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History

When Did I Realize I Wanted to Study History?

Posted in Blog, Studying History by

Recently I was asked the question of when did I realize I wanted to study history. I thought about the question for a time. My first thought was I realized in my second year of community college. At the time I was a psychology major and instead of getting the most out of my psychology courses, I was more drawn to my humanities and history classes. So, I switched to History. But I do not think that is when I realized I wanted to study history. I think I knew very early in life, but was not necessarily fully aware of my want to study history. But it is ironic that I was asked this question in the last few days, as the answer to this question sunk 105 years ago today.

Prior to the 1997 blockbuster hit Titanic, I remember seeing bits and pieces about the famous shipwreck on the news. Between 1987 and 1996, thousands of items from the wreckage were recovered. The stories centered on these excavations, more specifically on the debates that ensued. The main questions were: Was taking items from the site of Titanic’s final resting place, the resting place of so many lives, grave robbing? Or, was recovering the items a way of preserving history? My young mind was perplexed by this debate to say the least. I think on some level I was too young to grasp the debate fully, but I was really enthralled by it, especially by how much people cared about something that happened, at the time, 70+ years ago.

After the film came out in 1997, the artifacts from the wreck were organized into a traveling exhibit, “Titanic: The Experience.” Living in New Jersey at the time, I saw the exhibit in 1999 when it was at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City. It really was, as the exhibit was called, an experience. There was something very powerful about it- even at such a young age I felt it. What I remember most from walking through the expansive exhibit was the intense fascination I had with the individual stories behind the physical artifacts. One item I remember from the exhibit was a name bracelet that said “Amy.” Having been nearly twenty years since being in the exhibit, I do not recall what the signs read word for word, but I do recall that the bracelet’s owner was not positively identified. There were some on board the ship that had names that could be linked to the nickname Amy, or there were some passengers with the middle name Amy, but there was not a confirmation of which passenger the bracelet belonged to. I cannot say whether or not the bracelet’s owner has been identified in the last twenty or so years, but that bracelet was such a source of intrigue. It was not so much the physical bracelet itself that I was captured by, but the fact that it belonged to a person. A living, breathing person. One who may or may not have lived or died on April 14th, 1912.

I wanted to know more after I left the exhibit. Mind you, the Internet was not what it is like today, so learning about the ship and the people on it that way was somewhat limiting, at least for a small kid between the ages of 6 and 8. So, my main source of knowledge was books. And let me tell you, I read a lot of books about that ship and the people on it. But circling back to the question: when did I realize I wanted to study history? I cannot say that I knew between the ages of 6 and 8 (and beyond) that when “I grew up” I wanted to study history; but I would argue I was certainly influenced at that young age by the debate, by the exhibit, by the books- and that influence, along with other factors, put me on a metaphorical road to knowing that I wanted to study history.

(Featured Photograph Credit: Click Here)

14/04/2017
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London Day 7: Research at the Imperial War Museum

Yesterday I spent some time in the Research Room at the Imperial War Museum. They were kind enough to pull some items from their archives for me. Let me say that if you are ever going to do research at the Imperial War Museum, they make it an incredibly easy and smooth process. All I had to do was search their collections online and fill out a form online with the catalogue information of the items I wanted. I cannot remember how long they say to wait for a response as to whether or not they can accommodate your request, but I heard back in less than 24 hours. In reserving a time, they have two time slots- 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. Once they have approved your request, you receive an email with all of the instructions on how to prepare, as well as what you can and cannot bring.

I was a little nervous yesterday morning as I was not entirely sure of what to expect, but when I arrived at my designated time of 10am everything I requested was already pulled and ready to go. The woman who was there (I wish I could remember her name!) was friendly and great in explaining what I could and could not do. Their rules are extremely straightforward. I was allowed a pencil, paper and my laptop if I so chose. I was also allowed a camera, but three things: no flash, no shutter noise and it cost £10 for a camera pass for the day. I was going to purchase the pass before I sat down with the materials, but the woman who helped me gave great advice- look at what I have first and then get the pass if necessary as they do not offer refunds on the pass. After looking at the things they pulled for me, I ran and grabbed a pass right away. I wish I could share the photos of the amazing things I looked at, but per the agreement with the Imperial War Museum, I cannot digitally share the photos online. If I ever decide I would like to use the materials in a publication, the woman also gave me information on how I could go about it; however, this is not the case, so I cannot share the photographs.

You are allowed three items at a time at the desk space. I had three war nurse personal papers pulled. The first set of papers I opened ended up being more so focused on the Second World War. I scanned through the papers to see if I could find anything of interest for my research, but it was out of my date range and there really was not reference pertaining to my research. The other two items I had pulled are gold for my research. The first one is a sort of hybrid scrapbook-diary from a nurse in World War I. I think a lot of the written portions of the book were extracts from her diaries and personal letters and then she had so many newspaper clippings, photos, ration books, medical papers, pamphlets- it was everything any historian could ever dream of, and it was right there in my hands. The book contains about a 100 pages (maybe more), so for the sake of time, I followed the advice of my professors and snapped photos of everything before sitting and reading. That process took some time, but it was well worth it. Now I have the pages to go back to and look at more in depth. After photographing for my research, I sat and just took in the book itself, slowly scanning the pages and looking at each item this nurse chose to include.

The other item I had pulled was a set of three journals from another nurse. These journals are difficult to read due to the handwriting, but I lucked out- there was a partial transcription of the journals with the physical journals. I am excited to utilize these in my research as well.

I am set to return to the Research Room at the IWM before I leave London. I was originally scheduled for one more session, but the staff at the IWM helped me get another. It really has been an absolute privilege to have not only visited the IWM’s exhibits, but to research there has been a dream come true. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I have been given.

23/02/2017
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