2/22 | Online Primary Sources in the Civil War

2/22 What primary sources are available on your soldier’s unit? What records did you find by searching?

When looking through my soldier’s file of documents, its safe to say I felt a little in over my head. I had never really took the time to uncover historical documents unless they were excerpts put into my high school history books. Not being a history major meant that I had never written any college papers on history or historical events, and hadn’t the slightest clue what is considered a primary source or not. Looking through my soldier’s file was overwhelming at first, but once I understood what these documents were and what they meant it became much easier. The explanations for my documents were outlined on my course’s website (HIST 390: THE DIGITAL PAST). When reading these documents without the ‘document cheat sheet’, it can be complicated. Because these documents were for military and federal use, they didn’t feel the need to explain what this document meant and why it was being sent to who it was sent to. I had no clue what an Affidavit was, why every document seemed to have a seal from the Pension office, or where these soldier’s even came from. Like I said, in over my head.

One of the best primary sources on my soldier’s unit, in my opinion, is the CMSR (Combined Military Service Record) form. The documents are cards of stored information that are basically the ‘roll call of the unit’. I found this to be of the utmost importance when it pertains to the unit as a whole because its the best indication of how many people were still in the unit as of that particular date, it shows who was the author of it (most likely the General would be the one taking record), and it shows whether or not the soldier’s activity is present or absent. So when a solider is gone on a mission and the newest CMSR is taken, it will show them as absent, so when it comes to knowing where your soldier’s were at that time, you have a good understanding of the type of activity they participated in.

When searching the Valley of the Shadows for records, it was very difficult. Although it portrays itself as a place to search for all soldiers, they only have the soldiers listed in the counties of Franklin and Augusta, and if your soldier and soldier’s unit is not in that county, zero information will come up. Luckily, any information you search for about soldiers that are technically under ‘federal control’ are still usually for public use, and free to use as a primary source.

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2/17 | Digital Sources

What are the advantages and disadvantages of digitized documents for researchers? Does your use of digital material reduce your environmental footprint?

There are multiple pros and cons to getting information from digitized documents. The obvious pro would be accessibility and convenience. It’s very easy for you to go into your Google search bar and look up a document or name of a historical figure and get bombarded with 450,000 search matches. The con of this is weeding out which one is actually the information you need, and which ones are just fluff. The reason why so many searches seem to create more unwanted information than wanted is because of ‘tags’. Tags are specific to online searches only, so if you want to avoid them, its best to stick to books and written documents.

Tags are used to help you find information through things like Google and Bing easier. For example, if I make a Tumblr blog post about Beyonce, I would add tags to the post like ‘Beyonce’, ‘Destinys Child’, ‘Jay Z’, ‘Rocafeller’, etc. You get the idea. Many times, people will add tags to their blogs and pictures that have absolutely nothing to do with the post, but they know that this is a popular internet search and that adding this tag will potentially lead to more viewers. What does this mean for researchers? It means that a plethora of their searches done online will warrant more fluff than actual info. And for someone who is not well-versed in research, especially not historical research, I could easily search for an image of a historical figure and choose the wrong person because SO many searches that do not fit what I have typed in, will pop up.

Honestly, I am unsure if my use of digital material truly reduces my environmental footprint. I usually do most of my research and homework on my computer, but I have just recently started doing all of my note taking on my computer so I feel like my technology usage has increased ten fold, and I don’t think that using this much electricity everyday is a good reduction of my carbon footprint. But if we had to compare the amount of paper that I used in my previous college years just due to note taking and studying alone, using my computer more has definitely saved the environment in my eyes.

2/10 | Historians and Civil War Soldiers

2/10 | What are the challenges of telling stories about ordinary soldiers? Why have those stories changed over time? How much attention do you think should be given to the ‘dark side’ of the Civil War?

There are many difficulties to telling stories about ordinary soldiers.

For one, they’re just that in the eyes of some historians: ‘ordinary’. Because they did not explicitly win, or lose, the battle for their side, their stories are washed away in a sea of ‘General this’ and ‘General that’. Even harder for some historians is the way they have to go about telling these stories of such soldiers. Because of where you are born, whatever country you are in, you are taught immediately as a child in grade school who fought for your country, who fought against who, and who threatened the safety of the American people. Even when the war is dirty on both sides, you are still taught to show somewhat of a sympathy for those American soldiers.

Let’s take slavery and the Civil War for example. Once the south seceded from the rest of the colonies, there was an all out war between them and the North. Many history books will paint the picture of the South’s secession as a story of their fight to protect the Union. As nice and justified as this sounds, it’s absolutely false. Yes, there may have been a push for the Union to stay together, but the real and true reason that the South seceded was because they wanted to keep their slaves. Their idea of preserving the Union was to keep their ways of life and their ideals, and that meant continuing to own slaves and keep slave labor so that their lives would be easier. We were taught this idea of preserving the Union in the history book, and the idea of slavery was more of a back thought. That is the difficulty for historians because the stories continue to evolve over time as more diaries and notes of soldiers are found. I believe also, that the dark side of the Civil War is just as important, as in any war. We cannot celebrate the triumphant moments in our history without acknowledging the unpleasant moments. They continue to bring us back down to reality and also to humble ourselves as a world power. That we are not all a perfect union as the Constitution says, but continuously striving towards that as history continues.

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2/3 | What do you think is the biggest change that digital technology has made to how historians do history?

In my opinion, history has taken the biggest hit when it comes to the growth of technology. It used to be somewhat impossible for people to tamper with and defile historical documents because there were multiple copies and records of them in libraries in several books, museums, and in our school’s history books. You couldn’t argue with history because once it was printed in a book, it seemed to be the final voice. Nowadays, it seems like that has changed somewhat.

With our new-age world being completely centered around everything being smaller, more compact, and ‘easier’ on the user, simple things like books aren’t even the same. Yes, libraries, Barnes and Nobles, and various other bookstores still have a steady flow of customers, but it is not the same as it once was. Many authors now provide e-book versions of their publications, and even Google has their own book site called Google Books where you can buy almost any book you can think of in an e-book version. Those of us who are avid book readers and lovers of the atmosphere that is your local bookstore, still find comfort in hard backs, the flipping of scratchy thick pages, and the occasional printing typos that come along with actual books. But for those who don’t have the space, nor ‘time’ (in their opinion), to read and purchase actual books, e-readers have become their saving grace. E-Readers like Nook, Apple Books, Amazon Fire Tablet Books, etc. is like your local bookstore on crack. These tiny tablets and software hold THOUSANDS on THOUSANDS of books at your convenience, all neatly filed into folders that make it easier for you to search for.

This would, I assume, make it very difficult for historians to continue to record history the way they always have because whatever book they decide to create, it will most likely need an e-book version. And if they are historians who record history for our country, where do they keep records of what goes on in the world? Wikipedia? If that is the only viable option for historians, we’re in for a wild ride.

2/1 | Thinking Like A Historian

2/1 | To what extent do you think like a historian? What is most unfamiliar to you about how historians think?

I believe I think like a historian most when it comes to researching about Black and African history. Because those two topics are not explicitly discussed in schools unless you take specific classes for it, I love to research and learn more. Especially because there are so many documentaries that go in depth about the history of our people, their contributions to society, art, and the overall world and how it operates. I like to be well-versed on these topics because as a black person and black student, I feel like it is my duty to know the most about my history because people will not teach it to you if they do not have to. When I heard about the stories of Sara Baartman, the original Betty Boop, the history of Dominicans, Black Wall Street, and other monumental milestones in our history, I feel like it was sort of my duty to investigate further and dig into the pieces of history.