Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finding a Research Approach

A good first document to post is Alan Gutchess' "A Modest Proposal".   Mr. Gutchess has a set of "rules" for reenactors that should be considered when building a believable persona and kit.  

A Modest Proposal - Alan Gutchess

Right now I am brainstorming my research approach.  I have thought about primary and secondary sources, period artwork, and surviving artifacts as my sources to give direction to my goal.  Perhaps I was over-complicating things, but I have been thinking of what the minimum amount of documentation would be needed to go ahead with accepting an item in my "kit".  For example, just one secondary source description (or any single source) is too minimal to make a good, educated decision.  Artist depictions are also sometimes too vague or may have a bit of "artistic license" used and aren't accurate at times.

So what am I to do for documentation?  Should I have a system for "weighting" the documentation?  Should very reliable documentation, such as dug and surviving artifacts should be given priority over other sources?   Maybe I'm making this way too difficult.   I tend to over-think things WAY too much!

Time to prioritize sources for research.  My little list of "source awesomeness" is listed from best to worst (in my opinion):

1.  Dug artifacts:  They have been in the ground for 250 years.  There are no "my daddy said great-uncle Willy got this from his paw paw Jim...." stories about the artifact.  It is in a specific place at a specific time.  That makes it REALLY good!

2.  Non-dug artifacts:  This is the stuff that survives in attics and trunks for 250 years.  The best stuff is in reliable museums.  There's probably a story with it... who knows how true it is, but if it matches a written description or other artifacts, then it is a good source.

3.  Primary sources:  Journals, articles and descriptions recorded at the time it happened are pretty good for research.  Time can fade memories and accuracy, so primary resources are pretty helpful. I especially will seek out inventories, probate records, etc.  Essentially lists of stuff that existed at a specific time and place.  

3.  Period Artwork: A painting, sketch, engraving, etc. from the time of study may shed light on things.  There is some apprehension in using this because we all know that artists tend to use some "artistic license" and change details or do not add enough detail in certain aspects of the artwork.   

4.  Secondary Sources: Descriptions written after an event happened or books by authors based on their research.  Now I put this at the bottom of the list, but books by experts are a BIG help to me.  I don't have a doctorates degree in research and most of them do.  I'll rely on their expertise and why reinvent the wheel?

5.  The guy that has been reenacting for years:  He may have a lot to share, but unless he can offer the above four resources for my own perusal, then I'll just have to take it with a smile and a grain of salt.  I don't want to sound snooty, but like in any academic subject such as history, new stuff is out there.  One thing I have noticed is the value of friends that urge me to "get into the research" before they make recommendations or give me a direction.  I really appreciate that they have the attitude of "here is the evidence I have found.....  see what you can find and we'll compare".   That is so much more helpful than, "THIS is how they did it!" and "They had wood, they had leather, they had cloth..... so they musta made one of these to use."  

The plan is to get a good set of primary sources (at least 3) before I buy or make anything for my kit.  Since there is occasionally scant amounts of information for some items, a "best guess" may be needed, but I welcome input and suggestions from anyone who may have more primary sources regarding specific items.  

My next step is to get a brief history and cultural context on Les Pays des Illinois.  I need to know who was here in 1750, where they came from and what they were doing at the time.   Lots more work to do..... but let's start it with a couple of articles that give nice little descriptions of the area.  

Colonists and Colonizing in the Illinois Country

Illinois Country - Wikipedia

No comments:

Post a Comment