Research

Perrone Named Jean Chair

In August, 2018, President Steven DiSalvo appointed Professor Sean Perrone of the History Department to serve as the first Robert E. Jean Professor of History and Government for two academic years. This endowed chair was made possible by a generous gift from the estate of Joseph Jean ‘53. The gift honors Joseph’s brother Robert. As part of the appointment, Prof. Perrone will work on a project titled: “Visualizing Historical Data: Opportunities for Students to Hone Historical and Computational Skills.” One Thing After Another sat down with Prof. Perrone to learn more.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the project?

A: My project involves mapping the payment of the ecclesiastical subsidy in sixteenth-century Castile, Spain. That might need a little explanation. Though the clergy were technically exempt from royal taxation, popes regularly granted monarchs a percentage of the ecclesiastical revenues in a given year. The kings then negotiated with their local clergy to determine the actual amount of the subsidy and the terms of payment. After an agreement was reached, clerical elites (e.g., cathedral canons in Castile) apportioned the subsidy among the kingdom’s clergy and arranged for the transfer of monies to royal coffers or directly to the king’s bankers. The local apportionment of the subsidy, however, burdened many clergy, and kings regularly provided discounts to over-assessed institutions, particularly monasteries.

Right now, I am working with students to finish preparing an Excel spread sheet on discounts to monasteries in the ecclesiastical subsidy. This data is culled from handwritten accounts located in the royal archive established by Charles V in 1540 in the castle of Simancas, Spain (see photo above). Over the past several years, I’ve been transposing the pertinent information from the accounts into Excel, and last year, computer science major Dan Kelly ’18 developed an easily searchable master Excel file on monastic discounts with assessment and discount data on individual monasteries as well as their latitude and longitude coordinates. Table 1, is a screenshot showing the assessment and discount data for some Franciscan monasteries. As can be seen in the table, the data is incomplete. We are missing the latitude/longitude coordinates for several monasteries, and the names of some monasteries are uncertain and their location (that is, city) unknown (see yellow highlight). In some cases, we’ve only been able to approximate the location of monasteries, using the coordinates for the city the monasteries were in or nearby (see purple highlight). With over one thousand monasteries receiving discounts between 1523 and 1558, there is a fair amount of material yet to process.

Table 1: Sample of Master Excel file on monastic discounts.

Perrone 2

Once the material is processed, we can upload it into ArcGIS to do spatial analysis. For example, using the incomplete data that we have, two computer science students, Caroline Parsons ‘19 and Pauline Yates ‘19, were able to visualize the percent of taxes discounted for Franciscan friars and nuns between 1544-1546 (see maps 1 and 2).

Map 1: Discounts to Franciscan Monks

Map 2: Discounts to Franciscan Nuns

Q: Why does this project matter?

A: By turning handwritten data into Excel data, this project makes the data more accessible to researchers. Then, even with incomplete data, these initial maps provide the beginnings for spatial analysis. For example, by comparing these initial maps, we can see geographic clustering of female and male houses. There were more Franciscan friars in the northwestern corner of the kingdom (i.e., Galicia) than nuns. We can also see that the area with the highest percentage of tax relief for both male and female Franciscans was in Old Castile (north central portion of the kingdom). The maps also make clear that the female houses received more tax relief than the male houses. But these maps also show errors and gaps in the data. First the errors. On map 1, the circle in Valencia (to the right of the map), and on map 2, the circle in Palma (to the far right of the map), indicate that incorrect latitude/longitude coordinates have been entered into the Excel Spread Sheet, because Valencia and Palma in the Balearic Islands belonged to the crown of Aragon and not the crown of Castile. Second the gaps. The archdiocese of Toledo in the middle of the map is blank. Franciscan friars and nuns lived in the archdiocese, but accounts in the royal archive only indicate the amount that those houses were discounted in the payment period of 1544-1546 and not the amount that they were assessed. Thus, we can’t calculate how much relief these discounts provided houses there. Therefore, the blank space on the map. This underscores a challenge working with the documents – they are often incomplete. In any case, the beauty of ArcGIS is that once we correct the errors and fill in the holes in the datasets, it will be relatively easy to update the maps.

Q: What is the role of students in the project?

A: Student researchers are essential to advance this project. I simply cannot do all the transcriptions and data processing by myself, and much of the progress with mapping made to date has relied heavily on Saint Anselm students. To meet this year’s goal of completing the databases on the ecclesiastical contribution for ArcGIS, I have hired three students. Two history majors, Brodie Deshaies ’21 and Mitch McLaughlin ’19, are currently finding the coordinates of the various monasteries using printed sources and Google Earth. We are hoping to identify the locations of at least 2/3 of the monasteries, which can be challenging as many no longer exist. A Spanish major, Braina Ruiz ’21, is learning paleography to help with transcribing data from the handwritten records (see photo) into Excel. Later in the semester, I hope to recruit some students from Professor Carol Traynor’s CS 210 Introduction to Geographical Information Systems class to help with preparing more maps.

Q: What benefit do students get from this project?

