Probing the Boundaries of Historical Sources & Narratives.

Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 11:19 am

For ten weeks during the summer of 2013, Meg Rudy '14 and Isaiah Tyree '15 examined archival documents related to Professor Paul Lacson’s research on the Dakota peoples during the mid-nineteenth century. His work examines the history of the Dakota Indian diaspora out of Minnesota after the Dakota-US War of 1862 into Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Canada (Saskatchewan and Manitoba). As part of that project, Meg and Isaiah mined the correspondence of Protestant missionaries for sources that shed light on the role of written documents in the political, religious, and economic life of Dakota Indian communities within Minnesota. As part of this MAP, Meg, Isaiah, and Professor Lacson spent three weeks in Minnesota commuting from their dorms at the University of Minnesota to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). Each day, Meg and Isaiah hauled their laptops and digital cameras to MHS and photographed hundreds of documents related to the Dakota Indian incorporation of the written word. Using Omeka, a web-based publishing platform, Meg and Isaiah produced a digital library of high resolution photographs that introduces researchers to significance of the written word in Dakota communities during the mid-nineteenth century, just prior to the Dakota diaspora out of Minnesota. For now, Professor Lacson is the main audience for their library, but in the future Lacson will work with MAP students to build on the solid foundation laid by Meg and Isaiah to make the digital library available to the general public.

The methodological possibilities of digital media also informs the work of Professor of History Sarah Purcell ’92, who worked with three MAP students in the summer of 2013 on projects that explored the connections between the Digital Humanities and scholarship on the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction. These summer projects all show the promise of digital research methods in history and digital forms of presenting historical research:

  • An interactive website that charts Iowa casualties at the Battle of Shiloh to refute previous received wisdom about the progress of the battle
  • A social network analysis that visually maps the intersections between attendees at Know Nothing Party conventions and the Republican Party conventions in the 1850s to show how one party influenced the other
  • A geographical analysis of Iowa railroad development that maps the growth of the Chicago & Northwestern line and its relationship to transcontinental lines

The group of four worked through recent debates about digital methods and how history and the Digital Humanities could best intersect. Professor Purcell uses digital tools, including database analysis and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, in her research on Civil War funerals, and she has published in on-line journals. In addition to discussions about the theories and methods of digital work in history, Purcell’s students explored a variety of software applications that can aid in historical analysis.

  • Connor Schake ’14 used an open-source software program called Time Map to create his analytical web map of the Battle of Shiloh.
  • Hayes Gardner ’15 did cutting edge social network analysis using a program called NodeXL to scrutinize the connections among political party meeting attendees in the 1850s.
  • Evan Ma ’14, who is continuing his research into the fall semester, is exploring various geographical analysis tools, including GIS, to analyze Iowa railroad development in the 1860s and 70s.

Purcell and her students learned that while they are no replacement for the wide array of more traditional primary sources that historians rely on (newspapers, regimental histories, railroad corporate reports, pamphlets, letter collections, etc.), digital tools can help researchers to find interesting answers to well-formed historical questions. Purcell and her students also came to value scholarly collaboration, as they learned from one another, from other faculty, librarians, and technical experts on campus, and even as they consulted online with historians and software experts located around the world.

Finally, moving from visual and spatial to audial culture, six students participated in a group MAP centered around Professor Kelly Maynard's current book project, Hearing Wagner in France. Designed to fill in historiographical and research holes between a PhD dissertation and a full-length monograph, the MAPs centered on three areas: recent historical scholarship on France at the fin-de-siècle, current literature on neurology and cultural critiques of music, and primary source research into the reception of Wagner in the French press, 1900-1914. In addition to preparing weekly reports and comprehensive annotated bibliographies on work in these areas, students developed seminar-length research projects of their own devising with exciting results (see below). Students will present their findings in on-campus venues during the fall semester of 2013 and have submitted their work to academic conferences and undergraduate publications across the country and in multiple academic disciplines. Stay tuned!

Colin Fry '14, Biochemistry and Neuroscience Concentration, assessed the current literature and applications of melodic intonation therapy (MIT) for the treatment of a number of neurological conditions including post-stroke non-fluent aphasia. Stemming from this research, Fry designed an experimental protocol for the use of such therapies for sufferers of schizophasia.

Victor Kyerematen '14, English, traced current scholarship addressing the influence of Wagner’s dramatic texts and practices on cinema in the early twentieth century. Taking up some of the major theorists and music critics of Wagner’s work including Hanslick. Nietzsche, and Adorno, Kyerematen suggested that both film scholars AND philosophers of music have inappropriately dismissed or underestimated the importance of expressive modes rooted in Aristotle and ancient Greek drama for explaining the impact of both Wagnerian and cinematic experiences.

Andrea Lakiotis '15, English and French and Arabic, worked on the pseudonymic books of music criticism published in the 1890s by the literary figure Henri Gauthier-Villars, under the guise of both Willy, a fictional male character, and l’Oeuvreuse, a fictional working class female usher at musical concerts. Lakiotis’s analysis revealed stark and unexpected differences in musical expertise, social attitudes, and treatment of Wagner in the voices of both authors. She also demonstrated significant shifts in the very practice of musical criticism through the fin-de-siècle.

Sami Rebein '14, History, worked on Max Nordau’s controversial 1890s book Degeneration, a critique of modern French society, arts and culture through the lens of medical diagnoses. She found that the major buzz in the book’s French reception did NOT center on the identity of the author (a German Jew) as one might expect in France at the end of the century. Instead, the book generated the most attention primarily in Catholic, philosophical, and scientific fields. Ultimately Rebein identified an important muddling of the supposed divide between science and religion in French thought at the fin-de-siècle.

Liz Sawka '15, History, concentrated upon the official separation of church and state in France in 1905, examining the treatment of the legislative process in key newspapers of the period in light of sharp tensions between religious and scientific authority. She did a comparative analysis of Socialist, Catholic, and Republican papers to determine to what extent and in what ways the legislative process was informed by extra-political debates among these three major constituencies of the Third Republic.

Chloe Yates '14, Political Science and French and Arabic, worked on the French literary figure Romain Rolland and the ways in which his cultural politics borrowed from and adapted Richard Wagner’s early political writings. Although Wagner’s influence in France declined markedly in the first decades of the twentieth century, ultimately Rolland’s approach served as an intellectual bridge to Russian cultural circles, where the heavily socialist leanings of Wagner’s works were reappropriated in a post-revolutionary context.