To Kill a Habsburg: An Explanation of Historiography

by James Rucker

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered why people continue to write new history books about very old topics, and why libraries need to buy them? Once something happens, it doesn’t change, right? So why can’t we just read old books about it and be done with it? In today’s post, James explains how historiography–or the study of historical writing–has changed over time, and how various approaches to history differ. –Brittney Reed-Saltz

Like any trained professionals, historians have a history, and there are two watershed moments where we could start telling it. The first is in ancient Greece, with Herodotus. Renouncing the authority of myth and legend, he embarked on a self-critical pursuit of knowledge. When interviewing witnesses to the events, he did what any good attorney does to a witness in a court of law: He cross-examined them. He called his book Inquiries. (The ancient Greek word was ‘istoriai, the root of our modern word “history.” Modern translations just call the book Histories.) For our purposes, it doesn’t matter whether Inquiries is entirely free of errors or assumptions; it quite obviously isn’t. What matters is it represents an undeniable and fundamental shift in the concept of historical truth: It is not something to be related, it is something to be discovered. This attitude has generally characterized historians ever since.

The history of history-writing (historiography) since the Inquiries has taken many forms.

Read More »

Library Cookbooks: Savings to be Thankful For

by Kathleen Tyree

I am thankful for the vast and ever-changing collection of cookbooks in our library system.  Cooking has always been passion for me. Mom went through a nouveau cuisine phase when I was the only child left at home, and this had a huge impact on my understanding of food and dining.  But cookbooks are expensive! By checking out the new offerings at the library, I can decide if a book is worth purchasing for my personal collection.

(Of course, by using my tablet in the kitchen I can go to Saveur or Food 52 and follow recipes online.  But that just isn’t “the same”.) I also shop at the Friends of Linebaugh Library book sales for cook books – great deals and adventure found there.

According to my records in Goodreads, I average 10 cookbooks every year (this doesn’t count the dozens I flip through when they are returned by other patrons).  Thanks to my library, that’s $300+ saved annually on just cookbooks!

Favorites from the RCLS shelves:

I always try at least one recipe, that’s why they are written after all.

Here are a few I enjoyed, so glad they’re at the library because I’d never buy:

I found this last one when walking through the 641s at Smyrna Public Library.  Not an item I would have thought to search for, didn’t know it existed!  My husband and I have been very pleased in learning the history of bread, pasta, potatoes, and more through historic texts and tapestries.  

Thank you, RCLS, for anticipating this foodie’s need to learn more about food!

Yarn Love: Kicking an Unhealthy Habit and Finding a Passion

by Marlene Kupsch

I am too young for this yarn obsession!

There was a time in my life where I thought that I would never be old enough to use yarn for any purpose. I was the one who made fun of everyone younger than, say, 80, including two of my closest friends for acting like Grandma and Grandpa. There was even a time where I was obnoxious in my taunting, and I may have snorted with laughter a time or two. Surely, only old people did that, or people with nothing better to do. I was too cool for that! Turns out I was completely wrong, and I needed to apologize to my friends.

I had decided to quit smoking, and I needed something to keep my hands busy. I immediately thought of my friends and their hobbies. So I went to the local craft store, and I bought a few skeins of yarn and a 5 mm hook. My idea was to learn to crochet a granny square afghan and drape it across my sofa like I used to see on a TV show growing up. Now, did I run right out to the library and grab some books full of beautiful patterns? No way, José. I did not want anyone to see me with those uncool books. The fun part was, I worked at a library and saw these books everyday. I knew there was an endless supply of beautiful patterns that were FREE and available to me. Pride, people, my pride just would not let me.

So, home now from the craft store, where no one can see me,  I do what everyone does: I Google what I want to know. Well, wouldn’t you know there are thousands of videos to choose from. I felt intimidated and frustrated immediately. I spent an hour trying to find a video that wasn’t too fast or slow, because remember, I was detoxing that nicotine out of my body and was quite irritated that this was not simpler and I couldn’t figure it out. I hated having to pause and rewind, or worse yet,  the person talked really slow and I had to fast forward. I had succeeded in making knots and chains, a few single crochet stitches, but mostly I just kept “frogging” my weird little knotted creation and trying to make the same thing over and over again. I wanted to give up! But oh, I had this beautiful yarn and I had never quit anything before. I know, I was quitting smoking, but hey, there are always exceptions!

The next day on my lunch break, I run off to the nonfiction section and I find the 746s. I pulled book after book after book off the shelf and wanted to take them all home. There were titles like First Time Crochet: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide, Deborah Burger; Crochet : The Complete Step-By-Step Guide, DK Publishing, Inc.; Easy Weekend Crochet Hats: A Ski-Style Collection for the Entire Family, Jennifer J. Cirka; Granny Squares & Shapes : 20 Crochet Projects for You and Your Home, Susan  Pinner… I mean it was endless and so secretly exciting! I imagined myself in a blanket fort in my living room with all of these books, intertwined with yarn and hooks spread out all around me. I was excited and inspired! I was going to make afghans for everyone I knew, and I would have them all done for Christmas! Deflating my happy balloon now… If you have ever tried to crochet, you find out a few things. One being that there is something called time, and that sucker gets in the way. Thankfully, though, the time it took me to learn the basic stitches to crochet a lap size afghan, a few scarves, and one Christmas gift, two and a half months had passed and I was nicotine-free and I had a rewarding hobby that I loved!

