All posts by Matthew Pinsker

Assignment –Ancestry.com

Due Date

  • Friday, September 16, 2016 by 5pm (via course website)

Objective

Students in History 204 should create a short entry in their research journal (about 600-800 words, or 3-4 pages) that documents how they used Ancestry.com and other reference sources to help launch their investigation of their assigned Dickinson College class of students (1840-1880).

Grading

  • Entries will NOT be graded on prose or design elements (though both will factor into whether or not the journal entry will ultimately get published).  Instead, the focal point of grading will be on research effort and historical analysis.  Try to focus on communicating a deliberate and effective protocol for historical research.

Guidelines

  • DATA OVERVIEW. Begin by organizing the information about your class from the 1905 Alumni Record into some kind of useful datasets.  In other words: try to provide your readers with a general overview of the subject –how many students total, how many graduates, non-graduates, providing some breakdown of their origins, affiliations, and career choices, etc.  You may do this basic statistical analysis in sentence form, or through bullet points, or with some kind of table, chart or infographic.  It just depends.  But keep in mind that this overview might help uncover possible fruitful avenues for teaching and presentation in your later essays and projects.
  • OTHER REFERENCE. Then select some of your subjects for further investigation in reference sources beyond the 1905.  These reference sources might include:  Wikipedia, American National Biography Online (via Library databases), or nineteenth-century publications, such as county histories, regimental histories (for Civil War veterans), or various professional directories (like bench and bar guides, cyclopedias, or annual proceedings from Methodist conferences).  Typically, you will be able to research these published nineteenth-century sources most easily by advanced searching in Google Books.  Please note that you do not have to research ALL of your subjects in this manner, and certainly should not expect to have the space to report on all of these efforts in your post regardless, but look for opportunities to describe a few or several of them in your initial research journal entry.
  • ANCESTRY.COM.  Please conclude this initial journal entry by documenting with one or two good examples, how you can trace the lives of your subjects over time using Census records from Ancestry.com (via Library databases).  Make sure to include cropped page images from the relevant Census records and try to show some creativity with your interpretation.  Here is where, for example, you might look for opportunities to begin identifying the women important in the lives of your Dickinson subjects.

Reminders

  • Prose is not graded here, but writing with clarity and vigor should always be your objective.  Poorly written posts will not hurt your grade at this stage, but they will prevent you from getting your work published.  Quick note –these entries may contain first person pronouns, but try to keep the focus on “I” to a minimum nonetheless.
  • Design is not graded here either, but use this initial entry as a way to test out your WordPress skills.  Include images (with proper captions and credits) that have text neatly wrapped around, and provide occasional hypertext links to freely accessible outside sources.  Footnotes are not required in research journal entries, but you want to experiment with providing ways for readers to visualize and access your sources.

House Divided Got Punked, Lincoln Forgery-Style

Adapted from a recent post at Blog Divided:

Alexander Stephens (Courtesy of House Divided Project, Dickinson College)

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Last week, sadly, we discovered that there was a forged document in the House Divided research engine.  David Gerleman from the Papers of Abraham Lincoln contacted us to point out that a letter supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln to Georgia politician (and future Confederate Vice President) Alexander Stephens, dated January 19, 1860, was a known Lincoln forgery.  The letter (since removed) was full of memorable and sometimes unLincolnian statements about the sectional crisis and ended with the line:  “This is the longest letter I ever dictated or wrote.”  Since Lincoln was not in the habit of dictating anything at all (especially in those pre-presidential days), this was a document that should have set off warning bells.  But it was published as part of a pamphlet that had been produced during the centennial of Lincoln’s birth in 1909 and even now remains in wide circulation on the Internet and elsewhere.  A recent scholarly article in the Tulane Law Review by John Inazu (“The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly” 2010) even began by quoting from it.  Yet there was no such exchange with Stephens. For a full discussion of the problems with the alleged January 19, 1860 document, see the article, “Four Spurious Lincoln Letters” in the Bulletin of the Abraham Lincoln Association 21 (Dec. 1930): 5-9, available online here). You can view the text of the forged document at the Internet Archive (where we apparently found it) inside a pamphlet edited by noted Lincoln collector Judd Stewart and entitled,  Some Lincoln Correspondence with Southern Leaders Before the Outbreak of the Civil War (1909).   Stewart was one of the so-called “Big Five” of early Lincoln collectors and was careless enough to fall victim to these types of scams (his collection, stripped of several other faked items, is now housed at the Huntington Library in California).  During the decades after Lincoln’s assassination, there was practically a land office business in Lincoln forgeries, and their ripple effects are still being felt today.  I exposed one of these problems in 1999 when actor Warren Beatty and journalist Jonathan Alter used a phony Lincoln quotation about the evils of big corporations that had originally been ginned up during the Populist era and continues to be quoted and re-quoted today despite numerous debunkings.  History News Network reprinted the piece in 2005 when author Kevin Phillips and historian Paul Kennedy both made the same mistake of admiring a Lincoln who sounded suspiciously like William Jennings Bryan.  What’s the lesson in all this for teachers and students?  Check your sources.  We never should have used a 1909 pamphlet for a Lincoln document when the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., 1953; 1974, 1990) is the current gold standard in Lincoln’s writings (though the online Papers of Abraham Lincoln, where Gerleman works, will soon become the new AAA-rated repository for all things Lincolniana).  And always remember, when a story or document seems too “good” to be true … it just very well might be.