Today in Texas: January 24th

by Leanna Barcelona, University Archivist 

Seventy years ago on January 24, 1948, three Texas cities became one. Formerly known as the “Tri-Cities,” the towns of Baytown, Goose Creek, and Pelly unified as what is known known as the city of Baytown.

Goose Creek Oil Field was discovered in the 1910s, which allowed for rapid growth in both the economy and population in neighboring communities, Pelly and Baytown. With the construction of an oil refinery, jobs were created and many people flocked to the area. Around the time the oil was found, Humble Oil and Refining Company built their refinery in the Baytown area. Today, this refinery is one of Exxon-Mobil’s largest refineries. The oil company, in conjunction with World War II, helped bring the Tri-Cities together.

Ralph Fusco, in his chapter titled “World War II’s Effects on Consolidation” in the book, Baytown Vignettes, describes how Baytown came to be:

“Despite such storm beginnings, these feelings slowly subsided and the construction and subsequent wartime expansion of the refinery proved the beginning of a stable community. Even with the seeds of unity planted by the formation of the Humble Oil and Refining Company, sectionalism hung on in several towns that survived. It took the drastic and rapid changes brought about by World War II to weld these separate districts into a single homogeneous city. While these changes initiated the breakdown of the old social, economic and geographic barriers, they also encouraged the ultimate consolidation of Goose creek, Pelly and Old Baytown into the present day city Baytown. Through precipitating these changes, World War II provided the catalyst that sped this consolidation. 

From Pictorial History of the Baytown Area, Edited by Gary Dobbs. p. 4

The many changes in this community due to the war effort included the government funded expansion of the Humble Oil and Refining Plant. The company received the first government contracts for toluene (toluol) production, an intrinsic part of the make up of TNT, in 1941. The toluene project, built on Humble Refinery sites at the cost of twelve million dollars, employed two hundred people, and included a barracks that would accommodate three hundred workers.

World War II, with its rationing, increased demand for industrial output, and creation of new employment opportunities caused the Tri-Cities area to grow and served to unite the area. New people coming into the area helped combine the separate groups that existed before the war into a single more homogeneous group. old geographic boundaries were being rapidly erased, and old community isolationism disappeared. Rapidly occurring changes lent a feeling of oneness to the area. In this sense World War II became a major contributing factor for change when earlier attempts at consolidating the Tri-Cities had failed. In 1949 the are communities joined and incorporated into one city, the City of Baytown.”

At The Texas Collection, we collect materials related to any Texan town. Click here for more resources available on Baytown, TX and stay tuned for more Today in Texas blog posts to come!

Sharing Student Scholarship: Access at Baylor, 1921-1930

For the next couple of weeks, we’re putting up teasers about the fascinating Baylor history, 1921-1930, that Higher Education and Student Affairs students analyzed and shared on the Foundations and History of Higher Education class blog. We’ve already looked at Curriculum,  Finance, and Students/Student Groups. This week we’re looking at Access at Baylor, with papers examining the establishment of Baylor’s first men’s dorm (Brooks Hall), the university’s increasing prominence, and the Baylor woman’s educational experience. Did you know that…

S. P. Brooks Hall, Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Samuel Palmer Brooks Hall was the first men’s residence hall on campus–before it was built in 1921, Baylor men lived off campus in rooming houses and other accommodations. Brooks provided the increased male population with another option of where to live, as well as a sense of community.
  • Remember how administrators were concerned about the decreased men’s population at Baylor? Well, the establishment of the business school, plus the construction of Brooks Hall, seemed to help—male enrollment saw a 25% increase between 1923 and 1924. And the residential culture appears to have encouraged men to stay successful and active on campus. Learn more…
  • Master’s programs were just one way Baylor grew in the 1920s—two master’s degrees were conferred in 1913-1914, while 18 were earned about ten years later in 1924-1925. Read more…
  • While women’s curriculum at the time emphasized teaching, the arts, and nursing, women did take advantage of the newly established journalism program (within the business school), and they accounted for about half of the Lariat staff through the 1920s. Discover more…

We hope you’ll explore these blog posts and enjoy the benefits of the HESA students’ research and scholarship. If you’re inspired to dig deeper, most of their sources can be found in the University Archives within The Texas Collection and in our digitized materials available online in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

Background on this project: Students in the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) masters program have taken on the challenge of creating original scholarship that adds to what is known about Baylor’s history. As part of Dr. Nathan Alleman’s Foundations and History of Higher Education course, students were grouped under the five class themes: curriculum, finance, students/student groups, access, and religion. In collaboration with Texas Collection archivists and librarians, students mined bulletins, newspapers, correspondence, and other primary resources as they researched their topics. Final papers have been posted on blogs.baylor.edu/hesabaylorhistoryproject and grouped by their particular sub-topic so that patrons, researchers, and other interested persons could benefit from these students’ work. This is the second installment of an annual accumulating project–see last year’s teasers here. Please visit again for future installments!