It’s been a few years since then, and I have been crocheting away! I love it, and I am nowhere near 80 years old. I offer my humble apologies to anyone whose feelings I have hurt about their yarn love! Through the years I have created many different projects and I am currently hooked on making amigurumi animals. Snuggle and Play Crochet: 40 Amigurumi Patterns for Lovey Security Blankets and Matching Toys  by Carolina Guzman Benitez is one that I borrowed, renewed, and then I didn’t want to give back. I was lucky enough to receive a copy for Mother’s Day! Thanks, Bro!!

P.S. I am still smoke-free!!

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Do you share Marlene’s yarn obsession, or do you want to get into knitting or crocheting? Come to the Smyrna Knitting and Crochet Group or the Yarn Love group at Linebaugh! Check out our events calendar for more details.  

 

I Forgot, What Was That Word, Again?

by Marlene Kupsch

You know when you walk in a room and you stand there for a second and laugh cause you have no idea why you went in there? You’re talking to someone and you can’t think of that word, yeah you know, the one you say when you want to sound smart?  It eventually comes back, right? What if it didn’t? What if that happened to you with every single thing in your daily life? What if it repeatedly happened and your doctor told you that it will only get worse and he can’t stop it?

I have the joy of meeting and spending time with some pretty great people through volunteering with a local hospice. Most of the patients I meet are older and have a variety of health issues. One very common health issue is Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It is not an easy disease to understand, and I feel grateful that most times the patients do not know what is happening to them and they do not suffer. One special lady, who has the symptoms of Dementia/ Alzheimer’s loves to do crafty things. I came across these styrofoam shapes that you push colored tissue paper into with a little plastic stick. She loved it and was very pleased upon completion. Although she no longer remembers where she has left her rainbow, and that we made it together, she does remember how to use the plastic stick. She smiles every time I pull the stick out of my bag for another project! Repetition for our brains, very important!

I am pretty biased and believe that nurses are smarter than doctors (two of my aunts are great nurses), but to help better understand from the doctor’s perspective there is Alzheimer’s Disease: The Complete Introduction by Dr. Judes Poirier and Dr. Serge Gauthier. This one has color photos and diagrams to help you better understand what happens to the brain and body as you go through all of the different stages. For a more hands on approach, I recommend Alzheimer’s Activities That Stimulate the Mind. I have found that books like these that are written by nurses are always on point and make you feel the love and time that was put into it. I will be putting these activities to good use. Emilia C. Bazan-Salazar, R.N., B.S.N., I, Thank you!              

Children have a hard time understanding that just because they can’t see it happening, that our brains change. Also, as parents we want to protect our children from all the scary things that life throws at them.  Faraway Grandpa written by Roberta Karim tells the story of Kathleen and the special bond she shares with her grandpa. Every summer she visits him and he always does the same things to make her smile. One summer, Grandpa forgets to do his shenanigans and even comes to live with Kathleen. She then figures out that when she sings their special song that the “clouds” will lift from Grandpa for just a few minutes and that’s where she can always find him. I am not a fan of telling children lies or sugar coating many things. The last thing you could want is your child realizing you lied to them. I believe that you should answer any and all questions that they have, but don’t give more details than necessary. Besides,  they get bored fairly quickly!

Finding Nemo and of course Finding Dory! No other explanation needed!  

Even adult children can sometimes have a hard time with this and need the comfort of each other to get through!  The film Savages is about a dysfunctional family that must come together to help Dad (Philip Bosco) when he starts showing signs of dementia. Son (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and daughter (Laura Linney) place Dad in a nursing home and then care for him through his remaining time, while struggling with their own personal lives.  

The family and caretakers are the ones who experience most of the emotional effects of Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It’s a difficult situation to be in when someone starts forgetting who you are and what is happening to them. It hurts, and it hurts a lot! I often think that because memory loss runs in my family, that I should make sure that my nearest and dearest understand my wishes, if this were to happen to us. It’s not typical table talk, but it is definitely an important conversation to have. All too often I come across a family who, when asked a question of this nature, sound the crickets, all look at each other, and wait for someone to answer. That’s not going to help when you can no longer make your own decisions and your family is arguing over what you would want. Let them know! Today!

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman will give you a glimpse of what it might be like to start losing your memory. The main character, Claire, is suffering from Dementia/ Alzheimer’s. When she is lost, so are you. When she doesn’t understand, neither do you. It made me think about being in her place and what I would want my family to know if this started happening to us.  

