heritage has a guide to local history research and UMBC has a guide to Maryland history research (put together by archivist Lindsey Loeper and reference librarian Drew Alfgen). In addition, Mary Rizzo (Public historian for MARCH) has great blog posts on the methodology and epistemology for public humanities.
Now get to work…
Mining the Databases: (you must be on campus or sign in to access the links for the databases below)
Here is the History Subject Guide from the library.
Here are the basic databases with have at UMBC:
WoldCat (UMBC): everything… books, dissertations, images, gov docs, etc.
After WorldCat you will want to search academic journals:
Project MUSE Complete (new) Searchable full-text database of select journals in the humanities and social sciences.
JSTOR: electronic archive of core journals in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
Academic Search Complete (new) Multidisciplinary database providing access to peer-reviewed and general interest journals and magazines; book and film reviews; newspapers; and much more. Includes more full text than our previous version of Academic Search.
Then you want to look for information in the historical collections of newspapers:
Lexis-Nexis (academic) – newspapers, magazines, legal cases, company info, etc.
ProQuest – historical newspapers – At UMBC, we have the Baltimore Sun from 1990-present and New York Times 1851-2008 (the hyperlink takes you to the Sun 1990-present but also check the Times – we have the full NY Times but NOT the Sun at UMBC… unfortunately)
UMBC – Special Collections (we will be visiting later in the semester) There are two instructional videos from Special Collections, both are on the homepage: (thanks to archivist Lindsey Loeper for sending this link)
The first (at the top) gives an overview of the holdings. The second one is linked at the bottom of the page and shows what will happen when we visit Special Collections.
PRIMARY SOURCES: Get a Public Library Card!!! ASAP
Because your UMBC library card does not offer a comprehensive database for local history resources, I advise visiting the Enoch Pratt Library or the Baltimore County Public Library to get a local library card. You must bring your local id. If you are from out of state, you will also need your UMBC id and local address as well. I would recommend visiting the main branch of the Pratt at 400 Cathedral St. in downtown Baltimore. The Maryland Department offers a great selection of local books, articles, great vertical files (clippings), city directories/criss cross directories, Sanborn maps, and other local history resources. It’s an amazing historic building as well.
Once you get your library card you can access the databases listed below. At the Pratt library you can also access Ancestory.com… but you cannot do this off site with your library card, only at the library computers.
START WITH THESE PRIMARY SOURCES: (one you get a card)
Baltimore Sun Historical
The public history PI knows that the web is a great place to find information. You should do the “go-deep” Google search. This is public history PI lingo for an in-depth Google search for your topic. Search the basic terms and by “go deep” I mean read for pages and pages… really delve into what the Internet may hold. You must, of course, use the skepticism of the private/public eye when looking around on the web. Think about the source of the information. But, for the public history PI, everything is relevant… until it isn’t. Also, to “go deep” try a plethora of different search terms—different combos, terms, ideas, etc. You never know where that important tidbit may be lurching or hiding on the massive digital landscape of the web.
Here’s some other websites the private/public history AMST PI may find useful:
Historic Maryland Newspaper Project
Chronicling America: America’s Historic Newspapers
Library of Congress – American Memory Project
Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage – MHS
Ancestory.com – Go to the Pratt library and use it for free
Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI)
The next method we will add to our growing toolkit is oral history research methods. Experienced oral historian Linda Shopes will be visiting us for our next class on Thursday, February 20. To expand up the advice of Peirce Lewis, the “alternation of looking, and reading, and thinking” should also include talking to people.