Trout Gallery

Throughout these past few weeks I have inquired more knowledge about the Trout Gallery that I had ever intended to do.  Most of my research has been with the help of Professor Earenfight, the current director of the Trout Gallery.  He has helped me enormously by giving me material that is relevant to my research.

When I initially started my research on the Trout Gallery I had countless questions that I wanted to explore and find the answers to.  A lot of my questions were basic questions that could be answered by reading information on the Gallery itself through the website.  I never thought to explore the questions as to why specific things happened and why the Trout Gallery for example, never established a set of guidelines when selecting donations until now.  As I met with Professor Earenfight, he was able to answer a lot of the basic questions for me, so now I need to focus more on the questions as to why these things occurred.

Finding time to do my research has been one of the challenges I gave come across.  Although there are not a ton of documents I need to spend hours reading through, I do have four other classes and homework that has been piling up since it is the end of the semester.  I try to find as much time as possible researching and writing my research paper but at times it is difficult.

Another challenge that I have come across is the insufficient amount of documents.  Because the Trout Gallery is currently in the process of establishing a mission statement and general guidelines, I do not have a lot of historical documents.  With that being said, I have to rely a lot on information Professor Earenfight is presenting me through meetings and interviews which may or may not be biased because I do not have another point of view.  I was thinking that interviewing the previous directors of the Trout Gallery may be helpful in finding answers to my ‘why’ questions.

Vive la mort, vive la guerre, vive le sacré mercenaire

Mercenary soldiers are hardly a new phenomenon on the world stage, but in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries they’ve acquired a new notability, starting with the large operations in the Congo and today with the booming private military contractor industry. My paper aims to take a look at the driving forces behind this resurgence of mercenary work, analyzing the evolution of modern mercenary soldiering from large-scale warfighting to more technical, consulting and security work, along with the motives and politics behind mercenary work.

My work will include primary sources from the Congo, Biafra, Angola, the Sierra Leone Civil War, and several other coups and operations. These sources are all easily attainable, and this paper ought to prove quite fun to write.

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.

Always a researcher, never a writer

First Tuchman, now Marius. This is the second time I’ve read an academic horror story in which someone becomes so wrapped up in research that s/he never gets around to writing. Tuchman recalls “a lady professor” in her seventies who had been doing research all her life. Marius, too, writes of Frederick Jackson Turner, who was only able to write one of the many books he had promised to publishers (A Short Guide to Writing About History, 88-89). These individuals – both the lady professor and Turner – knew so much, but were they ever able to share even a fraction of their knowledge with the world? Tuchman is right when she says “Research is endlessly seductive; writing is hard work” (Practicing History,21).

The black hole of death. Stop researching or you might end up on an episode of Hoarders. From

The black hole of death. Stop researching or you might end up on an episode of Hoarders. From

I was somewhat afraid of following in their footsteps and becoming a perpetual researcher while doing our archive assignment. As I explored the collection of General James Gordon Steese – Dickinson College Class of 1902, Army engineer, WWI witness, Panama Canal builder, Alaska Road Commissioner, Prospector of South American oil, and all around adventurer and world traveler – I was amazed at what I found. The artifacts included a flirty goodbye letter from 1910 made with magazine scraps; an elaborate certificate signed by Presidents Roosevelt and Taft; and photographs of men wrangling alligators and sea lions, among other items. Still, with twelve plus boxes of documents pertaining to some of the most important events of the first half of the twentieth century in front of me, it wasn’t too hard to see how the situation could turn from an interesting class assignment into a black hole of death. Once I’d rummaged around a bit and picked four fairly interesting pieces (but oh, there were so many!), I got out of there, knowing that my incredible ability to get distracted would get me nowhere.

I also found that recording not just my findings, but also my thoughts and questions as I went was really helpful both to guide my research and simplify the end task. I’ve realized that it’s important to be conscientious of your thought and not let yourself slip into that sort of absentmindedness that comes with casual reading. Thoughts are fleeting, tie them down to a piece of paper so that they don’t disappear into your nether regions of your brain again! Writing as I went made putting the whole piece together at the end that much easier. Writing is a process. This is something that we’re constantly told but, at least for me, is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way and am only now beginning to understand and apply. So here’s to knowing when to stop researching and start writing, to the writing process, and to our ability to change, learn, and grow from it!