I do not know how it feels to be on the spousal end of this disease, and I hope that I never have to. Since I have been watching  films and reading books on the subject, I at least have a glimpse of what it might be like. Away From Her, a Canadian film, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent is based on Alice Munro’s short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” The film  won seven Genie Awards. Seven! The story is about a husband and wife who have lived over 40 years together. She has started to show signs of Alzheimer’s and moves into a facility that can care for her around the clock. Upon moving in, they cannot see each other for 30 days. In those 30 days, she forms a close bond with another resident and forgets who her husband is. You go through this with him, you feel lost and betrayed, and in the end, you also feel all the love he has!     

I believe that this is one of the worst diseases ever.  It’s a hunter that has no rules or regulations. There is no cure, and it slowly attacks and eats your brain. You cannot run and hide, it comes from within you! We must fight it head on! 

Help me raise awareness! The state of Tennessee participates in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Hopefully, by the time you have read this,  I have completed my 2 mile walk in Nashville and donated a few bucks to a worthy cause that affects my family and I. There are local walks in your area in the month of November. Put on your sneakers and get going!!

31 Books About Witches

by Britney Reed-Saltz

For centuries the witch has been a powerful archetype. Feared or revered, emulated or persecuted, her position in society has evolved throughout history, but one thing has remained certain: her presence.

What better time than now, as Halloween approaches, to sit for a spell and read tales of witchcraft? Whether you prefer fantasy, romance, horror, mystery, or nonfiction, this list will point you to the grimoire you seek.

Garden Spells  Sarah Addison Allen (magical realism, series)witches 1

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (magical realism, series)

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (fantasy, series)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (humorous fantasy, series)

The Good House by Tananarive Due (horror)

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (horror)

witches 2The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston (historical fantasy, series)

Bell, Book, and Murder by Rosemary Edghill (mystery, series)

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M. J. Rose (historical fiction)

Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood (YA short stories)

The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell (YA fantasy)

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (fantasy, series)witches 3

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (historical fiction)

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan (historical fiction)

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé (historical fiction)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (fiction)

Circe by Madeline Miller (historical fiction)

witches 5The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (historical fiction, series)

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA historical fiction, series)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (YA Afrofuturism/fantasy, series)

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen (YA fantasy, series)

The Graces by Laure Eve (YA paranormal fantasy, series)

Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan (YA paranormal fantasy, series)witches 6

The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw (YA paranormal fantasy, series)

Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts (romance, series)

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell (cozy mystery, series)

The King of Bones and Ashes by J. D. Horn (urban fantasy, series)

witches 9Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison (urban fantasy, series)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (urban fantasy, series)

Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler (nonfiction)

Witches of America by Alex Mar (nonfiction)

 

 

 

 

 

Roots, Heritage, and the Antiquarian Way

by James Rucker 

Just a few minutes before I began writing,  I reshelved a total of sixty-eight books in a locked room on the second floor at Linebaugh. Genealogy enthusiasts among you might already know the room in question, though it goes by multiple names. Some call it the Tennessee Room. Others call it the Historical Research room (or HR Room for short). Our more functionalist patrons call it the “Genealogy Room.” I’ve even heard some older patrons refer to it as “the Vault,” which was its nickname, according to one of them, at our former location at 110 W College Street. Way back when, Murfreesboro’s post office had a room with a locked, metal gateway where they stored valuables. When Linebaugh Library moved into the building, they repurposed this “Vault” into an archive of various official records and historical publications. We eventually moved to our current location and now the former post office houses the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts.

When our current building was under construction, the head librarian at the time, Briley Adcock, gave a tour to some reporters from the Daily News Journal. The interview ran on May 3rd, 1992.

archive blog 1

Adcock was particularly enthusiastic about the new accommodations to local historians, both professional and casual. As the reporter wrote, “Also on the second floor is Adcock’s favorite room, a new improved version of the Tennessee Room./ ‘It’s about three times larger than what we have now,’ she said. / Stored in the Tennessee Room will be all the library’s geneological [sic] resources, she said, as well a copy machine, microfilm readers and a vault for storing rare volumes. / ‘The people who use this part of the building regularly will be really pleased,’ she said.”

Archival documents say both too much and too little at the same time. It can be overwhelming to think of the volume of material to comb through. Of course, the modern world is riddled with unchecked bureaucracies and their meticulous record-keeping, but we mustn’t mistake the chatter in the archives for a clear voice. In a way, these many words say nothing at all. Documents aren’t self-conscious and can’t interpret themselves. Therefore, the archive cannot speak for itself; the historian must speak for it. If I may repurpose an ironic quip from a 19th-century, German journalist, “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.”

For those who don’t know where to begin, I will recommend a book: The Allure of the Archives by Arlette Farge. Don’t judge the book by its call number (it is miscategorized); it may be shelved with books on the French Revolution (944.04), but it is actually about historical research methods and what to expect when you visit an archive. I found her prose not only instructive but also a pleasure to read. As Natalie Zemon Davis wrote in her introduction, “Arlette Farge takes us into archives and pulls us into the experience of research” (xi-xii). It isn’t a dry instructional manual, but a visceral and tactile read that aquaints you with the textures, discomforts, and pleasures one should expect.

