Websites and Historical Research

Pontificating, Research Mechanics 1 Comment »

The assigned readings of the The Information-Literate Historian were very helpful in their treatment of historical research on the Internet. I particularly liked the methodologies that it gave on the evaluation of websites and how to construct one of your own. The idea of being able to access primary documents on the web is fairly enticing and I enjoyed the benefits of that possibility during the performance of my own research this semester. For some odd reason, I still have yet to construct a website of my own. This semester is the first time that I operated my own blog and religiously read the blogs of others. Before this semester, I viewed blogs as being interesting but not always the best use of one’s time. And, of course, the idea of putting your private life on the web for everyone to see just sounded problematic. That is still something that I don’t quite understand. Nonetheless, I have gained a better familiarity and respect for the Internet than I had prior to taking this course. It is strange how much the internet has changed since the last time I was in college.

Primary Source vs. Secondary Source Research

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While I was doing my literature review, I noticed that the most useful sources used a lot of primary sources.  The less useful sources used mostly secondary sources.  As a matter of fact they usually had the same structure as the so-called research papers that I used to do in other classes.  I am not entirely sure how I will use secondary sources in my main research paper.  I am still somewhat afraid  to paraphrase anything because I am scared that I will still plagiarize the author’s diction and tone.  On the other hand, the only way to use a secondary source is to paraphrase; so what am I to do?  I am tempted to say that I shall go it alone and use only primary sources for my paper, and only use secondary sources when I am discussing the historiography of my topic.  Unfortunately, this reasoning sounds so manly that, well, only Theodore Roosevelt could pull it off.  And I don’t have a barrel chest.  And although being shot is still cool, I don’t want to be shot either.  But I digress.  How am I going to integrate secondary sources into my main research?  I still have this idea in my head that they are what has already been done, the mistaken attempts by previous historians to do what I am about to do.  At least in theory anyway.  Why would I want to use their ideas?  Sure one should know the history of history.  But actually use it to describe history?  What sense could that make?

The New American History Chapter 8 Summary

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Thomas Bender’s chapter, “Intellectual and Cultural History,” explores how intellectual history should be preserved “as an established way of training historians to read texts closely and rigorously”[1] and how intellectual history needs to remain “a specialization that examines a significant social group—intellectuals—as a social type and as active and self-conscious participants in a continuous and ever-changing public discourse on the human condition.”[2]  This exploration is accomplished through a chronological discussion of intellectual history that focuses on the pivotal intellectual historians of each major time period within the progression of intellectual history and their works.  The majority of the sources used by Bender during his essay are the monographs published by the historians discussed within his article; the remaining sources used being substantial academic articles and primary documents of note.

[1] Thomas Bender, “Intellectual and Cultural History,” in The New American History, ed. Eric Foner (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1997), 182.

[2] Ibid.

Secondary Source Analysis

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Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.


1. Provide some information about the author.

Taylor Branch is a famous Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights biographer.  He advised President Clinton on race-related matters and has won the Pulitzer Prize in History.  Having written a renowned trilogy of books on Martin Luther King, Jr.,  he is considered  an authority on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his time in the Civil Rights Movement.  Branch received a bachelor’s degree in American History in 1968, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and was raised in Atlanta.  He has pursued graduate study in international economics, religion, and philosophy at Princeton University.  A mixture of a journalist, political activist, and historian, Branch started getting involved in political activism in college, helping to challenge and unseat the Georgia delegation of the 1968 Democratic National Party convention, and continued during his graduate study, assisting Georgian blacks in their efforts to register to vote.  He also has written for Washington Monthly as well as Harper’s and Esquire magazines and edited and still sometimes edits Washington Monthly.  Other literary works authored by him are a novel, The Empire Blues (1981) and several other books written and co-written by Branch.   

2. Why did the author write this book? What’s the author’s perspective?

Branch wrote this book out of the conviction that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “life is the best and most important metaphor for American History in the watershed postwar years.”[1]  He writes a narrative history in which he places King within the context of his times, in essence writing an omniscient third person narrative that includes everyone in direct contact with King during his Civil Rights activities from 1954 to 1963.

3. What is the author’s methodology? What sources does the author use? What is the book’s thesis?

            Branch makes “biography and history reinforce each other by knitting together a number of personal stories.”[2]  The book’s thesis is that the truth of a civil rights movement history surrounding King “requires a maximum effort to see through the eyes of strangers, foreigners, and enemies”[3] and to sustain the thesis “that King’s life is the best and most important metaphor for American History in the watershed postwar years.”[4]  The author uses newspaper and magazine articles; published autobiographical books; audio recordings; interviews; FBI files; correspondences; organizational memorandum; the papers of individual Civil Rights leaders, participants, and witnesses; and Albany, GA city records for sources.

4. When was the book written?

            This book was written approximately between the years 1981 and 1988.


5. How will you use the source for your paper?

            I will use this source to explore the relationship between James Farmer and Martin Luther King, Jr.


6. What are some of the problems that you foresee in using this source for your paper?

            Since it is not a primary source document, it could entail extra research when its conclusions must be verified, if possible.

[1] Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), xii.


[2]Ibid., xi.


[3]Ibid., xii.

[4] Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), xii.  


Research Mechanics 5 Comments »

I am not the greatest note taker in the world, but what I do is functional. I use the traditional roman numeral outline system that does not have any roman numerals due to the influence of various computer science classes that I took years ago. I write enough information in order to get the general idea of the work on which I am taking notes as well as any important information that may be useful in the future. For history, I have also made it a point to write any relevant bibliographic information and where certain paraphrases and quotes came from within the writing in question. Although I am impressed by the use of various color schemes and pictorial methods of note taking, I am too lazy or never have time to do any of them. Black and white is fine with me.

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