Talking History: Professor Al-Tikriti

Professor Al-Tikriti gave a talk on Monday about the types of routes history majors may choose to take after college.  To explain these paths, Professor Al-Tikriti used his own experiences.  He described his undergraduate career at Georgetown and graduate experience at Columbia.  Here he focused on International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies, which brought him to travel and work for organizations in the Middle East.  He worked for organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, before finding a passion for consulting.  It wasn’t until later that Professor Al-Tikriti realized he had an interest in understanding the history of the places he was living in.  This interest took him to the University of Chicago where he received his PhD in History.  This degree helped him to write articles and reports that would be used by the US Government.  However, Al-Tikriti made it very clear that his accomplishments were the result of working hard and establishing strong connections with professionals in many areas.  He also reassured that his successes were also the result of many failures.  He encouraged the students to take chances by applying for opportunities that they found interesting and studying abroad, because your career could take many turns throughout your life.

Hanna, “Cartographic Memories of Slavery and Freedom”

Hanna’s article describes the changing intention and use of maps through one created by John Washington, an enslaved man during the Civil War.  Washington, a literate man who fled slavery to find freedom, displays a particular point of view since many slaves at the time were not able to read or write.  In 1873, Washington revealed his story in a memoir, where he also provided a map of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  On this map, he points out specific landmarks that tie back to significant moments in his life.  Hanna explains that while Washington’s memoir has attracted much attention from historians, his map is not considered as important.  Hanna challenges this, using arguments made by J.B. Harley, saying that Washington’s map reveals more about southern society than it does about Washington’s cartography skills.  Hanna argues that the places Washington marks on the map represent moments where he was able to defy his position in the slave system.  While Hanna mentions that Washington’s true intention for creating the map is unknown, the current use of the map illustrates how cultural context can change.  Currently, Washington’s map is used by historical societies and the National Parks Service to show the experiences of an enslaved person in Fredericksburg during the Civil War.  Washington’s map allows scholars to connect Fredericksburg today to the lives of those whose stories are not always written.  Washington’s map has changed from a sketch in a book for reference, to a source that symbolizes African American experience during the Civil War.

“Texts and Contexts”

In this piece, J.B. Harley argues that maps are a resource just as important as textual sources.  He talks about how the science of mapmaking has led many to the idea that the main concern of mapmaking is accuracy when really maps display the intentions and goals of many parties.  Harley explains how maps can be looked at in three different contexts: the context of the cartographer, other maps, and society.  In talking about the context of cartographers, Harley mentions how many workers went into creating a map, and also how these creators were under the order of patrons, such as rulers or governments.  This confuses where the goal of creating the map may come from.  In discussing the context of other maps, Harley talks about how the technology of maps has changed, which make it difficult to compare maps to one another.  Also, the texts on maps have been altered due to errors in translation.  When Harley talks about the context of society, he explains how the interests and biases of society impact what the cartographer creates and how they choose to portray it.

The Port: Shipping and Trading

In this chapter, de la Fuente discusses mostly the trading that was conducted out of Havana.  He begins by citing the difficulties of tracking certain ships, as many were not taxed, so some ships have no record of arriving in Cuba.  He also explains Cuba’s connection with the Spanish Empire, especially Seville.  Although Cuba took part in intercolonial trade, many of the ships that arrived in Cuba were reported to return to Seville afterward.  Cuba was a main port for the Spanish Empire because it allowed easy access for European products to be spread to other colonies.  One product that was spread mostly from Europe was cloth or textiles.  While some of this cloth was used for expensive clothing, some was used for ship-building or sent to other colonies to be sold by merchants.  Havana also exported many animals and animal hides.  However, it’s greatest export was wine, since wine was the main part of many European (and sailor) diets at the time.  

de la Fuente also describes the Spanish slave trade, which took off in the sixteenth century.  He describes how the licensing process was monopolized and how the Spanish crown benefitted from the trade.  He also describes where many of the slaves came from and how the Spanish crown distinguished between slave cultures.  de la Fuente then describes how historians have tracked the Spanish slave trade through ship records and baptism records.

Havana and the Atlantic

Alejandro de la Fuente describes in this piece how Cuba and the city of Havana transformed from a poor colony, into an important resource for the Spanish Empire.  He also describes how the Bay of Havana allowed for many different influences.  De la Fuente opens with Sores’ attack on Havana, to give an example of how helpless the city was to outside invaders.  However, it wasn’t until the Spanish empire realized the city’s port was great for communication and trade that it began to give more resources to the island so that Cuba could repair its population and economy.  De la Fuente cites how the port city was able to influence not just the Cuban society and economy at large.  De la Fuente gives examples of sources where the common citizens of Havana were impacted by this change in Cuba’s geographic importance.  He gives examples such as church, land, and marriage documents.  

I found this article very interesting since I am only knowledgeable of Cuba during the nineteenth century.  It is very eye-opening to see how the Cuban economy changed first in response to its location, not necessarily it’s role in sugar production.