Sharing Student Scholarship: Students/Student Groups at Baylor, 1921-1930

For the next few weeks, we’re putting up teasers about the fascinating Baylor history, 1921-1930, that Higher Education and Student Affairs students analyzed and shared on the Foundations and History of Higher Education class blog. We’ve already looked at Curriculum and Finance. This week we’re looking at Students/Student Groups at Baylor, with papers examining the beginnings of new student orientation, the cultivation of the campus environment, and the Baylor community’s response to tragedy. Did you know that…

Baylor University Immortal Ten scrapbook page
Telegrams received by Baylor University following the loss of the Immortal Ten. Such telegrams from schools and individuals across the country fill a scrapbook in the Texas Collection.

 

  • President Samuel Palmer Brooks taught a year-long freshman orientation course, with topics ranging from Baylor history to selection of vocation to social law and order. (One class was subtitled, “Suppose the freshman class shipwrecked on an island. What would they do?”) Discover more…
  • Student organizations begun in the 1920s include Yell Leaders, the Baptist Student Union, the Nose Brotherhood, and the Freshman Student Organization…all of which still exist in some form today! Learn more…
  • The term “Immortal Ten” was coined within one day of the bus-train accident that took the lives of 10 Baylor students in 1927. Read more…

We hope you’ll explore these blog posts and enjoy the benefits of the HESA students’ research and scholarship. If you’re inspired to dig deeper, most of their sources can be found in the University Archives within The Texas Collection and in our digitized materials available online in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

Background on this project: Students in the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) masters program have taken on the challenge of creating original scholarship that adds to what is known about Baylor’s history. As part of Dr. Nathan Alleman’s Foundations and History of Higher Education course, students were grouped under the five class themes: curriculum, finance, students/student groups, access, and religion. In collaboration with Texas Collection archivists and librarians, students mined bulletins, newspapers, correspondence, and other primary resources as they researched their topics. Final papers have been posted on blogs.baylor.edu/hesabaylorhistoryproject and grouped by their particular sub-topic so that patrons, researchers, and other interested persons could benefit from these students’ work. This is the second installment of an annual accumulating project–see last year’s teasers here. Please visit again for future installments!

Sharing Student Scholarship: Finance at Baylor, 1921-1930

For the next few weeks, we’re putting up teasers about the fascinating Baylor history, 1921-1930, that Higher Education and Student Affairs students analyzed and shared on the Foundations and History of Higher Education class blog. Last week we looked at Curriculum. This week we’re looking at Finance at Baylor, with papers examining gridiron finances and the town-and-gown relationship as seen in the Greater Baylor campaign. Did you know that…

  • The Southwest Conference was formed in part to ensure that college athletics remained “sport for sport’s sake,” and that no one school had a greater advantage over another due to uneven financial means. Read more…

    The arch of the 5th Street entrance to Baylor University's Carroll Field
    Baylor might have had the 1915 football championship on the Carroll Field sign, too, but a transfer rule in the newly formed Southwest Conference meant that Baylor had to forfeit the title. General photo files–Baylor–Buildings–Carroll Field.
  • When a proposal to move Baylor from Waco to Dallas arose in the 1920s (an effort intended to unite the university with the medical school and save money), the students, churches, and general Waco community rose up in opposition, helping to raise money for Waco Hall and other projects. Learn more…

We hope you’ll explore these blog posts and enjoy the benefits of the HESA students’ research and scholarship. If you’re inspired to dig deeper, most of their sources can be found in the University Archives within The Texas Collection and in our digitized materials available online in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

Background on this project: Students in the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) masters program have taken on the challenge of creating original scholarship that adds to what is known about Baylor’s history. As part of Dr. Nathan Alleman’s Foundations and History of Higher Education course, students were grouped under the five class themes: curriculum, finance, students/student groups, access, and religion. In collaboration with Texas Collection archivists and librarians, students mined bulletins, newspapers, correspondence, and other primary resources as they researched their topics. Final papers have been posted on blogs.baylor.edu/hesabaylorhistoryproject and grouped by their particular sub-topic so that patrons, researchers, and other interested persons could benefit from these students’ work. This is the second installment of an annual accumulating project–see last year’s teasers here. Please visit again for future installments!

