Month: February 2018

J. B. Harley, “Texts and Contexts in the Interpretation of Early Maps

Harley discusses that out of all the documents used by historians, maps are indeed well-known, but are very difficult to understand (34).  Historians tend to place maps under written evidence because of the inaccuracy placed on maps (34).  As noted, these maps are seen as being “slippery,” “dangerous,” and “unreliable” (34).  The author wants to answer the question of how and why map usage has such a bad reputation.  First, Harley notes that the study of maps is not a huge interest among historians (34).  Harley further discusses that maps are related to mirrors in which they are a “graphic representation” of the world (35).  But Harley argues that maps “redescribe the world – like any other document” (35).  Harley then notes how even though maps may not use written world, they use symbols and signs in order to illustrate the meaning behind the map which historians can use to their advantage (36).  Then, Harley distinguishes her argument by naming 3 aspects: “1) the context of the cartographer 2) the contexts of other maps and 3) the context of society” (38).  For the context of the cartographer, historians note that the maker of the map is not directly correlated to the map that historians have now (38).  Next, Harley describes the context of other maps; the relationship one map has with other maps (41).  She notes how in her study, a “corpus of related maps is built around the single map” (42).  Furthermore, Harley discusses how place-names or toponymy  “offer a way of constructing genealogies and source profiles for previously scattered maps (43).  Harley’s last aspect, the context of society, discusses the relationship of interpretation between an individual and a society (44).  Every map is cultural, therefore, the maps were made for the society of that culture, not outside of that society (44).  Harley then discusses the rules of cartography by saying that the main strategy for a cartographer is to identify the”rules of the social order” (45).  Lastly, she discusses the meaning of maps by understanding what that map meant when it was first produced to society (46).

Alejandro “The Port: Shipping and Trade” and “Notes”

The author discusses the movements of ships and how even though it may have seemed chaotic and unorganized, it was a rather “complex system” (11).  The integrated system consisted of commercial circuits, specifically mentioning the transoceanic circuit (11).  The author then goes into detail discussing how importance Havana is as a shipping port because it “was one of the few places in the Americas where these circuits converged and the only port where all the returning vessels came together before sailing back to Europe” (12).  Next, the author discusses how the sources available helped reshape the shipping movement in Havana (12).  as noted, in the mid 1580s, the Havana shipping movement grew and continued for the next ten years (13).  Due to all of this, Havana served the role “as a regional trading center” specializing “in the reexportation of colonial commodities” (14).  Soon after, the author notes how these colonial commodities reflect colonial territories (17).

Various colonial commodities were then mentioned such as silver, indigo, dye, and logwood (17-19).  Furthermore, the author discusses how the largest transatlantic import to Havana is wine (22).  Competition arose from Havana because Mexico came into the industry with silk fabrics that were being produced in New Spain or were made out of Chinese silks (28).  Other than fabrics, the textiles being produced in Havana at this time were “ribbons, galloons, trimmings, laces, and decorative accessories” (31).

The Atlantic Slave Trade is then discussed how the “system of asientos was beneficial to Havana’s economy” because “slave imports in the city grew significantly in the late sixteenth century” (37).  Then, difficulties with the slabe trade were discussed such as trying to trace slaves through the inter-colonial slave trade, illegal transactions, etc. (39-40).  Intercolonial trade was then discussed and how the intercolonial exchanges benefited and boosted trade in Havana, both locally and nationally (44).  Next, the author talked about insular trade and how food was the priority in the interior of Havana (47).

Jenny L. Presnell, “History and the Internet”

Presnell begins the article discussing the benefits of the internet such as being able to provide a variety of information while connecting both the teacher and learner (136).  One of the downsides Presnell notes is that the internet has no organization which can waste the time of the researcher (136).  Presnell lists several kinds of “serious history” that can be found on the web such as primary sources now being digitized on the internet so that way many individuals can gain access to these documents (138).  Furthermore, bibliographies, government documents, specialized reference sources, secondary sources, communication, and syllabi (138-140).  Then, Presnell goes over the basics of how to use the internet – describing how to pick a browser, search for information, etc. (142-143).  Next, Presnell discusses how to find primary sources.  To me, this was the most important part for a historian because sometimes it is very difficult to find a primary source.  She says to browse academic sources first (152).  Then, use several various search engines to try to narrow down your options (152).  If you are looking for a particular primary source, Presnell notes that you should add that as a key term in your researching (152).  Also, I learned about H-net which is essentially a blog that discusses real-world issues (so cool) (153).  Next, Presnell notes how to evaluate sites concerned with primary sources by looking at the quality of the scans and the documents, searchability, bibliography/webliography, and interpretive and descriptive materials (154-155).  Lastly, Presnell discusses a case study looking at Japanese Americans and Internment Camps to illustrate the importance of researching with keywords, search engines, etc.


Extra Credit – Oral History

Today, I went to the Talking History discussion of “Oral History on the Rappahannock, from the Mountains to the Bay,” by Dr. Sellers and Mr. Walker.  The discussed how the Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) use history to connect the community and history to the Rappahannock River.  The goal is to help people gain a better understanding of the river and to hopefully open the eyes of our locals about the importance.

Both Sellers and Walker described that they started their independent with the focus of the Embrey Dam Removal, which was built in 1910 and taken down in 2004.  They discussed the benefits of taking this dam down since it allowed migratory fish to move into their traditional spawning areas for the first time since 1910.  They also noted the increase in environmental activism and eco-tourism (people are now coming here to paddle).  Sellers and Walker also said that the Rappahannock is now the longest free-flowing river on the east coast.