However, more than anything, Farge wants us to prepare to be surprised. For example, when looking into the history of my mother’s family, I consulted census data from Dickson county in the 1800s. Strangely enough, during one decade’s census, the number of people in my family’s household spiked. There were unfamiliar people several different surnames between them. Clearly my family had taken in several, seemingly random, people, only for them to disappear a decade later. Perhaps they were refugees? Or maybe my family had hired some people to help out on the family farm? Had I investigated further, I might have found out more, but  for the time being it is a mystery. To quote Davis again, “Arlette Farge is our guide — for the unexpected, the surprise. We rejoice when we make a find, even though the story or event itself may be sad, troubling, ghastly, baffling; even though it may oblige us to rethink our earlier understanding of our topic and restructure it” (xii).

We must be careful, however. Archives are, of course, products of institutions or governments which have objectives and desires. Therefore, archives, like all institutions, have biases. A census, like the one I consulted above, views its subjects as quantifiable entities, to be counted and categorized so officials can draw districts and collect taxes. The state collects this data in order to govern more easily and effectively. This state-bias is perhaps most clear in Farge’s own case, since she works with the records of arrests and interrogations kept by French police. As she puts it, “most of the dossiers ultimately put forward only one version of the events, that of public order and police authority. The questions that were asked have a policeman’s directness. Above all, the police were looking to identify the culprits” (87). The perspective of the judicial archives has an accusing eye, one that sees the population as a problem to be solved; “in a sense, they catch the city red-handed: craftily maneuvering around the rules, refusing outright to accept the policemen’s vision of order, choosing to acclaim or snub its kings, and rising up whenever it feels threatened. When reading the police records, you can see to what extent resistance, defiance, and even open revolt are social facts to which the city is accustomed. […] Deviance and marginality are powerfully indicative of political authority and of norms, and each type of crime reflects an aspect of the society in which it occurred” (25 & 27). Farge stresses how important it is to overcome this bias of an archive and capture the voices of those common people under their regime. “As historians, we must take into account the reflexes, habits, and weaknesses of the police” (88). As I mentioned above, a census doesn’t see people as concrete individuals but as abstract quantities without any qualities it considers irrelevant. To the eyes of the census, people only exist to be counted. And in the antebellum South, the census counted certain “properties” as only three-fifths of a whole person. I am, of course, referring to slaves.

In many cases, these biases are  most visible where the archive falls silent. The census has nothing to say when it comes to the parts of life we care about most. For those moments, most people have birth and death certificates or records of marriage and divorce, but not everyone has those resources. African American genealogy illustrates this problem quite clearly. Precise records of the births, deaths, marriages, and divorces of slaves were rarely kept in much of the antebellum South. Alex Haley’s Roots and the miniseries of the same name might be the most famous genealogical work to date, but it was a remarkable achievement precisely because of the hurdles my people sometimes have to go through when finding out about our heritage. My father once told me about how hard it was to find information when trying to map out his paternal bloodline.

Daniel, my great-great-grandfather, was the last man in that part of my family to be born a slave; therefore, he had no birth certificate. The earliest record of him was when he was mentioned in a court case. When a plantation owner with our last name died, there was a lawsuit to determine who would inherit the estate. In court, they had to list every piece of property, slaves included. Among them, there was a single child of the correct age named Daniel who we assume must be our ancestor. But there is no way to be sure. This court case is as far back as our paternal bloodline goes. My paternal grandmother’s line, by contrast, can be traced all the way back to the auction block, where my ancestor and her mother were sold separately, cutting that tie forever. But it isn’t state documents that let us trace our family that far, but an oral tradition that was passed down every generation to us (similar to the one in Alex Haley’s family).  Examples like those above show how creative a researcher has to be with archival evidence, since it is not always obvious where to find the needed information. They also show the importance of oral tradition for filling in gaps in the documentary record.

For those interested in researching their own families, now is the perfect time. October is Family History Month in the United States, and upstairs at Linebaugh is a book display by our own Lisa Ramsay, showing some of our available materials on genealogical research.

arhive blog graphic

After that you can take a look at the HR room to your left, or walk down the non-fiction stacks to “929” where you can check out a book on genealogy to take home. If Linebaugh doesn’t have what you need, we also have an HR room at our Smyrna branch, and the Rutherford County Archives are at 423 Rice Street, northwest of the Murfreesboro town square. Perhaps you’ll find some answers, or even better, some questions. And next month, at the Thanksgiving table, you might be able to ask them of your grandparents (or whoever your oldest living relatives are). If all else fails, you can ask them to tell you about their own grandparents.

And when you get the chance, check out Allure of the Archives for yourself. I’ll close with another quote from Davis’s introduction: “Newcomers to historical studies will welcome Arlette Farge’s introduction to archival research. Amateur history enthusiasts will be fascinated by her insider’s account of how historians practice their craft. But old-timer’s like me will have their memories enriched and their understanding deepened by this book” (xiii).