History and the Internet

In this section of Presnell’s guide, Presnell offers suggestions for researching by using the internet.  While Presnell offers many reasons for how the internet can be a helpful research tool, she also cautions her readers by sharing that the internet has many fewer review processes than print resources–which may mean that some resources have less authority or reliability on a certain subject.  Presnell explains that researchers should use valuable websites and search engines or databases that offer sources to “serious history.”  She also mentions that researchers should be extremely specific when searching–and that they may need to use different kinds of search engines to find the right results (especially when looking for primary sources).  While Presnell cites how one must be careful of how and when they choose to use the internet for their research, she does share the benefits that the internet can provide, such as wide access, and free publications.

Food Historiography

Pilcher discusses how the study of the history of food has become more popular since historians are able to view the experiences of many classes through their “embodied imagination,” or experience of their food.  Pilcher argues that historians study food experience by tracking people’s concern for taste, purity, and hunger.  Pilcher shows how the taste of the elite has been documented far more, so scholars are able to learn more about the lower classes from the elite.  One example Pilcher gives is the French “culinary revolution,” where foods that were previously considered to only be eaten by lower classes, rose to meet the expectations of the upper classes.  This was one of the examples of how the taste of food has divided groups in history.  Some of the sources food historians tend to use for their research are menus and cookbooks, which reveal what types of people are eating certain foods.  Pilcher also discusses people’s concern for the purity of their food.  Pilcher gives the example fo Upton Sinclair’s study on Chicago meatpacking, and how it impacted the way middle and upper-class Americans viewed the purity of their food.  This led to themes of food industries cutting down on labor to make it seem as if the food has less opportunity to become contaminated.  The final section of Pilcher’s article talks about the experience of hunger.  Pilcher states the three causes of hunger that have been claimed by other food historians: divine, moral, and social causes.  The study of hunger has changed since our modern industries now provide enough food for the whole world, but who has access to this food has changed.  This is another example of how food (or the access to certain foods) exhibits the differences in perceived groups.

Howell and Prevenier: The Source

The first article discusses the methods used by historians to determine which sources to use for their research. Some sources may be so dependent upon another source, that it becomes irrelevant, while others may not say much about the subject, but this silence may speak loudly to how the historian will interpret it. Historians struggle with the interpretation of sources and sometimes must use historical analogies or a “scientific method” to link observed pieces of evidence with events that have little documentation or sources that identify a key factor. However, one of the biggest problems that historians face is when there is a lack of sources because even when there might be multiple sources describing a group or event, these sources are typically narrated by those who had power and leave out the voices of others involved. The main idea of the article is that there is no absolute right answer to what historians study, which is why there are multiple interpretations.

The second article explains the considerations made by historians when looking at primary sources. One of the questions historians have when looking at a source is whether it is an original since copies tend to have errors that can change the interpretation of the source. One of the biggest concerns of a historian is the authority, competence, and trustworthiness of the author of the source. If the author does not have adequate knowledge of the event, or the author created the source in a time that may have skewed their response, historians must be careful about using the source, as it might not accurately represent information about an event or period.

Howell and Prevenier: “The Source”

This article depicts some of the knowledge that historians must have when looking at primary sources, and some of the challenges they may face when doing so. The article first talks about the different categories of primary sources, such as relics and testimonials, and mentions how historians ought to make themselves aware of the historical context of the piece they are looking at, so they can interpret the source more accurately. It also mentions the difference between intentional and unintentional sources and direct and indirect sources. The second part of the article examines the different types of primary sources and what these types of sources may reveal. This section also discusses some of the obstacles historians might face in the future since the types of current sources seem to be less traditional. The third section of the article talks about the archiving process of documents and how it can be challenging for historians to have access to certain sources.

This article was very eye-opening to someone studying history since I was not fully aware of all of the paths and struggles historians face in conducting their research. This article also got me thinking about the different ways the process of historical research may evolve in the coming decades.

Presnell: “Historians and the Research Process”

This article explains the process of historical research to a student starting out in the field.  Presnell begins by identifying how the presentation of today’s sources has changed due to the existence of the internet.  Presnell explains that, while the internet is a helpful tool that provides wide access to many materials, researchers must take precaution to look for legitimate sources that will aid their research.  The author also warns that, no matter how historians may try to manage it, all historical work has a bias that is influenced by the experiences, ideas, and philosophies of historians.  

Presnell goes on to explain the different types of sources used and written by historians (primary, secondary, and tertiary sources).  Before creating an argument, it is important for the researcher to find sources that are relevant to their topic.  A student may find the completed research on a particular topic to be overwhelming. The author encourages that, while the discourse shared by historians may have a broad spectrum, it does not mean that further research is futile or unwelcome to the community.  This is because historical research is benefited by the responses and interpretations by other historians.  This discourse is why researchers must be careful to document their sources thoroughly, so they can give credit to those historians’ interpretations and not take it to be their own work.

The main idea to take away from this article is that research is a long process that requires focus, organization, purpose, and many changes to your project along the way.  This piece seeks to prevent students from being overwhelmed or discouraged from this process.