Print Peeks: A Who's Who of Texas History in the Biographical Gazetteer of Texas Online

By Amie Oliver, Coordinator for User and Access Services

Biographical Gazetteer of Texas, Texas Collection reading room
Looking for information on a prominent Texas figure or ancestor? The Bio Gaz might be the resource for you! But you don’t have to come to our reading room (although you’re welcome)–you can search online!

“Do you have any information on my grandfather?” Texas Collection (TC) staff is regularly greeted with patrons seeking information on people. Typically we point patrons in the usual direction of census, birth, death, and marriage records. These records can provide the who, what, when, and where. But where do patrons look when they want to find the why or how? There is a resource unique to our collection that may help patrons answer those questions.

The Texas Collection is home to numerous volumes containing biographical sketches of notable Texans and early pioneers.  Many of these books do not contain an index, and when a patron needs information on a person, it can be overwhelming for staff and the patron to search through nearly 200 volumes of biographical sketches to find someone.

So, in the early 1980s, TC staff created a Biographical Sketch File. After identifying the volumes to be included in the file, staff created a catalogue card for each person listed in the biographical sketches. Each card included a name, birth and/or death date (if available), the book title, page number where the sketch can be found, and whether a portrait is included. This Biographical Sketch File became a popular finding aid, so in 1985, The Texas Collection published it as the Biographical Gazetteer of Texas. (You might hear our staff call it the “Bio Gaz.”) This six-volume set includes over 67,000 entries.

After using the Biographical Gazetteer of Texas in book form for over 20 years, staff and student employees entered the information into a searchable database in 2007. You can access it on our website—follow the instructions below to get started!

Step 1: Click the “Biographical Gazetteer” link on our website (move the bottom slider until you see it in the list).

BioGazSliderHomepageStep 2: Click on the “here” to search the database.BioGazLandingPageStep 3: Type a person’s name and click the “Click Here to Find” button. (Do not hit enter after typing a name because the search will not work.) Be aware that many people use initials, so first names aren’t often necessary and may even return incorrect results. There also are many variant name spellings, so patrons should try several options.

 BioGazSearchStep 4: Results! This list informs the patron about where information may be found. If patrons see an entry that fits their search criteria, they may either come in to view the item or may request a photocopy of the material. To request a photocopy, click on the record number.

BioGazResultsStep 5: On the next screen, enter contact information and submit the request. Staff will then contact the researcher with photoduplication fees.

BioGazRequestTexas Collection staff often uses the Biographical Gazetteer of Texas and we hope that it is a resource that helps our patrons as much as it helps us. Happy hunting!

“Print Peeks” is a regular feature highlighting select items from our print collection.

Expanding Your Search in BARD

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

In our previous BARD posts, we’ve been exploring how to make the most of our new database in various ways. In our last post in this series, we offer a few more ways to discover Texas Collection resources: tips on browsing larger collections, using BARD’s advanced search, and opening attachments to collections.

You can enter the BARD system by clicking the link on our home page. We have already learned how to search by keyword, but maybe you already know the title of the collection you want to see and just need to know which boxes to request. For example, you might want to look at Pat Neff’s finding aid. You could enter “Pat Neff” into the search field like we did before, or you could click on the blue “N” for “Neff” under “Browse Collections.” If the collection features a person, then it will be filed under their last name in the system.

Search by letterAs you can see below, clicking these letters can bring up a lot of collections! The Neff collection is in the center of the page. Once you have found the collection you want, click the title to bring up the finding aid.

N search resultsThe Neff collection finding aid is different from some others because it is so big. For example, on the left, there are blue + signs to the left of the series titles. In the first blog post in this series, we discovered that by clicking on the series titles, we could bring up just that part of the collection. In the Neff collection, you can click on the blue + symbols to expand your viewing options within the series. By clicking on these new options, you can go to an even more specific part of the collection.