Is It Clutter or a Hoard?

by Marlene Kupsch

Yes, I am referring to the people who collect things–a lot of things–and yet they believe they still do not have enough. Most of us have a Hoarder/Collector in our own families. Their collection may not be as big as the ones you see on the TV show Hoarders that airs on A&E, but they are there. We are told that the reason people hoard is a compulsive need to acquire things that comes from a traumatic experience. Roughly 16 million people in the U. S. are affected by it.

Well, what do we do when we see the signs, whether in ourselves or someone else? I can tell you first-hand that it is frustrating to want to help someone, and they refuse to acknowledge it is even a problem. This is not an easy subject for me or my family. I believe most of us would rather speak about death, and even that is taboo! So, my hope is to give you a few options on reading material so that you can try to understand a bit more.

There are two little fantastic hardcover books, less than 150 pages each, that will help you in the hinting department to your loved one. The Art of D*scard*ng, written with lots of joy by Nagisa Tatsumi, would make a great stocking stuffer! This books gives you the permission your loved one needs to throw it away!

I love to throw things away and I get such euphoria every time I accumulate a bag or two to drive over to the dump. When I get back and see that space empty and clean, I feel like I cleansed my soul. Truthfully!

The other one is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. I like the way Margareta draws little pictures in the book. I think it is her way of trying to lighten the mood and not make you feel like you are being targeted and should be punished for what you have accumulated. She gives you tips on sorting and cleaning, and helps you focus on what is really important. Cleaning used to be a compulsive need for me. Everything had to be in its place, and every dust bunny must be chased into the field, especially if company was planned. Oh dear, then I spent all night the night before making sure everything was spotless. I was unable to sleep till it was. I certainly do not recommend this extreme, either! I lost a lot of time cleaning instead of spending every moment I could with my daughter when she was growing up.

So if you have A&E or Hulu and feel like bingeing some episodes (it becomes addictive) of Hoarders, watching the transformation of the people and the houses they clean, is utterly amazing. Max Paxton, who is one of the cleaning specialists on the show, has written a book called The Secret Lives of Hoarders : True Stories of Tackling Extreme Clutter. We also have a few more books here in our library catalog that are worth a gander: Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul by Ruth Soukup and Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. 

Happy cleaning!

On Unicycles, Bicycles, and Tricycles

by James Rucker

When you want the answer to a question, where do you start? I, for one, am unashamed to admit that I check Wikipedia first when I’m unfamiliar with the topic. However, when I am familiar, I check more specialized sources. Perhaps I’ll know of a historian who has written about it, or maybe of a relevant news article or or memoir. Either way, we can recognize these as different kinds of information sources. But how are they different, exactly? And how does this inform our reading of them? To answer these questions, today we’ll discuss the central distinction employed by historians, between primary, secondary, and tertiary source documents.

A good rule of thumb for classifying a document as a primary, secondary, or tertiary source is to consider how many steps removed from the topic the source is. Let’s pretend that on June 22, 1902, Teddy Roosevelt rode a unicycle along the streets of New Orleans. Many people saw him do it. If someone were to interview any of these witnesses, that interview would be a primary source (since it is a single step removed from the alleged unicycling). If a historian were to read several such interviews and write an article describing how they think it took place, this would be a secondary source document (since it is two steps removed). If yet another historian reads many such secondary source articles and books, which themselves were written in response to primary sources, and then synthesizes that knowledge into a textbook or encyclopedia entry then we would refer to that as a tertiary source document for the event (since it is three steps removed).

At this point, I want to direct your attention to three titles we have at Linebaugh which capture this distinction: Reporting the Revolutionary War, edited by Todd Andrlik, a selection of primary source newspaper snippets from the revolution; 1776, written by David McCullough, a secondary-source monograph on the Revolutionary War itself; and Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, edited by Harold E. Selesky, a tertiary source.

Right on the cover of Andrlik’s Reporting the Revolutionary War, we have a tagline that seems to say it all: “Before it was History, it was NEWS.” Most people would categorize a newspaper article as a primary source (even though many reporters are not eyewitnesses to events they describe), and the tagline makes the important point that history is usually written retrospectively. Historians know how the events in question turned out, which gives them an advantage when deciding what events are significant. Journalists can be blind at times to whether current affairs will be of any consequence. For example, on August 13th, 1776, the London Chronicle announced the Declaration of Independence, merely saying, “Advice is received that the Congress resolved upon independence the 4th of July; and, it is said, have declared war against Great Britain in form” (Andrlik 197). It is buried in a page of unrelated stories, less than an inch or two from announcements of local marriages and bankruptcies.

On the other hand, a memoir (say of Teddy Roosevelt recalling his unicyclical antics years later) does have the benefit of hindsight, but it still isn’t a secondary source because it is limited to his personal perspective on the event. Taking these two examples together will highlight an important trait of primary sources: They are limited in scope, either by perspective or by time.

