Finding the meaning in sources: the diary of Laura Manier

Historians approach sources in two ways: first, what does the source say. Second, what does the source mean. As a historian with a dual interest in archives, I enjoy an unusual relationship with source materials. Unlike most researchers who visit distant repositories, I’m still the primary steward of the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives  at Illinois College (that is, until they hire an archivist in the next few months). This means that when I look at sources, they hold multiple meanings and responsibilities. I not only want to know what they say, but I have vested interest in their preservation and public use. One of the most insightful sources that has turned up in my research so far is  the diary of Laura Manier, who attended the Young Ladies’ Athenaeum in 1878 (if you click on the link, you can read the whole thing yourself). An account of the spring 1878 semester, Laura wrote about parties and friends, outings with young men, difficult professors who made her friends cry, violin lessons (for which she did not always practice), and the cultural events and concerts in Jacksonville.  Continue reading

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Researching the Taboo

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The historical marker along Michagan Ave. in Jacksonville showing the location of the North Immanuel Cemetery, the burial grounds for the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane. Note that the first patient and the first person to buried here were both female.

What we know of history is heavily edited. Edited by memory, shame, pride, or one’s right to privacy. In American Athena, I’m not just interested to know what happened to educated women, I’m interested to know what happened to an entire community where women were educated. There’s a big difference. Simply educating women is not enough to overcome deeply engrained patriarchal systems. But does it help?

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