A: Through this research, students will perform vital tasks to advance the project and gain experience doing digital humanities research. Digital humanities is a new field that recognizes sources, tools of study, and methods of distribution far beyond the page or book, integrating computing and digital technologies in the study and spread of humanistic knowledge. All student researchers will develop collaborative skills by working as part of a team, while also honing both historical and computational skills. The skills obtained will vary by student task, but include:

  • becoming familiar with historical data from sixteenth-century Spain, understanding the basic types of primary sources for the project, and learning about transcription and crowd-sourcing
  • organizing data using controlled-vocabulary schemes to develop a process of metadata selection to create databases
  • mapping various data in GIS platform
  • developing content to display as a website or an online article, designing appropriate interface to convey the knowledge easily to users/readers, and allowing users/readers to access the information for their own research
  • using spatial and virtual presentations to interpret the past in conjunction with documents; students will begin to do original research and ideally see how their work contributes to knowledge and moves the historiography forward in an innovative way

Q: Sounds like you and the students are going to be quite busy!

A: The Jean Chair comes with course releases to permit an intense focus on the research and student engagement. The project is connected to the course I am currently teaching on Medieval Spain, and will also connect to a team-taught course on the Digital Humanities next year. Connecting teaching and research is one aspect of the Jean Chair. I’m very grateful to my colleagues and the College for giving me this opportunity. It is a real honor.

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Warth, American Studies, and NH-INBRE

The History Department has two majors —History and American Studies. American Studies is an interdisciplinary major that allows students to learn about the United States from multiple perspectives, including history, literature, politics, art and music, religion, philosophy, sociology, and criminal justice. One Thing After Another sat down with American Studies major Katherine Warth ’21 from Rochester, NY to talk about the major and her summer research project.

Q: What made you decide to be an American Studies major?

A: I’m really interested in American History, but I wanted to be able to take a range of classes in different departments during my time at Saint A’s. The American Studies program allows me to take the American history classes I love while also exploring different fields like sociology, politics, and art history. It’s the perfect fit for someone interested in interdisciplinary studies!

Q: What has been your best experience in the major thus far?  

A: My best experience in the major so far has been being a part of the history department family! All of the professors in the history department are so kind, intelligent, and passionate about history. [One Thing After Another is blushing!] It’s been a true pleasure getting to know them! They all always have open doors to students and are great people to go in and talk to if you need a little extra help with a paper or just want to have a chat.

Q: What do you do when you are not doing classes and research?

A: When I’m not doing classwork or research, you can almost always find me in the lower church working for the choir. Music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, and one of the first things I did after arriving on campus freshman year was audition for choir. I currently work as choir manager so I spend a lot of my time sorting music, preparing paperwork, and designing whiteboards (@sacchoirwhiteboards on instagram). Working and singing for the choir is one of my favorite things I do on campus!

Q: You got paid to do research this summer and presented your findings at a regional conference.  How did you get involved in the project?

A: After taking a social statistics course in Fall 2017, my professor reached out to me to see if I was interested in doing stats for a research project during summer 2018. After learning more about this research project—a statistical analysis of data collected on postpartum depression—I decided to submit a formal application for a NH-INBRE grant. The NH-INBRE program provides undergraduate students in New Hampshire with grants to perform biomedical research both during the academic year and over the summer. After receiving this grant, I officially became a part of a research team of four students and two professors!

Q: What did your research involve?

My research primarily used statistics to analyze data on postpartum depression and other postpartum experiences. Data used for my research was collected by Saint Anselm College nursing professor Dr. Deb McCarter at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire. Analyzing this data meant first transferring women’s responses into a SPSS, a computer statistical analysis program, filing and labeling, categorizing, and giving values for each variable. Next, I conducted descriptive statistics (mean, median, frequency), created graphs (histograms, pie charts), and conducted advanced analysis (Analysis of Variance, Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance).

Q: What were you trying to find out or prove or disprove?

A: In my research, I was trying to prove that women’s experiences with postpartum depression influence their breastfeeding intensity or the number of times a day they breastfeed in comparison to other feedings. I found out that postpartum depression does in fact impact breastfeeding intensity, with women experiencing moderate to high signs of postpartum depression having a significantly lower breastfeeding intensity than women with low signs of postpartum depression. My poster with all of my findings is hanging on the third floor of Gadbois if you’d like to know more!

Q: What impact did your research have on you and what impact do you hope it will have on others?

A: This research had a significant impact on me as a woman who may someday have children, I felt really connected to what I was studying. It also helped me understand what many women go through after giving birth which has equipped me to better support friends or family members through the process. I’m hoping that my research will have an impact on nursing practices, encouraging nurses to do additional screenings for postpartum depression, diagnose, and begin treatment as soon as needed. I also hope that people who see my poster or hear about my research will become more aware of the significance of postpartum depression and the serious consequences it can have on millions of mothers all over the world if left untreated.

Q: Where did you present your research and what was that like?