Primary sources like these do provide an important advantage to the curious and critical reader: They present a perspective in a more or less pure form. With secondary or tertiary works, you not only have the perspectives of the witnesses, but those of the historian as well, and, of course, with a perspective comes its biases and assumptions. It is important to say that bias does not make a source useless. In fact, once harnessed, an identified bias makes a source incredibly useful. Historians don’t merely want to know what people did, they want to know why. Uncovering a person’s bias can help immensely when pinning down their motivations.

If primary sources provide pure perspectives, why read secondary or tertiary sources at all? Well, because sometimes an eyewitness is mistaken about what happened, and perhaps another witness can provide a more accurate account, or at least cast some much needed doubt on our first interviewee. Cross-referencing different perspectives on the same event is important work not only because it helps to identify who is mistaken about events in question, but also because it can show how the perspectives exist in conflict or consensus. In an ideal universe, someone could consult only primary sources, but there simply is not enough time to read them, let alone learn all the languages necessary. Historians must rely on each other to provide context for the events they study in depth. How do we understand the significance of Roosevelt’s speculative unicycle ride? Was his presidency popular at the time and so his unicycling was done with a light heart? Or did he just declare war and such frivolity was in poor taste?

This is where secondary sources like McCullough’s 1776 come into play. Rather than merely quote primary sources, the historian attempts to synthesize them into a single account. Central to the work of historians is the distinction between testimony and evidence. Testimony is the set of claims a primary source makes, while evidence is any information that can be inferred from the document, even if it is information the source’s testimony disagrees with. As in everyday life, where we can choose not to believe someone because their testimony is too inconsistent, incoherent, or fragmentary, historians can do the same to their sources. Any source can be dishonest or misinformed, so no particular source’s testimony is given absolute authority. Therefore the bulk of the work is in source criticism, where you read “against the grain” and “between the lines” of the text to glean information which it doesn’t wish to divulge. Rules and regulations are an excellent place to see divergence between testimony and evidence. For example, if New Orleans in 1905 passed a law banning unicycle use in the streets, we would not want to believe that unicycles were therefore never used there. Quite the contrary, we would instead have to infer that people rode their unicycles in the street so often that it became a problem, otherwise, such a law would not exist. So while the testimony of the rule is that unicycling through the streets is illegal, punishable, and therefore something the authorities are putting a stop to, the rule is itself a piece of evidence of the opposite. Even though secondary source documents do not typically represent direct experience of what they describe, they do tend to represent the professional authority that comes from having been trained to read texts critically in this way.

As I said at the beginning, I’m unashamed to consult a tertiary source like Wikipedia when approaching a topic which is foreign to me, but I wouldn’t dream of citing one in a paper of my own. Note that this isn’t exclusive to Wikipedia. The problem with Wikipedia isn’t so much that it is edited by the general public; the problem is that it is a tertiary source. No tertiary source is acceptable to cite as an authority in a formal setting. A tertiary source, like an encyclopedia, may frequently be compiled by a professional historian; however, they will tend to have less familiarity with a given topic in the book than another historian would who has focused more exclusively on it. A tertiary source, therefore, is a more general information source. It does not tend to represent cutting edge research, nor can it be expected to provide detailed information.

Now that I have established the difference between these three sorts of sources, I need to qualify it. Whether a document is primary, secondary, or tertiary is not intrinsic to the document itself, but is entirely relative to what questions the historian chooses to ask it. For example, Titus Livius (also known simply as Livy) wrote a massive history of Rome called From the Founding of the City. It is a secondary source (and probably not a very accurate one at that) for studying the early Roman Republic. However, it is just as much a primary source as Virgil’s Aeneid when studying the literary culture in the court of Emperor Augustus. In fact, every secondary source document for a time in the past is a primary source document for the time in which it was written. A book like Livy’s demonstrates that the distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary is not between exclusive categories, but regions along a spectrum. Some sources are more primary than others, some less. Roosevelt’s memoirs of his fictional frivolities would be more primary than an article in the New Orleans Bee which happens to recount the tale, too. On the other hand, Wikipedia and the World Book are more tertiary than our Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.

Before I conclude, I’d like to take a moment to step back and talk about the purpose of my blog entries more generally. I want to write about how to get the most out of both history books and news articles (primary sources of the present). Hopefully interested readers will find my posts helpful when cultivating their critical reading skills. Of course, the blog is mainly intended to point people to various resources that the library provides, so I intend to inform the readers about various materials and services that RCLS has available. However, I also want my entries to feel like a resource in themselves. I am drafting one more entry right now about the Historical Research Rooms at Linebaugh and Smyrna. After that, each month I will discuss a different types of history writing, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of their methods. Different kinds of historians utilize different sources or utilize the same sources in different ways. They ask different kinds of questions and expect different kinds of answers. After all, historians, just like the people they write about, have motivations. Knowing why they write and what they think is important will hopefully help my readers better understand an author’s argument and be able to evaluate it more thoroughly.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dewey Decimal System