Next, Sellers and Walker discussed the interviewing process that they went to in order to get research for this independent study.  For instance, Walker noted that interviewing has a lot of issues such as: interviewee’s age, health, and availability, their comfort and willingness.  Also, they had an issue with gatekeepers – having to go through one person to get information from another.  On the positive note, Sellers noted how this is new historical knowledge – new primary information.

Furthermore, Walker discussed other challenges they faced when retrieving their information.  Walker noted how transcripts was an issue because the transcriber did not know how to transcribe the language from the Chief of the Rappahannock River because she used Indian names for locations.  Also, linguistics is an issue because Walker wanted the removal or “um” and “you know” from the transcript, but he noted that it could be an issue because it could take away from the linguistics at this time.  Walker did further note that he does want to try to save vernacular of the individuals he interviewed.

Overall, this talk was very interesting and really opened my eyes to how little I know about the Rappahannock River, and I have lived around here since 2001.  The Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) should be discussed more often so that the community knows that individuals can make a difference.

Pilcher, “Food History”

The “The Embodied Imagination in Recent Writings on Food History”, written by Jeffrey Pilcher, discusses the increase of the historical research of food and the cultural history that has risen from this.  Pilcher discusses the term “embodied imagination” which “offers a useful means for conceptualizing the connections between sensory perceptions of food such as flavor, warmth, and satiety; the material work of preparing and consuming food; and cultural and social abstractions” (862).  This term is very important because now historians can use food as a social and cultural means in order to gain a completely different perspective on history.  Next, Pilcher discusses three recurring themes which are “social distinction, industrial transformation, and food politics” which “are often expressed through the embodied imagination of taste, purity, and hunger” (863).  Once again, by using food as another outlet for history, historians can dive into these three distinct themes.  Next, Pilcher discusses the where the study of changing tastes started, which was in Europe, within the elite class because of their wide array of opportunities and options provided (865).  Within Europe, the French Culinary Revolution has been the most studied (865).  Furthermore, Pilcher discusses how historians are going beyond the pure taste sensations of individuals, but they are now looking at the linguistic vocabulary used to describe food (868).  Also, sensory experiences around food can also be documented for research (869).  And through the sensory tastes of an individual, apparently race also plays a factor (871).  Pilcher notes how “Periodization has become an important question in the historiography on the food industry, as scholars debate exactly when and how an industrial diet of sugars and fats came to replace the carbohydrate-centered peasant diets of the premodern world” (878).  First of all, this is so cool!  I would have never thought about this, but I can completely see how by looking at this through a historical lens, the findings a historian could find!  The physical experience of hunger as a study for research is noted in this article because of the manipulation of food on people’s body, social standing, culture, etc. (882).  Overall, this article covered main focuses of food history and how it can help historians see different perspectives of the past.  I absolutely loved this read and as a historian, find this very necessary to focus on while studying the past.

Howell and Prevenier “Source Criticism” and “Historical Interpretation”

To start off with the excerpt, Howell and Prevenier discuss the genealogy of a document.  They get into detail about documents being copied and not being the original.  They state that copies often have faults in them and how historians can trace these copies back to the original (61).  Next, they discuss the genesis of a document by looking at when the document was created and by who (62).  They state that historians have to look at the reason behind the document which can help them analyze the time period (diaries, legal documents, etc.) (63).  Then, Howell and Prevenier discuss the originality of the document.  They state that when historians look at the document, they note that “most of the documents that come from the past . . . are products of an intellectual tradition” (63).  Historians have to break codes, read other documents from that time period, or just have to analyze the document in order to understand why it was written (64).  Next, they discuss the interpretation of a document by stating that trying to find the meaning of a document can be very tricky for historians.  Authorial authority is discussed next in which the authors note that historians must figure out who wrote the document; was it someone from that time period or was it passed down to them? (65).  Which relates directly with the competence of the observer – how were they mentally or physically when the document was written? (66).  Lastly, that leads historians to the trustworthiness of the observer – if they are not trustworthy, historians must analyze the documents very carefully (68).

The next reading, the Historical Interpretation, Howell and Prevenier discuss three ways in which to interpret historical documents.  The first way they note is that historians must compare sources in order to confirm their sources, or even contradict their findings (which is also very beneficial) (69).  Next, Howell and Prevenier note that historians must have enough information on their study in order to correctly understand their findings (79).  For some instances, more information is needed then others, and also sometimes not many documents are produced in a specific time period, so less information is okay.  Lastly, they discuss that not all facts matter to the historian.  Yes, they can be taken into consideration, but historians do not need to use them all, only the important ones that relate to their research (84-85).

The Source – the Basis of Our Knowledge

First off, the authors begin discussing what exactly a source is and discusses the various kinds.  First, they note “relics or remains” that “offer the researcher a clue about the past simply by virtue of their existence” (17).  The second source they note are testimonies which are oral and/or written accounts of an event that occurred in the past (17).   Both are noted that they were created at that time for an important meaning or a specific purpose (18).  Later, the authors note how historians use these sources/artifacts in order to gain an understanding of what happened/occurred during the time period (19).  In part B of the article, the authors discuss the source typologies such as narratives, memoirs, social documents, and diplomatic sources and get into detail regarding the individual importance of having these documents from a certain time period.  For example, they noted that having a memoir explains “the outcome of a life” and does not “record its process” (21).  Next, the authors discuss how historians do not solely rely on written evidence, but can look at oral such as stories, sound recordings, radio talks, computer files, etc. (24-25).  Also, it is important to understand that oral records “can complement the written” (26).  Lastly, the authors discuss how historians store their information in archives.  They discuss the issues with archives being destroyed in the past, but also note how beneficial archives are; they store important documents that historians have access too for research.