A: I presented my research at the annual NH-INBRE conference at the Mount Washington Resort this August. I had a great time presenting my work and hearing about other students research at this conference! I got to present at an open poster session, which gave me the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with people about my research and how it’s significant. I got a really positive response from everyone who stopped by! Lots of mothers and fathers came by and shared their own stories about their experience or their partner’s experience with postpartum depression and breastfeeding intensity, which really showed me how my research impacts everyone. Everyone knows someone who’s had a child, and it was great to hear feedback from people who’ve had experiences with childbirth. Hearing other students present their research also inspired me in my own work. Seeing students who are so passionate about the research they’re doing really showed me what the scientific community is all about. Overall, this conference was a wonderful experience that helped me learn a lot about my own research and expanded my knowledge of many other areas of scientific research.

Q: Will you be continuing to do work on this project, or do you have plans to work on another research project?

A: I’m continuing to work on this project during the school year, mostly preparing to present at the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference in South Carolina in March. I also am working on formally writing up the results of my research and sending it to be reviewed for publication so that more people can read about what I did and learn from my research. I also have the honor of working as a research assistant in the history department next semester. I will be doing research with Professor Moore on the post-presidential career of Jimmy Carter, reading and analyzing documents from this time period. I’m very excited to do this research as I’ve been interested in Jimmy Carter since watching Argo in middle school and because it gives me an opportunity to do historical research outside of the classroom!

Q: Other than research, what are you most looking forward to this year at SAC?

A: I’m most looking forward to going on a winter break service and solidarity trip through campus ministry in January. I’m going to Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia with a great group of students, and I’m very excited to have the chance to do service through Saint A’s for part of my winter break.

History Majors Make the Civil War “Legible and Searchable” for the Future

“What is a gabion?”

“Where are the Bolivar Heights?”

“What does ‘N. f. r. A. G. O.’ stand for?

“Is that word ‘gout’?”

These kinds of questions were asked every Friday afternoon around 2:30 in Professor Hugh Dubrulle’s office this semester. Why? Four student research assistants—history majors Caitlin Williamson ‘19, Gregory Valcourt ‘19Lauren Batchelder ‘18, and William Bearce ‘19 (from left to right in the photo above)—prepared materials for the research project that will be assigned in History 352: The American Civil War and Reconstruction which Dubrulle will teach next semester (Spring 2018). This project will require students in the course to do research on the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry and write papers explaining the degree to which the regiment’s experiences match up with what current Civil War historiography claims about a variety of topics. These topics will include studies of the regiment’s participation in various battles and biographies of its leading officers. Other papers will look at topics such as desertion, politics, discipline, leadership, recruitment, medicine, and so on.

Why choose the 5th New Hampshire? Dubrulle says there are several reasons: “First, it lost more combat fatalities over the course of the Civil War than any other unit in Federal service. We ought to remember and honor this distinction, but it also raises the following question: what made it possible for this regiment, which was a typical product of its time and place, to compile such an outstanding service record? Second, much primary source material is easily available in local archives or online. Third, there are some excellent secondary sources about the unit in print, particularly Mike Pride and Mark Travis’ My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth (2001).”

Williamson, Batchelder, Valcourt, and Bearce assisted Dubrulle with a number of important tasks, including transcribing letters and entering information from regimental service records into a searchable database. As Valcourt put it, their job consisted of making “the past legible and searchable for the future.” Williamson and Batchelder first transcribed the letters (34 of them) of Pvt. Miles Peabody (born and raised in Antrim, NH) who enlisted in Co. K of the 5th New Hampshire in 1861 at the age of 21. Williamson and Batchelder then moved on to transcribe selected portions of Lieut.-Col. James E. Larkin’s correspondence. A coach painter from Concord, NH, Larkin was mustered in as a 1st Lieut. when the regiment was organized in October 1861. He eventually became the commander of the unit in June 1864.

Both Batchelder and Williamson enjoyed getting to know Peabody and Larkin through their letters. Williamson commented that “I became really attached to the soldiers while reading their correspondence! I felt for them and found myself really invested in their stories that were told over a century ago.” Batchelder also felt an affinity for the men whose letters she read. On occasion, however, she was startled by what they wrote: “A lot of people assume that the Northerners were ‘the good guys,’ but there were times when I transcribed the letters and I would see these people fighting for the Union making a racist comment or saying something completely unexpected.” Such moments made her realize that while she shared a common humanity with these soldiers, they lived in a very different world.

Although Batchelder noted that “some people have the messiest handwriting,” Williamson pointed out that reading handwriting was actually affecting: “There is a lot of emotion in these letters, and much of it is expressed in the handwriting.” Not only that, Williamson felt that reading the letters helped illuminate Civil War history in a striking way that other sources could not. As she put it, the correspondence allowed her to study the conflict more broadly than one might have thought. The letters show “what they [the soldiers] were eating, what they were doing with their time, how they slept, what the weather was like, their experience on the battlefield—along with other important moments, all seen from different perspectives.”