by James Rucker 

Thus far, we haven’t focused on non-fiction in our blog. So, broad though it may be, our topic today is the Dewey Decimal System (DDS). As the subtitle of this entry suggests, I spent some time griping about it. I actually still do, for a variety of reasons. The DDS reinforces the unhelpful belief that practical skills and projects (600s) are fundamentally separate from artistic (700s) or scientific (500s) endeavours. (For example, vegetable gardening is 635, while decorative gardening is 712, and botany is the 580s.) It gives overwhelming space to Christianity (220-289.x) when compared to the space given to every other religion in all of human existence (290-299.x). It gives a lot more space to the United states (973-979.x) when compared to Mexico (972.x), Canada (971.x), or the various indigenous groups of North America (some fraction of 970.x).

However, such problems are relatively minor compared to our topic for today: the DDS does not know where to classify history books.

Actually, I should say that the DDS doesn’t know how to categorize any books at all. History books simply show the problem in sharp relief. Of course, this isn’t just a problem with the DDS. No categorization system is ever going to be perfect, or even objective; they will always require subjective judgement for one simple reason: books can be about more than one thing at once, and this problem will persist for as long as books continue to insist on containing more than one word.

For the uninitiated, the DDS is a set of 1000 digits, each associated with a different topic. (They continue to divide past the decimal place, but we’ll get into that later.) It is first divided into ten different areas, with 100 points each:

dewey 1

“Now wait a minute!” my esteemed readers all shout at once. They then proceed to object, somewhat hyperbolically, “Are you mad? Or are you simply oblivious? You said it didn’t know where to categorize History books, yet right there, as plain as day, it says ‘900-999: History and geography’. How could you have missed something so obvious?”

I did notice, actually, but the word Geography should really be first, because, as you’ll see below, the ten sets of 10 are assigned (mostly) to more specific geographical regions. (Make a mental note that the 920s, for the most part, have fallen into disuse.):

dewey 2

To emphasize my point, we should look at how the 940s divide:

dewey 3

How would one categorize history that crosses borders? Where do we put the history of the Atlantic slave trade for example? *Searches RCLSTN catalog for “slavery” and “atlantic slave trade”* Apparently, 306 (mostly). Not in the 900s at all! What about history of art, history of science, history of sports? For a clue, let’s look at the 90x.x region:

dewey 4

Note how 901 is “philosophy and theory of history” while philosophy in general, as we saw earlier, is the 100s. Could it be? Does philosophy have this problem too? (Spoiler warning: Yes, it does.) The important clue is that they are both making use of the digit 1. On further investigation, you’ll find out 501 is philosophy of science and 701 is philosophy of art. In fact, 301 is philosophy of sociology, 401 is philosophy of language, 801 is philosophy of literature… yeah, and 101 is philosophy of philosophy (because that’s an actual thing, believe it or not). Well,  909 is world history… Which, in a way, is the history of all history. This pattern holds for other subjects: history of philosophy is 109, history of science is 509, history of art is 709, and so on.

This is because Melvil Dewey gave his system a recursive structure, where the patterns of classification echo into one another. In other words, if you take one classification number and attach it at the end of another, you might (just maybe) have a working classification that somehow combines the two topics in some way. History is the most obvious example of this. If you look under a subject’s call number, and you see either “9” or “09” tacked on the end, you are probably looking at the history of that subject. For example, 629.4  is space engineering, and Deborah Cadbury’s 2006 book, Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space, is shelved at Linebaugh under 629.409.

Biographies receive a similar treatment. As I pointed out above, the 920s used to be where biographies were categorized (actually, at Linebaugh, we still have a fair number of older biographies there). But if the 920s are generally unused, where did the books go? Well… in a way, they went everywhere. If you know what such-and-such a person is known for you’ll frequently (though not always) find biographies of that person under that topic with either “92” or “092” tacked on the end. For example, 520 is Astronomy, and so David Wootton’s 2010 book, Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, is shelved under 520.92. Similarly, 780 is music, so 780.922 is where you’d find The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg.

You can use the same method for Geographical locations:

These examples have mostly been art history, but as Galileo’s biography shows, it applies to other disciplines as well. Initially, I found this quite frustrating. After all, this speaks to an ideological assumption that I’ll revisit in future posts concerning what counts as historical and what does not. From the Dewey Decimal System, one would conclude that history is all about nations, geographical regions, borders, and the wars fought to change them. And if you look at the history of the U.S. in the DDS, you’ll see that it is organized according to presidential terms. Are we then to conclude that presidents are the only important Americans? Are the only important dates those when power changed between them? I’d like to exclaim, “Of course not! History isn’t just names and dates!” But that is exactly what many people assume it is.

