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
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?
With its ever changing stock of artifacts and vibrant community of collectors, eBay is a wonderland of material culture waiting to be discovered. Most of the items related to the history of Jacksonville hint at popular culture, like this vintage leather postcard from the Illinois Women’s College (now MacMurray): Continue reading