Plus signs to expand searchAnother way to search for collections is to use the advanced search feature. You can easily access this feature by clicking “Advanced Search” in the blue bar at the top of the page.

Advanced searchThere are several handy things that can help in using this way to search. For titles, creators, and subjects, you can narrow the search by checking “exact match” so that the system is only searching using your exact words.

Exact matchYou can also enter a term to search in the title, creator, or subject box, and then press “Enter” or click “Get Hit Count” in the upper-right corner. The hit count number tells you how many times your term appears across all collections. This can be handy if you are looking for something specific; it can tell you quickly how many potential places you might need to research (or if perhaps you should refine your search terms).

Hit count

Another helpful tool on Cuadra Star is the ability to view files attached to collections. Some collections may have examples of photographs found in collections, family trees, or other files attached to them. For example, the Edward C. Blomeyer Photographic Collection finding aid in BARD includes some samples of photographic materials in the collection. To get to them, search using the keyword “Blomeyer,” click on the finding aid, and expand out the blue + symbols. You can click on any of the titles next to the + links, but as an example I clicked on “Cameron Park, Rivers, and Bridges” under “Texas” and “Waco.”

Exploring attachments (Cameron Park, Rivers, and Bridges)Once you get here, you can peruse the thumbnail photographs as they are on the page, or you can expand them by clicking on a photo.

Expanded attached imageUsually in this view you can see information about the photograph, what we call “metadata”—information giving you context for the item, which may be helpful for your research and citation.

When you are done viewing finding aids in BARD, be sure to close down the system properly. In the main search page, in the upper right corner, click the red “Log Out” to exit from BARD. Leaving the system in this way is very important to ensure the proper functioning of the system.

Log outThis concludes our series of how to navigate in BARD. If you have any questions as you are using it, please let us know!

Connecting Resources in BARD

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

BARD BannerIn our last post on BARD, we learned how to get to the database, where the finding aids are to different collections, and how to navigate within the finding aid to find the materials you want to see. In this post, we will discover how subject terms work in BARD, how to print or make a PDF of your search results, as well as how to navigate to related web pages.

You can enter the BARD system by clicking the link on our home page. Once in the system, you have several options for finding resources. For this example, let’s say you want to see all the collections that have anything to do with Baylor University at Independence. To look for this, you could enter the words “Baylor at Independence” in the search field in the center of the screen.

BARD screenshot-search Baylor at Independence

When I did this search, 55 results came up! Click “Display Finding Aid” under each entry to view further information about each collection.

Since we have thousands of collections in the database, you may wish to narrow your search by using the subject terms under the “Top Subject Clusters” on the left side of the page.

BARD screenshot--subject clusters

For example, you could click on the “Baylor University – Presidents” term to bring up just the collections on Baylor presidents that have to do with Baylor at Independence…

BARD screenshot--Baylor at Independence-Presidents-Preview view

…and this page will come up. Displayed are the five collections that have to do with Baylor University at Independence and also have something to do with Baylor presidents during that time.

You can click the “Select Format” menu on the upper-left side of the page to toggle between different views (Brief, Preview, or Full) that will give you more or less information. (The view above is Preview.)

BARD screenshot-change view

Let’s say that you have found some collections that you would like to examine at The Texas Collection. Since you are looking for something to do with Baylor University presidents at the time Baylor was at Independence, you probably want to see all five collections listed here, but you may not have time right now to peruse all the finding aids. Rather than writing down all five collections, you can print or save this list. Click on the “Brief” view under “Select format” on the left, and then click “Print/save” to open a window to print, or Print/save PDF to open a file to save.

BARD screenshot-Printing Brief view

By opening this view, you can then print using your browser’s print function, or save a PDF file to your flash drive. Now you can remember which specific finding aids to look at later and figure out which boxes you’ll need to use, which will help you set your research appointment with our staff.

BARD screenshot-Print screen

You can also explore collections that are filed under the same search terms from within a finding aid. Let’s say that you were intrigued by the BU Records: Baylor Historical Society finding aid from above. Go back to the main search page from before, and click on “Display Finding Aid.”

BARD screenshot-subject terms in finding aid

From within this window, go down to all the terms in blue under “Subjects.” These are all keywords that you can use to find similar collections within The Texas Collection. For example, you can click “Baylor University – Presidents” to see all the collections that we have indexed with that term.