The causes for this popular opinion are themselves historical. When academic history began in the 1800s, nations, borders, names, dates, and (last but not least) wars were the only topics historians tended to emphasize. Mainstream historians didn’t begin exploring other areas of life in much depth until after World War II. Melvil Dewey first published the DDS in 1876 and so his system reflects the assumptions of his time. The non-academic press still lives under this assumption, and the popularly-consumed history books they publish reflect this. In addition, the political interests who dictate school curricula carry this attitude as well, and high school history classes reflect this. The general view that history is mostly the memorization of names and dates is the unfortunate result. My hope is that my blog entries, in time, will convince some hearts and minds otherwise.

Throughout the 1900s, academic historians expanded their interest from the study of politicians, generals, and diplomats to the study of industry, agriculture and trade, topics that customarily are shelved under the 300s and 600s. In other words, they helped bring historians’ attention to the doings of regular people in their practical lives. Others later broadened history’s scope further to consider the effects and changes in language and culture. It has become clear that, in a very real sense, everything humans do is historical, and therefore everything we do has a history of how we did it. Not just art and science, but gardening, beer,  and religious practice. But all these other topics are shelved apart from what the DDS considers “real history,” and that used to sadden me.

So how did I learn to stop worrying and love the Dewey Decimal System? Because of times like when I was walking through the stacks today, trying to find the books I mentioned above. In my search, I stumbled upon this:

dewey 5.png

It was a whole row of books in the 385s, which is where we shelve our books on trains, and I noticed most of them were under 385.09 and its subordinate points. Sure enough, I had discovered a little island of history books. 385.0957 was a history of Siberian railroads. 385.097, 385.0971 and 385.0973 were histories of railroads in North America, Canada, and the U.S. respectively. It was a magical moment. Despite supporting a narrower view of history on its surface, beneath that, the Dewey Decimal System contains the truth that all human endeavours are historical.

What’s the upside? If you’re ever in your little corner of the Dewey Decimal System, let’s say 641.5 (cooking), and you find a section with books under 641.5944 (French food), 641.5952 (Japanese food), or 641.5973 (“American” food), you’ll know you’ve found a little island where you’ll find the history books written just for you.

Taboo: Death and Grief

by Marlene Kupsch 

I find that when faced with the words death or dying people often tend to shy away or run as fast as they can. Death is not something that can be undone; yes, we all understand that, but it should not take over your life. We must find a way to move forward. Not forget, by any means, but live our lives as best we can. Your loved one would not want you to grieve for the rest of your life.

For me, the best way to get through a difficult situation like this and carry on is to talk about it. With anyone! Always seek professional help if the feelings become too powerful for you to talk through them with your family or friends. There are times were a book is exactly what is needed. That is when the library and the endless supply of reading material becomes a great lifeline. The more we can learn, the less scared we will be! My picks:death 1

Dying to Know… About Death, Funeral Customs, and Final Resting Places by Lila Perl
If you want to know the history on why certain customs or rituals have come to be, Perl is your woman! Why did the custom of putting a headstone on top of the grave start? Did Queen Victoria start the fashion of mourning in black when her husband passed away? When did we start the practice of embalming and why?

death 2One of the newest books that I have had the great fortune of finding is Grief Works by Julia Samuel. The author is a grief psychotherapist, who has written about some of the people she has counseled overthe years and the steps she helped them take to try to move forward with their lives. She has a lot of helpful information throughout the book.

For children, The Saddest Time by Norma Simon is something death 6worth reading to your little ones. This book gives you three different stories on why death might occur. It talks about the ways you might feel and what you could do to help your loved ones or yourself. It explains death in a way that is not overwhelming or scary.

We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman is about a nurse who writes letters for the patients under her care in a hospice facility. She promises to post them once the patient death 3passed, but what if she can give the chance for redemption by breaking that rule? Should she let things in her personal life interfere with a promise she made the patient?death 4

There is a series written by Neal Shusterman that makes you wonder about the future and all the advancements of science and technology. What if all diseases were cured? What if the world conquered death? How would we “thin” out the population? Scythe is a young adult novel that I was not able to put down. I was in this world all night long, cover to cover, wondering if I was given the opportunity to become a Scythe, would I want the power? How would it feel to be the person who was given just a few hours left to live? How would I choose the method of death for me?

death 5Last but not least, for those young’uns, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst is a must read! The story starts after the family pet has died. The little boy is understandably heartbroken and struggles to come up with all ten good things about his cat that his mother asks him to say at the funeral. Letting go is never easy. Barney was very much loved.

There are so many books and so little time. I could easily turn this into a 100-book-plus list. The important thing is that you can find at least one book that gave you a smile or gave you that “I’m not alone” feeling. Death is no stranger to me. I have gotten that 3 am phone call that you hope you never get, I have sat by the bedside of family members as they have taken their last breaths, I have lost friends and family, young and old. Death does not discriminate, and it is not usually welcomed. You must grieve for each and every one,and sometimes in all different ways. There is no wrong or right way to grieve, and there is no time limit. From all my experiences, as long as you do not stand still for too long, you are on the right path.

Thank you for giving me your time!!