Meanwhile, Bearce and Valcourt scoured Augustus D. Ayling’s Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1866 (1895) for the abbreviated service records of all the men who served in the 5th New Hampshire during the war. They then transferred this information to an Excel spreadsheet that is both searchable and sortable. Arrayed in this fashion, the data can yield all sorts of interesting patterns. For instance, Bearce quickly noticed that substitutes and foreign-born soldiers seemed much more likely to desert than volunteers and the native-born. Valcourt was stunned by the large number of casualties the regiment lost in the last days of the war at the Battle of Farmville (otherwise known as the Battle of High Bridge)—a fight he’d never heard of. Both research assistants recognized that intriguing trends in the data could prove very useful to students writing papers on any number of topics. At the same time, Bearce also saw that the “the quantitative information [from the database] complements the qualitative data from the transcription of letters.” Among other things, “one can use the service records to contextualize the letters and vice versa.” Valcourt was struck by the strange stories “and colorful cast of characters” that seemed to emerge from the spare notes of the abbreviated service records. His favorite person was Oliver Grapes, an original volunteer in the regiment who deserted in July 1863 and, using the alias Oliver Vine, volunteered the next month as a Wagoner in the 3rd Maryland Volunteer Infantry. As Valcourt explained it, “you learn about the ‘small’ people in order to understand ‘big’ people and events.” At the end of the day, though, through the exercise of data entry, Bearce learned how “quantitative history can be, and how the quantitative aspects of history comes to be.” And, of course, both Bearce and Valcourt brushed up on their Excel skills.

Throughout the semester, all of the research assistants were intrigued with finding out “the rest of the story.” Batchelder and Williamson were crushed to learn that Peabody died of illness in November 1864 near Alexandria, VA. They were relieved to learn, however, that Larkin survived the war. Unfortunately, as a result of his military service, he suffered from ill-health, particularly rheumatism, for the rest of his life. Larkin floated between a number of jobs before dying in 1911. From his very different perspective of having dealt with the service records, Bearce was interested in finding out what happened after the war to the soldiers he studied. Noting that Ayling’s Revised Register had addresses for many veterans who had survived to 1895, Bearce stated, “I would really like someone to take on the challenge of doing research using the post office addresses listed in the registry for some purpose. These just seem absolutely tantalizing to me, and I think a paper trying to find out how people adjusted after the war would be very interesting.” One can only hope that future students working with these sources will take on that challenge as well as some of the others presented by the material.

And by the way, what are the answers to the questions above? A gabion is a wicker basket filled with earth and used to shore up fortifications. Bolivar Heights overlooks the town of Harper’s Ferry in what is now West Virginia. “N. f. r. A. G. O.” stands for “No further record Adjutant General’s Office, Washington DC.” And yes, the word in the letter was “gout.”

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Labbe and Miller Transcribe the Kimball Diaries

Psychology major and History minor Lisette Labbé ’18 (left) and History major Dena Miller ’20 (right) spent part of their semester in the Saint Anselm College Archives transcribing the 1891-1892 diary of Edwin C.H. Kimball.  One Thing After Another caught up with them to learn more about this campus history project.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the project and how you got involved?

Dena and Lisette:  We are working on producing a literal transcription of the Edwin C.H. Kimball Diaries. Kimball recorded his day-to-day activities from January 1891 to December 1894. For our class project, we are focusing on the 1891-1892 diary. The ultimate goal of the project is to transcribe and digitally scan both diaries to have original pages of the dairies aligned with their transcriptions for viewing on the web.  We were both interested in being involved with the history of Saint Anselm College. So we chose this project as the final project in our History 363: Public History course.

Q: So, what did you know about Edwin C.H. Kimball when you started, or what have you learned about him?

Lisette: I did not even know he was a young farmer of 23 until about 20 pages into the diary. I assumed that he was much older and a parent based on how serious he was and his involvement in local and national politics. After reading further into the diary, it appears that he had a mother, a father, and a sister named Ethel. He was also unmarried. He was very interested in politics and would report voting rankings of political candidates from local and national elections. He would also report events that happened nationally which made me wonder if this was information he learned from his visitors who would stay at his family’s inn. He did not seem to deal much with the inn, focusing most of his efforts on the farm. It was interesting to see him interact with the Monks of the college as he was not Catholic but perhaps Baptist.

Dena:  I get the impression that Kimball was a very intelligent man. So much so that I did not even realize how young he was when I started reading his diary. I would have sworn that the diary was written by someone in his 40’s until he mentioned celebrating his 23rd birthday. Despite this initial confusion, I feel that as the project progressed I got a clear picture of who Kimball was. Kimball seemed to be a very family-oriented young man, judging by the amount of work he did for his family on their farm and in their house. Along that same line, he also seemed to care deeply about his community and his neighbors, since he spent hours a day working on their behalf, especially for Rev. Fr. Hugo Paff, O.S.B. Kimball also seemed to be very interested in politics, both local and national. Overall, my impression of Kimball is positive and I think that, judging by his political interests and community sensibilities, he would fit right in on the Saint Anselm College campus today.

