Saturday at the Cumberland County Historical Society

Yesterday I visited the Cumberland County Historical Society on Pitt Street, across from Alibi’s. I wanted to take a look at their materials and get a general feel of the place. It’s a really neat center; the staff are amiable and accommodating and the library is clean, spacious, and full of light.

I went in with only a very vague idea of what I was looking for – sources that might tell me something about the history of the African American population in early twentieth century Carlisle. One of the library personnel pointed in a few directions.

First, I did some basic keyword searches in the library catalogue, which incorporates all of the center’s materials, including those from the archive. Although the catalog is not available online, it’s fairly user friendly. Each item has a paragraph-long description that can give you a good idea of its content and save you time. I learned the names of people and places that might be important to my project just in this preliminary search. Another great feature of the catalogue is that all photographs searchable and visible through the searches.

From there I delved into the one-box “African American Collection.” The contents dealt mostly with slavery and the Underground Railroad, and touched on the civil rights movement. There were a couple folders on African American churches and schools in Carlisle. While the contents in itself didn’t get me much closer to what I was looking for, I noticed that many of the materials had been catalogued by our very own Malinda Triller, so I’ve made mental note to talk to her about what she remembers of the materials.

I was a bit discouraged by the results of my first search. As Professor Qualls wrote in his most recent email, though, I might be going about it “the hard way.” Especially when it comes to an obscure aspect of the local history of a small town like Carlisle, trying to find enough sources to answer a set of questions (much less form a thesis) is a difficult task. We are necessarily limited by the number and content of primary sources available. There is no doubt that I’ll be reorienting or completely changing my initial topic.

Entrance to the Cumberland County Historical Society.

For those who are interested, the CCHS Library hours are:

Monday                                   4:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday through Friday          10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Saturday                                  10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

On a separate note, for those of you who are interested in Carlisle history, here’s the website of a 2007 American Studies fieldwork class: Carlisle History: A living history of Carlisle, PA.

I also came across this book in an internet search. Looks like a fun read!: Wicked Carlisle by Joseph David Cress.

Workin’ on (researching) the railroad…among other things

Wolfgang Schivelbusch gives a very detailed, well-researched account of how the railroads changed how people viewed their lives. Despite his dearth of primary sources, however, Schivelbusch neglects the lower-class people whose views were no doubt also impacted by what the Americans called the “iron horse.” This is somewhat understandable, as the lower class in pretty much all of society is traditionally less lettered, literate, or likely to record their thoughts and feelings than the upper class, but their thoughts on the matter are still quite important. Perhaps more than the rich, the working class was influenced by the railroad as an easy method of quick conveyance around the Continent, and accordingly had more of a worldview shift courtesy of the railroad. Schivelbusch presents an excellent picture of how the railroad changed society, but it could stand to be a bit more complete.

With regard to Marius’ writings, I must confess I had the exact opposite problem with my research. Colonel John D. Hartigan no doubt had a very interesting career in the service, first as a training unit commander at Dickinson, then in the military governorship of Austria. Tantalizing glimpses are given of this, such as a friendly letter from the commander of all French forces in Germany, or his Memorial Day speech to the college, but by and large his papers are a somewhat single-minded affair, focusing on his drive to create a study abroad program at the college. His pictures are somewhat more interesting, but again provide little insight into the man. I suppose this motivated me to be quick and efficient with my research, but it was somewhat disappointing in that I’d expected to find a much different set of documents to peruse, rather than a single-minded collection focused solely on one aspect of the man.