BARD screenshot-BU presidents

This way of moving across connected collections can be very valuable, since many of our collections are connected to other collections.

You can also see resources consulted for the finding aids that you see in BARD. For example, let’s say you were reading along in the BU Records: Baylor at Independence finding aid.

BARD screenshot-Baylor at Independence finding aid

When you get down to the “Related Resources” part of the finding aid, there is a list of resources consulted for this finding aid. Many of these are in blue to indicate a hyperlink and can be clicked to take you directly to that resource or a catalog listing to tell you how to find it. If you clicked on “Murray, Lois Smith. Baylor at Independence. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 1972” the link would take you to that resource in BearCat, our library catalog. You would then have all the information you would need to request that book the next time you come to The Texas Collection.

BearCat screenshot-Baylor at Independence

When you are done viewing finding aids in BARD, be sure to close down the system properly. In the main search page, on the upper right corner, click the red “Log Out” to exit from BARD. Leaving the system in this way is very important to ensure the proper functioning of the system.

BARD-LogoutStay tuned for one more entry with helpful hints about using BARD!

In November 2013, the Baylor University Libraries officially opened BARD (Baylor Archival Repositories Database). This is the second post in an ongoing series to celebrate the opening of this digital research database, and show some of the new ways to find resources.

Introducing BARD: Discover Yesterday's Stories (and Our New Database)

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

BARD Banner

The Texas Collection is happy to open our newest discovery tool, the Baylor Archival Repositories Database (BARD), to our researchers. We believe this system will enable you to find more archival materials from The Texas Collection than ever before!

You can discover finding aids to our archival collections by browsing or searching in BARD. Finding aids are documents that describe groups of archival materials. Finding aids that you will see in the system have an administrative note describing the historical context of the collection, scope and content notes that describe what is in the collection, and container lists that show the materials in each folder and box.

You can enter the BARD system by visiting http://www.baylor.edu/library/bard. You’ll also find a tab for BARD on The Texas Collection homepage:

BARD-Homepage

Once in the system, you have several options for finding resources. For example, let’s say you want to see all the collections that have anything to do with Texas in the American Civil War. To look for this, you could enter the words “Civil War Texas” in the search field.

BARD-Search field

Now click “Search.” When I did this search, 82 results came up! Since we have thousands of collections in the database, you may wish to narrow your search using more precise search terms if you receive that many results.

Click “Display Finding Aid” under each entry to view further information about each collection. We will talk about other things on this page, such as the “Top Subject Clusters” on the left, and the “Advanced Search” tab at the top, in a later post.

BARD-Display finding aid

To continue with this example, I went down to the #7 entry, the James and Patience Crain Black papers, and clicked “Display Finding Aid” underneath that title to open a new window that describes just that collection. This is what came up:

BARD-Finding aid

The window open now describes the James and Patience Crain Black papers. Within this window, you can explore all kinds of information to help you decide whether the resources in this collection would be useful in your research.

If you want to see the list of materials in the collection, you can click in the list on the left to jump to a specific group of materials. Most of our collections are organized in groups called series, which are basic groups of materials organized by the function in which they were used. For example, in the James and Patience Crain Black papers, if you wanted to know what letters were in the collection, you could click on “Correspondence,” and the list that came up would be the indicated correspondence.

BARD-Jump to Series

The list of materials will appear in the pane on the right. If we clicked “[Series] Correspondence” in our example, then all the letters in that group would come up, like this:

BARD-James and Patience Black correspondence

These particular letters are organized in three folders by year, and are in box 1 of the collection.

If you would like to set an appointment to view the actual materials in the collection, click on “Baylor University. The Texas Collection” at the top of the page to view our contact information (the text circled in the screenshot below). You’ll need to provide the name of the collection and the box numbers so we know what to pull for you.

BARD-How to link to Texas Collection contact info

When you are done viewing finding aids in BARD, be sure to close down the system properly. In the main search page, on the upper right corner, click the red “Log Out” to exit from BARD. Leaving the system in this way is very important to ensure the proper functioning of the system.

BARD-Logout

We plan to discuss other helpful ways to use this exciting new system in future blog posts. Stay tuned for more news and helpful hints about the new Baylor Archival Repositories Database!

The Texas Collection is piloting the program, but Armstrong Browning Library and Poage Legislative Library also will be using BARD to share their finding aids. Look to those repositories soon to learn more about their efforts!