Q: So, no juicy details in these diaries?

Lisette:  The psychology major in me wants to know more about the man behind the diary. But I have learned from this project that his diary was more of a journal or a records book than what we view as a diary in the 21st century.

Dena:  The Kimball family owned the property on Shirley Hill Road that was once used as an entrance to the College. Kimball recorded in his diaries the comings and goings of friends, family, and guests at his family’s inn and boarding house, the Maplewood Farm. Kimball also recorded his economic exchanges with the Monks of the college, usually days spent plowing or haying the monastic fields.  These diaries are essential to the school’s history because they are the only primary documents that recorded the fire that burned down the only college building where Alumni Hall is located in 1892.  But we only got through 1891, so we did not get to read that part!

Q: What does an average day of transcription look like?

Dena and Lisette:  So one of us will go into the Archives and typically Keith has printed out the other person’s transcriptions for us to edit. We will edit them by looking at the original document to check for errors, like a missed or an accidently capitalized letter. Afterwards, there may be edits on our own transcriptions for us to review and fix in the transcription document. So we would have to look at our partner’s edits and the diary to cross-compare before fixing the errors on the transcription document. There is also a working log where we post comments, questions and concerns for our partner, such as “what do you think this word is on page 54 line 4?” After all these steps are done we start transcribing again. If we have any questions, we typically ask Keith, or just text each other.

Q:  That is a lot of detail work! What skills do you think you have acquired through this work?

Dena and Lisette:  We learned how to transcribe exactly from a handwritten source to a digital file, which requires careful detail orientation, an understanding of cursive, and specialized knowledge of Microsoft Word. We also learned many other work-flow and project management skills. The diaries needed to stay in the College Archives, and digital pictures and copies could not be made. Hence, we had to go into the archives to do the transcriptions with the College Archivist, Keith Chevalier. Unfortunately, we could not go in at the same time because we were both working on the same diary and the same transcription document. As a result, we had to learn to schedule shifts around our three different schedules. Because of this problem, we learned how to collaborate as a team, even when the team was never in the same place at the same time. We also learned how to create a transcription and editing log to track our work as well as a style and process guide to help those who come after us maintain a consistent transcribing process.

Q:  You make it sound pretty easy. What obstacles did you encounter?

Dena and Lisette:  One of the major obstacle we have is his handwriting. Kimball forms his letters in very confusing way, where letters could look very different on different pages or pieces of the letters could look like punctuation. For example, when he writes an “a”, it often looks like “,a” because he connects the beginning of the letter to the line on the paper. This has caused confusion and in some cases has made punctuation a judgement call. Other obstacles that we’ve found is that he misspells words and we often find ourselves writing the correct word instead of the literal transcription of his misspelled word.

Q:  What do you think is important about your project? 

Dena and Lisette:  This project is important to the college’s history because we are preserving essential parts of the early life of the college. We are also working towards having the diaries online for the public to view. This initial process is to have the metadata of each page image. Metadata is data that describes and gives information about other data. We have created a catalogue record of each page. Ultimately, when each page of the diary is uploaded, typing keywords will cause all relevant pages and items to appear. These transcriptions are just the first step towards this major archival project.

Q:  So what are possible next steps for continuing this project?

Dena and Lisette: There are many ways in which future students could expand upon the work we have done. First they could continue the transcription—there are three more years to go!  After that, they could create annotations within the text of the diary. Annotations could be used to give context for the people and the situations that he describes in the diary. For example, annotations could shine a light on the political importance of James G. Blaine [a congressman and senator from Maine who was the Republican nominee for president in 1884; he served as secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison from 1889 to 1892], who was mentioned many times. Another way that the project could be expanded upon would be the creation of a searchable index. If a future researcher wants to find all the times that a name or a term is mentioned in the diary (for example, Ethel), the index would refer the researcher to every mention of her name. This index could be expanded even further to include the misspelled versions of common words that would typically be left out of a common search because it was misspelled.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Sigman Does Summer Research in African History

Over the summer, Professor Sarah Hardin took on Becky Sigman ’19 as a research assistant. We asked Sigman, who majors in Peace and Justice while minoring in French, to tell One Thing after Another something about her experience. Starting this fall, the History Department will be making much greater use of research assistants than in the past, so you might want to read about what Sigman thought of her summer work.


Last year, I took Professor Hardin’s course, History 391: History of Southern Africa. After speaking with her several times about her area of expertise—the role of agriculture in the lives of West Africans—I decided that I wanted to learn more. The idea of doing research with a professor appealed to me because I thought it would be a great way to learn about academic research, increase my knowledge about an issue that I was interested in, and develop a closer relationship with a great mentor in the field. Professor Hardin needed a research assistant, so together we identified our plan of action. Lucky for me, I learned that one of my research responsibilities would consist of translating documents from French into English, which allowed me to expand my French vocabulary and increase my fluency. We started applying for funding, and through the generosity of the Dean’s Office, I was able to assist Professor Hardin in her research for four weeks over the summer.

