Posted tagged ‘history’

Death and Research

April 1, 2011

I am going to take the liberty to be selfish once more on this blog. I’m wrestling with something extremely tough. It may not seem shocking to others that Civil War soldiers died. In fact, I’ve seen the statistics. But when they are “your” soldiers, when you read their letters and feel like you know their families, their deaths hurt.

I am reminded that we, as historians, need to remain humans. We need to connect with our subjects and preserve their humanity as well. Wars, though an obvious point, result in death. The Civil War was certainly no exception.

The larger question/problem/point, I suppose, is how does this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach translate itself into a meaningful analysis when I eventually write about this family in a dissertation? I am not quite sure. How can I convey the raw humanity that I’m experiencing?

I am not sure if there are neat and tidy answers to my questions. I suppose others have wrestled with these same ideas. Death is death, in the past or the present. It is with this type of discussion and reality, though, that I see the importance of this organization and the questions we ask. Faith, whether we like it or not, flavors our interpretation. When I look at the Brown family of Athens County, Ohio, and their experience during the Civil War, I cannot help but notice their faith. I have to reflect on it from my own faith perspective as well. Their sureness in their son and brother’s salvation, is at best a testimony, and at worst stunningly sad.

I hope I never lose the heart to feel for my subjects. I hope I can do them justice when I write. I hope that people see how war and death and politics and evil and ugliness and all of it make for a messy world; a world that needs a Savior, and One that brought life, redemption, and an eternity without this horror.


The Archives

March 25, 2011

I just spent the last few days at the National Archives digging up documents that have not been touched in decades… some perhaps not since they were placed in their boxes a century ago. There’s something thrilling about the archives.

There’s also something quite bothersome about the monotony of research. Though we have moments of clarity and discovery, we have many more moments of drudgery, flipping page after page hoping for something “good,” only to find more minutiae.

As I worked, I kept thinking of the social responsibility of the historian, as expressed by several authors in the *Confessing History* book. Namely, I kept thinking “these soldiers were people… I cannot reduce them to numbers” as I compiled empirical evidence for my dissertation. I hope I do them justice. I hope I represent them honestly. I hope they, though not alive to defend their honor, would appreciate the way in which I express the complexity of their lives.

Another observation that I made while researching was the temporality of “generalizations.” No matter what conclusion I came to, I could think of a way around it. In other words, if I thought “all soldiers…” I could always think of an exception. If I thought “no soldiers…” I still yet thought of exceptions. So I decided to make qualified assessments, hoping that my ultimate conclusions in my larger argument hold water, yet are not over-reaching in their claims. When I say that a piece of information “complicates our understanding” my advisors always comment that I need to be more specific. Sometimes, though, that’s what I mean… it complicates it… in millions of different non-specific ways.

I guess there’s no neat moral to my story. There’s no easy conclusion to wrestling with history, I’ve learned. There’s no check A, B, or C. The answers are complicated and murky. The sources don’t answer exactly what I want. They are a bit like putting together a jigsaw with no reference picture and no certainty that all the pieces were in the box. Is it still worth assembling?

I think so.

Anyone else want to share their experiences from the archives? How are your classes this semester? Please submit ideas for book reviews or thinkpieces. Together we can make this organization exciting, but we all need to read, contribute, and engage.

New Links on History and Religion

January 12, 2011

Make sure to check out the links on the right hand side for the Historical Society and Religion in American History.  These are both excellent blogs managed by CFH’s own Randall Stephens (Eastern Nazarene University).

Be sure to visit, read, and comment on these blogs as well.  The articles help us stay connected to the trends in the field, historiography, and can provide great networking opportunities for conferences and publications.

Attending the CFH Conference?

September 20, 2010

Are you planning on attending the upcoming CFH Conference at George Fox University in Newburg, Oregon on Oct 6-7 and 7-9, 2010?

Great!  Get in touch with others to make travel arrangements.  A few people have contacted me via the Facebook group.  Check us out, CFH Grad Students on Facebook!

For more info on the conference itself, check out

These are great conferences to meet other like-minded historians.  Even if you are not prepared to present any of your own research, the opportunities to discuss the research of others is always enriching.