There is an unlimited number of ways historians could represent primary sources into data. For example, in order to analyze and interpret the past, historians can use raw evidence to dig further into their studies and broaden their knowledge on the cases they are studying. Primary sources can come in the form of journal entries, diaries, speeches, interviews, even donation receipts! (In reference to our Creating Tidy Data assignment) Oftentimes, when historians are studying history from the deep past, information can become muffled in confusing context and can leave blank findings. However, when historians are given a journal or any other source, they can create a tidy data set with the information at hand to neatly organize their findings, as well as simplifying the truths of history– this is evidence of the past after all!
In class, we’ve looked at several primary sources, the two that come to mind immediately are; the death certificates and the more recent one, the curators’ record of donations. The death certificates gave us an idea of who died in the fires and when they died (though, they all would have been the same day unless they had only sustained injuries). We were able to curate a tidy data set based on our findings, and recognize those of the past; to be able to acknowledge their passing one last time is one of the greatest gifts of history. In our curators’ record of donations task, we were able to split up the data into categories to better organize the information the documents were giving us. These primary sources can be represented as data through the use of excel sheets or Google spread. Laying out and organizing the guidelines of your evidence decreases the chance of error, as well as having an aesthetically pleasing data set. Avoiding confusion and stress is one of many keys to a successful historical research project.
The advantages of considering primary sources as data are beneficial in understanding while also acknowledging they are pieces of evidence from the past. Wickham’s principles of tidy data are each variable forms a column, each observation forms a row, and that each type of observational unit forms a table. I had previously made this point on a former blog, however, I will restate it due to its importance: it is imperative that scholars understand that organized formatting can truly help elevate research findings while simplifying complex information.
Hadley Wickham, “Tidy Data,” Journal of Statistical Software 59, no. 10 (August 2014)
After thorough consideration and some back and forth between which topic I would like to dedicate my research paper to, I have the pleasure of learning more about the inmates in Occoquan Workhouse, now referred to as the Lorton Correctional Complex. I’m interested in learning more about the jail facility that was responsible for imprisoning female suffragettes who were caught picketing the White House demanding their right to vote. With a history of misconduct, overcrowding, and corruption, the Occoquan Workhouse will be a topic I can dive deep into and uncover the rich history that potentially hastened and encouraged the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Prior to hearing about the Occoquan Workhouse, I had a special interest in the prison system and in particular the corruption and advancement that often is associated with both the law and law enforcement. I am hoping to analyze some of the facts and the history associated with the women who were imprisoned in the District of Columbia in December of 1917. A specific quote from Trouillot that immediately stuck out to me when I thought of the rehabilitation system was, “power is unproblematic, irrelevant to the construction of the narrative as such. At best, history is a story about power, a story about those who won.” (p.5). Often we can forget that history isn’t a form of fiction due to our more recent understanding of history being far attached from the past, however, we must not forget to acknowledge the fact that the consequences and advancement we experience now is coming from those who suffered on our behalf. The way we live in both a modern and Western society is the result of “those who won.” We see history from the side of the victor, and it’s important to note that in history there will always be two sides. By keeping my research authentic I will be implementing a method of Trouillot from Silencing the Past to learn more about the history of Occoquan Workhouse by solely basing my research through my findings, not how I feel about the situation or my previous biases regarding the prison complex. I want to be able to recognize the corruption and negative aspects, however, I will not let that aspect insert itself into my work and compromise the integrity of my findings. My sole intention is to learn more, not distort truths or to prove something as being right or wrong. Let’s get our history on!