Throughout those four weeks, I was responsible for translating, summarizing, and analyzing reports from France and francophone African countries. For years, Professor Hardin has been collecting documents to investigate the repercussions of pesticides and herbicides used for cotton production in West Africa between the 1950s and 1980s. She wants to learn what agricultural agents knew about the dangers of the chemicals they used (and when they knew it). She gave me reports and transcripts of meetings in which agents discussed the issues they encountered. Below is an advertisement from the trade journal Coton et Fibres Tropicales which is dated 1970:


Translation:
Gésaten: yields are assured with this cotton herbicide
A Geigy treatment is appropriate for all of your problems
Widespread applicability: Gesaten eliminates the first sprouting of grass and dicotyledons
Easy to use: Gesaten can be applied through simple spraying techniques or through a spraying with sand without burying the product
Safety: Used in prescribed conditions, Geasaten will not harm your cotton crop and does not present any toxic risk for humans
Geigy société anonyme, 43 rue Vineuse, 75-Paris 16e

Professor Hardin was extremely insightful and patient throughout the process, meeting with me a few times each week to give me feedback on the work I’d completed and helping me through confusing vocabulary or concepts. What I found the most helpful is that she would continuously draw connections between specific documents and the larger goal of her thesis, which made me feel like the work I was doing was valuable. In the transcripts, we found that in the 1950s some chemicals accidentally killed goats, birds, dogs, and fish, and harmed humans, but that the agents seemed to take human labor for granted and only advised that people follow instructions carefully. In the 1970s, however, the agents began to express more concern about environmental damages and human health over the long term. Professor Hardin proposes that economic and political factors contributed to this change.

I would highly recommend doing research with a professor whose area of interest lines up with yours if you are interested in improving your writing and analysis skills, gaining a better understanding of how the academic research process works, or generally expanding your knowledge about a specific topic.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Professor Hardin’s Research Trip to Senegal

Hardin in Senegal 2016

NOTE: To see the photos referred to in this post, go here.

Professor Hardin’s recent four-week research trip to Senegal was productive.  She interviewed twenty-two individuals in six municipalities about the history of the southeastern region of the country, particularly how people there cultivated cotton in the 1970s (see photos 407, 421 and 422).  Cotton production was remarkably profitable, but it required the use of strong pesticides. Interviewees discussed the ways they dealt with the toxic chemicals and why they found the work worthwhile at the time, but that now they would appreciate less dangerous and more lucrative economic opportunities.  Interviewees cultivated cotton and other crops with and for their families. Individuals of both noble and slave descent gained and lost with cotton production as the industry ebbed and flowed.

Professor Hardin also interviewed a bambaaɗo (a griot or traditional oral historian) about the nineteenth-century history of the region as well as a few traditional healers about their work. These men and women, including Professor Hardin’s interpreter, Aminata Kaba (see photos 456 and 464), continue to treat patients using plants and other means.  This research will inform Professor Hardin’s course on the history of African health and healing.

The timing of Professor Hardin’s trip was fortuitous. The National Archives of Senegal had been closed for the last two years for building renovations. A few days before she was scheduled to depart the country, however, the archives reopened in a new location in Dakar, and she was able to see a few documents (see photos 620-622).

From the hustle and bustle of the capital city to the pressing urgency to prepare fields for the coming rains in the countryside, Professor Hardin witnessed the range of Senegalese life. In the heat of late May and early June, young people were preparing for final exams despite their teachers’ strike. Teachers are asking the government to respect their contracts though the government has threatened to dismiss them. Teachers debated whether they should continue to go without their contracted salaries for the sake of the nation’s children or whether they should press the government to decrease the number of ministers making large sums. See this opinion piece published in Le Quotidien by Professor Hardin’s friend, Cheikh Kaling, who also holds a doctorate in history and trains some of Senegal’s history and geography teachers at the College of the Science and Technology of Education and Training  [Faculté des Sciences et Technologies de l’Education et de la Formation (FASTEF)] at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar:

http://www.lequotidien.sn/index.php/opinions-debats/des-menaces-illegitimes-sur-les-enseignants-a-l-heure-du-dialogue-national

While education remains a long-contested sector, so too is agriculture. In May the director of the Company for Development and Textile Fibers (Société de Développement et des Fibres Textiles or SODEFITEX) visited remote towns to drum up enthusiasm for the impending cotton campaign, as well as for the production of corn, millet, sunflowers, hibiscus, rice, and sesame. Such outreach is necessary given that agriculture has not paid much for over a decade, many farmers are deeply indebted financially, rains have not been regular, and labor is scarce.  Some tractors are currently being brought in, but some people are skeptical of the economic impact the technology will ultimately have.

Almost every family has someone living in Dakar and/or abroad who sends money back from as far away as Congo-Brazzaville, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the USA . Since the 1970s, remittances have been one of the largest sources of revenue for the area.  But migration is dangerous and people sometimes die trying to get to Europe. See this article on Tambacounda which is on the way to Vélingara:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34060931

See also photo 404 from Professor Hardin’s host family’s home in Vélingara. It’s of a blackboard for the private tutorial of the eleven-year-old nephew.  It’s a dictation on “a stowaway” which teaches not only the French language but also the dangers of migration.

