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Jane Loegel
11-25-06
Senior Seminar 490
Jordan Paper #2
The book, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek, chronicled a slave revolt that never came
to fruition. While writing this book, the author had to take into consideration the many different
ideas surrounding the discussion of how to write and research history. Throughout our class we
have looked at many different sources and discussed many different ideas on how to write and
research history, all of which have given us a new outlook the way we look at history. As a
result of this new outlook, I feel able to critique Jordan’s book in a new light. While I still do not
enjoy his book much, I have a better background on problems historians face while writing and
researching and have found that Jordan’s attempt was successful at illustrating those issues that
historians have to deal with.
Among the issues facing historians when writing and researching history are the ideas of
time management within writing, how to deal with sources, causation in history, and most
importantly, why historians write history and how it is relevant to society. Through our in-class
project we were able to address and discuss these ideas and apply them to our Senior
Individualized Projects. Although I felt that we could have spent less time on the in-class project
and use it to work on our SIPs, the in-class project did help bring attention to the aforementioned
issues.
Time management is a big issue when it comes to writing and researching history. The
writer has to sift through his or her sources and reconcile conflicting data that can often make it
hard to have a timeline of events. However, timelines are not always needed because the author
may choose to take a thematic approach to material being researched; in either case, the issue of
time has to be dealt with. In Jordan’s book there is a timeline feel to it while at the same time, he
uses themes within the timeline. For Jordan’s topic it was probably easier to use the timeline
approach because the event being discussed was not very well known. By using the timeline
approach he allowed for the reader to familiarize him/herself with the event while also giving
some in-depth discussions of themes important to the revolt. Our in class research made us think
about how to approach the idea of time management because we had to struggle with the fact
that we new almost nothing on the subject. We were researching using themes but we were also
trying to figure out what happened and in what sequence it happened and that was very
confusing for a while. In the end, by taking all the sources together, we knew more about the
subject and were able to see the differences in the thematic and timeline approaches. When it
comes to my SIP, I will be following the approach of Jordan’s book by having an underlying
timeline while also discussing the themes of those different times. By learning about the
timeline and thematic approaches, it made me consider my topic and research in a new way that
allowed me to figure out the best kind of approach to time management for my SIP.
Through our search for sources in the in-class project, we learned that one usually has so many
options to choose from yet not all of the sources found will be very useful. We had to pick the
sources that we felt might be the most useful based on their descriptions in the library catalog.
By doing that, we learned to analyze sources without necessarily going into depth, saving
valuable time that could be left to actually finding the most useful information pertaining to
one’s subject. In searching for information on my SIP, this method helped me to analyze sources
better and to find information that is needed and helpful rather than having to look at everything
to find the most pertinent information and using up valuable time. In Jordan’s book, he had very
few sources to go on and probably had to look through many books and other written material to
find any information on his subject. However, for him, it would have been hard to find good
information on the subject and he probably had to look at everything just to find any information
pertaining to the planned slave revolt at Second Creek. In his case, he might not have been able
to pick his best sources out of a preliminary list because the planned revolt was kept so quiet. By
reading Jordan’s book and researching my own topic, I learned that, while it is helpful to pick the
sources that seem to be the most useful, it can sometimes be hard depending on what you are
researching. I am finding that in my SIP research, there are not many primary sources other than
the diaries of Anna Sketcher and government census records. While both are extremely helpful,
it is hard to justify conclusions based on one person’s experiences and sets of numbers, however,
it is a start for further research by others or myself.
Causation in history plays a very large part in Tumult and Silence at Second Creek.
Jordan researched one single event in history that no one knew much about but did not actively
apply it to the larger scheme of things. His book seems to be a book aimed at people who would
know about the larger context and are therefore better able to analyze this one single event as a
connection to the whole. Causation asks one to look at their event(s) and to put it into its own
context or to put it in a larger context. Finding causation is finding whether the event is just one
small event in the larger picture that does not affect the larger context, a large event that does not
affect the larger context, a small event that does affect the larger context, or a large event that
does affect the larger context. Once the causes and effects within the context are figured out,
then the writer can determine whether he or she should write about the event on its own or to
write about it within the larger context. Jordan takes the one event at Second Creek and
examines it in depth as its own event relatively free of the larger context analysis. Through our
in-class project it was hard to decide whether we should look at our sections as individual events
without considering the whole or whether to look at it in the context of the time period. Because
of that I learned that while you know that some topics most definitely played out in the larger
context, there are also many reasons why those topics should be studied as a single event. With
my SIP I found that it is probably best to look at farming in its own context, not through the
larger picture of the U.S. economy or social life. I have chosen to look at farming through the
20th century within its own context and how it has been affected by some events in the larger
picture.
Finally and most importantly, historians have to ask themselves why they write and
research history. Among the reasons why are the fact that some just enjoy learning about what
happened in the past, others want to use it as a record of events, and some think that it will help
us in the future. History can be written for all those reasons and how you write and research
depends on your goal. Jordan’s book looks at one event in history as a record of events that is
part of a very important time in the history of the United States. His book is a record of an event
about which he is very enthusiastic, it is not a book aimed at predicting the future; it is a book
aimed at gaining knowledge of one single event in history. In my SIP, I aim to record a way of
life set in a specific century; not a single event but a single theme put in its own context.
Through our in-class projects and our assigned readings, I learned a great deal about the
thought processes used to write and research history. While some of the issues historians face
are familiar to me, others were not and it really helped to have two books put the processes into
words. All of our workshops and assigned readings did a great job of helping me work through
the processes of writing and researching history.
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