A User's Guide to the Texas Collection, Part 3, Or, How to Know Enough is Enough

Kenna Lang Archer, a veteran researcher at The Texas Collection, is our guest blogger for this series, “A User’s Guide to The Texas Collection.” Drawing on her research on the Brazos River, Dr. Archer offered advice on identifying resources (including staff) in her first post; in her second, she addressed challenging resources. In this final installment, she offers her tips on determining when the research is DONE.

A Park and River Scene in Waco, Beautiful Waco, Texas
I looked through hundreds of postcards in my research on the Brazos, and while I enjoyed that glimpse into the past, I needed only to expand on a single idea (whose citation already included more than 100 sources!). Not the best use of my time. From the Texas Collection postcard collection.

For the final post in this series, I’d like to address a question that is as challenging as it is important…when is enough, enough? When is it time to step away—trusting that you have read enough letters, seen sufficient photographs, and pored through the right amount of memoirs, and how do you know that you’ve reached that point? It’s entirely possible that I am the last person that should be offering advice on the subject. My friends and colleagues have often chided me for “excessive” research, as have several editors (apparently, one really can cite too many sources in too many footnotes). However, my occasional inability to know that I have gathered the necessary citations means I am actually well placed to offer guidance.

The Texas Cotton Palace promotional envelope, 1894
I tracked down this promotional mail-out after realizing that my discussion on agriculture in nineteenth century Texas was weak; I moved forward with my research knowing that I hadn’t found all that I needed in regard to a particular topic, and it was time well spent. From the Texas Cotton Palace records, box 2, folder 8.

That advice begins with a simple realization: it is possible to spend so much time looking through archival materials that the notes you collect become overwhelming and your work with them, inefficient. A paradox of historical research—people working with primary sources tend to assume that where one source is good, two sources are better, and three sources, best. The problem with this line of thought is two-fold. First, as your notes or copies increase in number, it becomes increasingly difficult to incorporate that information into existing outlines, chapters, etc. After completing my dissertation, I found a stack of Xerox copies more than one foot high that I had never written into my outlines. I missed nothing of import in those copies, but I was fortunate. I could easily have lost valuable information to a crowd of unheeded papers. Second, if you focus exclusively on research, you will never finish the project that prompted that work in the first place. Research alone does not produce finished works. Books, articles, and even blog posts can only be written, edited, and completed by an individual who has found the courage to say, “Yes, this research and my thoughts on it can stand.”

So how do you know when enough is truly enough? Where do you draw the mythical line in the sand? Personally, I use a series of hypothetical scenarios to weigh what I might find in future research against what I know from my current research. Would my ideas still hold if, somewhere, a source existed that said X; if I later found a source that said Y, would I still feel comfortable with my project? If I decide that nothing short of indisputable evidence refuting my argument would cause me doubt, then I leave my research be. If I feel like there is more than one way in which my ideas could be threatened or if I see a glaring omission, then I continue to research until I feel comfortable in my analysis.

Letter to George Barnard from New York, March 22, 1855
Hand-written documents can introduce still more challenges. Although I could read this letter in person, I struggled to read the Xerox copy that I requested and so, ultimately, went back to the materials a second time for a scanned copy. From the Barnard-Lane papers, box 3, folder 13.

Along those lines, I would recommend that anybody making extensive use of primary sources develop an effective organization system for their research. Each researcher must find the method that best fits their timeline and needs, but based on my experiences, I would make the following suggestions for people engaged in archival research:

  1. Copying/photographing every source you find is as risky and ineffective as copying no sources at all: to be buried by too much material is a cruel fate.
  2. Trying to track down a citation after the fact is maddening and a waste of precious time: write down every citation legibly and in the same place as the note itself as you go along.
  3. When making copies, do not assume either that the archivists will write down the citation for you or that they will include everything you need for reference: be responsible for assuring the validity and the location of your sources.
  4. Trusting too much in technology will eventually lead to a headache: be prepared to take notes the old fashioned way and keep a list of the sources that you have duplicated (as well as their location).

I made a number of “rookie mistakes” when I began working in the archives; I can even admit that I fell into the same blunders several times. Fortunately for my self-worth (and unfortunately for the rest of the research community), I am not alone in my struggles. I would guess that every researcher has, at one time or another, struggled with the effectiveness of his/her research methods or the decision to walk away from new sources. It’s a learning process, and one that everybody must endure. However, it can be made easier. My hope for anybody reading this series is that his or her experience in primary source research might be a smidge less chaotic, a bit more constructive, as a result of my suggestions.