Traveling through Tambacounda to and from Vélingara in the Upper Casamance region of southeastern Senegal in late May, Professor Hardin saw fields being cleared by controlled burns. The remaining ash makes good fertilizer (see photos 410, 411, and 384). The burns were just in time too, since it rained in Vélingara for the first time for the season on the night of Friday May 27, 2016.

Vélingara is a town of over 25,000 people that feels like, in the words of someone born there, a “giant neighborhood.” Everyone knows everyone, people visit each other’s houses regularly and kids play in the streets.  The vast majority of buildings are one-story; there is one gas station, one bus station, one bank (along with several money transfer offices where people pickup remittances), one post office, one large market, a cotton gin factory, one tourist motel and now two paved roads.  Daily life centers around the market, the schools, the mosques, the bus station, and the health clinic. Common ailments for children are malaria and diarrhea while older adults suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, and respiratory infections.

Hope springs eternal due to the recently paved road in town, dubbed the “road of Macky Sall” (the new president). The Compaganie Sahélienne d’Entreprises (CSE) which is paving the roads between Vélingara and other major cities is hiring some men locally, another cause for optimism.  From Vélingara, Professor Hardin took the paved road to Médina Gounass and Linkéring, and took a dirt road to Wassadou, to do interviews. Each trip took over an hour but on the way to Wassadou Professor Hardin was able to stop and take pictures of the industrial rice field and the anti-AIDS sign near the border with Guinea-Bissau (see photos 442, 444, and 426—on the road to Wassadou. Agence de Gestion des Routes or AGEROUTE: “Let’s open the roads for development, but bar the road to AIDS.”) Cross-border trade is long-standing and essential to the region’s economy, but prostitution at the major market towns increases the rates of STDs.  Despite these dangers, the state of health and health care in Senegal is better than in some of its neighboring countries.

Professor Hardin’s trip ended during the first week of Ramadan. Before it started, she saw on T.V. Arabic music videos and commercials celebrating the season. The day people began fasting in Senegal depended on whether they chose to start with people in Saudi Arabia or follow local clerics who decided based on how they saw the moon there. The daily schedule then changed with some people rising earlier than usual to drink water and eat a few dates before the sun rose at 7:00 AM; they would not eat or drink water until the sun set at 7:40 PM, at which point they would have their breakfast of coffee, a sandwich, and dates, followed by dinner at 9:30 PM, followed in turn by ataya, sugared gunpowder tea.  Of course these meals and the day was interspersed by prayers at 6:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 4:30 PM, 7:30 PM, and 9:00 PM.  Since people tended to go to bed late and get up early, those who could take a nap in the late afternoon did. Children, the elderly, the ill, and Professor Hardin, however, ate breakfast and lunch at regular hours.

In Senegal’s cities and towns, one hears the calls to prayer from mosques; the sounds of cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens; the honks of horns from trucks and cars; and most often people greeting one another. Salaam alaikum!

History 359 Discovers the History of Women

History 359 Class

This semester Professor Beth Salerno’s American Women’s History class took part in a national research project. Each student chose a militant suffragist from a newly created database of 400 white women mentioned in the National Woman’s Party newspaper The Suffragist. The students’ biographical sketches and research notes will be published in the Women and Social Movements Database to which hundreds of academic libraries subscribe. One Thing After Another asked the students to reflect on their research experience for this blog entry.

At the beginning of the project, each student or team of two chose a militant suffragist from the database. These were women who picketed the White House during World War I, were arrested in demonstrations, donated to or worked for the cause, or served as a state officer for the National Woman’s Party. Despite starting out with nothing but a name, a home state, and perhaps a word or two describing the woman’s involvement, most students assumed this would be an easy task. As junior history major Eric Soucy said, “I have done many research projects before in the past. . . . None of the research [for those projects] was . . . very hard to find. A simple WorldCat or JSTOR search . . . almost always resulted in a couple hundred relevant articles.”

HI 359 Olzendam

Eric Soucy and Chris Griebel did research on Miss Therese Olzendam who is pictured here.  

However, the students rapidly discovered that they were the first researchers ever to study most of these women. Junior history major Whitney Hammond gave humorous expression to her shock: “I did not understand how I could possibly write a report about someone who did not have at least a Wikipedia page.” Even women who were famous in their time, socializing with Governors and testifying before Senators, seemed completely unknown today. As junior history and politics major Emily Rice wrote, “It was enlightening . . . to learn how quickly a woman can fall through the cracks of history.” Junior politics major Chris Cardona summed up the feelings of the group when he stated, “Researching a historically important figure may seem like a click away on Google, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

HI 359 mackaye loc

Marisa Feijoo and Lily-Gre Hitchen did research on Mrs. Jessie Belle Hardy Stubbs MacKaye who is pictured here. 

