I want to open with a correction to last month’s entry. The name of Edna B. Friedberg is incorrect. It is spelled “Edna B. Freiberg,” who is the author of Bayou St. John in Colonial Louisiana. Tulane’s Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) has not only Freiberg’s map mentioned in the previous post, but her documents and notes, Edna B. Freiberg Papers (LaRC, Manuscript Collection 892) as well. This collection is comprised of her entire working file for her book, Bayou St. John in Colonial Louisiana, including a complete rough draft of her book and a number of maps.
As I prepare for Thursday’s lecture at the Old U. S. Mint, hosted by the Friends of the Cabildo, I decided to use this month’s post to describe the historical process. The historical process are the steps taken by a historian to prepare a history of various types (books, journal articles, lectures, documentaries, websites, etc.) I find that Dr. Katherine Bankole-Medina’s podcast is probably the best and simplest breakdown explaining the historical process.
According to Dr. Katherine Bankole-Medina of Coppin State University (in Baltimore, MD), this process includes five steps—research, organization, analysis, interpretation and communication. I will be using the ArtEgg history project as examples of these steps.
Research is pretty self-explanatory. Research includes collecting copies of primary documentation (items produced at the time), which includes maps, municipal records such as acts of sale and newspapers. In order to better understand the primary documents collected, it is necessary to gather secondary information such as books like Bienville’s Dilemma by Richard Campanella or John Churchill Chase’s “Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans or journal articles such as Solomon Wolff’s “Public Service Corporations of New Orleans” or “The Plantation of the Company of the Indies,” by Samuel Wilson, Jr. I find that this process of collection continues throughout the entire process of preparing a history.
Organization is imposed from the very beginning of a project. I automatically begin a series of file folders that are designated by subject. Sometimes the folder is a mix of primary documentation and secondary information, but some files are dedicated to either a primary or secondary source if the source is large enough to justify an independent file. For example, I initially started a file, “Property Owners.” As my research continued, I collected enough information on the various property owners to justify creating an individual file for each owner.
Analysis is part of the research process, which likewise starts at the inauguration of a new project. Not only does a historian (or any researcher) evaluate sources, preferring materials produced by reputable publishers such as the Center for Louisiana Studies or Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, rather than a Wikipedia entry, but the historian also examines and probes the sources collected, asking questions. I look at the various maps of New Orleans I have collected, inquiring, “Where is ArtEgg?”
Interpretation occurs when a historian synthesizes primary and secondary into a cohesive whole, such as a lecture or an article. This allows the historian a chance to communicate his or her findings to the public. I’ll be disclosing the latest developments in the ArtEgg history project this Thursday, November 8th at the U. S. Mint (400 Esplanade Avenue) at 6 pm.