Onward, archival soldiers…and until next time, good luck!

Missed the first installments? Check them out here.

Archer is an instructor in the history department at Angelo State University. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Baylor and then her doctorate at Texas Tech University. You can learn more about her research on her website, www. kennalangarcher.com.

A User's Guide to the Texas Collection, Part 2, Or, Dealing with Challenging Resources

Baptism in the Brazos River, Waco, undated
Photograph of a baptism in the Brazos River: images like this are astoundingly rare…and so are sources that so clearly “make” a portion of your research!

Kenna Lang Archer, a veteran researcher at The Texas Collection, is our guest blogger for this series, “A User’s Guide to The Texas Collection.” Drawing on her research on the Brazos River, Dr. Archer offered advice on identifying helpful (but not obvious) resources and making use of special collections staffers in her last post. In this installment, she discusses some of the perils of primary resource research: sources that contradict your thesis and the challenges of assessing authenticity in materials.

Unfortunately, archival research does not always yield information that one might call “helpful.”  To research in archives is to invite uncertainty into your academic life. Yes, I have located sources that pulled everything together, but I have also found sources that contradicted all I expected to find. What is the proper response to a source that seemingly undermines your work? There is no one answer, but my advice would be to remember that there is promise in confusion.

Roughly halfway through my dissertation research, I found a source that seemed to weaken my argument in a serious way. It was nothing short of an intellectual catastrophe. I erupted in genuine (if, thankfully, short-lived) tears and stopped work early that day. That evening, I wrote up a brief outline for my project and began to ask difficult questions about the new material—what did it really say, how might it broaden my study, did it undercut the entirety of my thesis or portions of it, could I simply fine-tune my ideas? It took me awhile to incorporate these answers into my outline and then to adjust my writing, but as I struggled through the muddle that once was my project, it became easier to envision the ways in which new ideas could fit together. The end result: a stronger project!

Unfortunately, there have also been times when I couldn’t work out the contradictions that resulted from new information—I’ve discarded projects and entirely reworked projects. Whatever the ultimate outcome, “defiant” sources are beneficial—they help to refine research projects into something both more intriguing and authentic.

Canoeing on the river, 1908
Though I knew something about this photograph (it came from a Baylor student scrapbook), I didn’t have a location. Was this the Brazos River? I sure wanted it to be, but ultimately I had no clear evidence one way or another and so I set aside this image as a source.

That being said, whether or not sources prove to be helpful, researchers must take the time to assess their authenticity. Letters, books, pamphlets—they’ve all been written by individuals with preconceptions and opinions. Photographs and paintings can be staged or emotionally skewed as well. In other words, every source is created in a context that shapes its meaning and its value.

Was a tract written to attract visitors to Texas? It probably emphasized the good and downplayed the bad about life in this state. Was a letter written in 1917? Ongoing war in Europe surely colored the text, and the contextual biases might have shifted from one month to the next.

It is imperative that researchers understand these nuances. So how do you account for the possibility of hyperbole, the use of incorrect figures, the fever of patriotism? When working with a primary source, I try to anticipate what biases might exist by considering the who, what, where, when, and why of its creation. For example, I might ask where this information originated and whether it was corroborated only by people from the same family or city. If possible, I also account for subjectivity by increasing the number of sources that I review and, thereby, increasing the validity of statistics, stories, and so forth.

Flooding at the Washington Avenue Bridge, Waco, circa 1913
The Brazos River flooding, circa 1913: In some cases, it is possible to determine information for sources that is not explicitly given. For example, I can reasonably date this undated photograph by comparing the years of Brazos floods with the construction dates of Brazos River bridges, the advent of technology, and popular styles of dress.

Whether you have one crucial source or twenty adequate sources, take the time to judge the authenticity of your information…and, most difficult of all, have the courage to set aside a source, however valuable, whose information cannot be trusted. It is far more important to work in confidence knowing that you have prioritized accuracy than to squeeze a questionable source into an existing argument.

Stay tuned for the September entry (and final post) in this series.

Archer is an instructor in the history department at Angelo State University. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Baylor and then her doctorate at Texas Tech University. You can learn more about her research on her website, www. kennalangarcher.com.