Because the students have been studying women’s history all semester, they had a good sense that certain topics and groups of citizens are far less present in history books than others. But this project brought that point home more clearly than any lecture or book. As first year student Tessa Sances noted, “Women suffragists were not often documented and the work they did was not seen as worthy.” Even websites and textbooks that discuss the extension of voting to women often do so very generally, not providing information on the diverse women who took real risks by advocating such an unpopular cause. As she struggled to find information on her person, Senior English major Hannah Galluci found herself getting angry “at how easily a person’s life can be forgotten or glossed over just because they were active in something that was not deemed acceptable.”  Hannah also learned how even objective facts can be shaped by social expectations. Her person held multiple offices in suffrage organizations and even went on a speaking tour. However her census record listed “no occupation” since suffrage “work” was rarely paid.

Every student noted that the dearth of information greatly improved their research skills. As junior history major Ryan Parenteau wrote, “This project forced me to dig much deeper and find sources I would not normally use like birth and death records.” Sophomore history major Erika Ellis noted that her group had to sort out Sally and Sallie Hovey, who were two different women. Senior English major Kelsey Fair struggled with a woman who was mentioned only once in the suffragist newspaper. She turned out to have “impacted tens of thousands of lives [through] her involvement in the Children’s Year campaign and in her thirty-year term as a headmistress.” Her suffrage activity ended up being a minor part of her life.

History 359 bliss finley pic

Alexis LaBrie and Whitney Hammond did research on Miss Bliss Finley who is pictured here. 

Multiple students suddenly became aware how marriage might make researching women particularly difficult. Senior English major Marisa Feijoo and sophomore history major Lily-Gre Hitchen chose Mrs. Benton MacKaye from the database. It took weeks to piece together that Mrs. Benton MacKaye had been Miss Jessie Belle Hardy, then Mrs. Jessie Hardy Stubbs, and only late in life Mrs. Benton MacKaye. Lily-Gre noted that prior to this project she had been “a little intimidated by the multiple library databases.” After doing multiple searches on each of Jessie Belle Hardy Stubbs MacKaye’s names, it is not surprising that she reported “I will be able to use them confidently in the future.”

Many of the students learned to love geneaology as part of this project, as senior history major Chris Griebel did. “I took great pleasure in researching her family’s past.” Almost every student could find more information on husbands, brothers, and sons, than on the women they were studying. Class discussions made clear that some groups were having far more luck than others in tracing genealogies, which had to do with economic class. Upper and middle class women were far more likely to have published family records or business records of prominent family enterprises.

But genealogies also turned up three research problems for students. As first year history major Sarah Hummel noted, “Our woman’s daughter possessed the same exact name as our militant suffragist. Thus actions . . . could have just as easily referred to daughter as the mother.” Hannah Galluci found conflicting sources, some of which listed two women as sisters, others of which did not. Sophomore psychology major Lisette Labbé found the hardest part of geneaological research was “not to get too distracted by little rabbit trails . . . it was difficult to stay on task at some points [when there was so much more to know.]”

Many students found that doing such intense research really made them invested in the project. Senior Communication major Jane Bunn came to feel a real sense of historical duty: “I felt this burden of responsibility to get everything right, to leave no stone unturned, and to record [my person’s] triumphs with the diligence they deserved.” Junior history major Alexis LaBrie hoped “we did [our person’s] memory justice.” First year student Lauren Batchelder shared a last name with her subject and became quite attached to her: “I see her as someone I want to be; she is almost an accidental role model.” Many students have unanswered questions. First year students Caitlin Williamson and Haley Zahn still have no idea when or where their subject died. Perhaps a second marriage caused a name change they have not yet been able to trace?

The collaborative research process, usually done in pairs, led many students to find new value in “group work” which many of them had previously avoided. As first year student Tessa Sances summed up, working collaboratively “helped me learn how to deal with miscommunications and differences . . . I learned a lot about myself and how I work with others.” Jane Bunn thought working in a group was “the second best part of the project.” Haley Zahn was grateful to have someone “to ask questions, compare my work to, and…understand the difficulties this project entailed.”

HI 359 Shaw

Sarah Hummel and Lisette Labbe did research on Mrs. Lois Warren Shaw who is pictured here. 

Being responsible to someone else, to the historical record, and to the organization publishing the project all pushed students to do their best work. Ryan Parenteau spoken for many when he said he enjoyed doing research that “might actually matter.” Lily-Gre Hitchen is “interested to see if a historian picks up where we left off, and writes more about [these women].”

We list here the names of the women we studied for the historical record: Miss Bliss Finley, Mrs. Jessie Belle Hardy Stubbs MacKaye, Mrs. Elizabeth Darrow O’Neil, Mrs. Mary Darrow Weible, Miss Harriet L. Hunt, Mrs. Beatrice Castleton, Marie (Minna) Shein Bodenheim, Mrs. Lois Warren Shaw, Miss Ann Batchelder, Miss Sallie V. Hovey, Miss Therese Olzendam.

History 359 Class Celebrating

History 359 celebrates completion of the project.