Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ah, the beauty of inspiration.

So this week I've been able to dive head first into what made me want to become a librarian in the first place: the art of research.  There's something I enjoy so much about having a specific topic, going to the library, and pulling dozens of books off the shelf (without having to pay for anything!)  And concentrating on one topic really makes it so easy.  That eureka moment when you're so unsure of what you could possibly write twenty-five pages about and then bam!  Everything makes sense. 

So how did I manage to lasso such an awesome moment this week?  Well first I have to thank Casey King for spending lots of time on the conquest of Mexico in the last few weeks.  While talking about Cortes, we came across the figure of La Malinche or Dona Marina (her baptized name).  Malinche was a Nahua woman given to Cortes as a slave in the Yucutan.  Her knowledge of both Nahuatl and Mayan allowed her to become a translator for Cortes, as well as his mistress.  History has assigned many roles to La Malinche, but the majority of them fall into two categories: the harlot/traitor figure or the mother/heroin figure.  These distinct views on La Malinche in history inspired me to think about writing about her Tabetha Ewing's "Fugitives, Exile, and Extradition" class.

And this is where Jane comes in!  I came to Jane with a very preliminary idea: La Malinche was physically an exile, sold into slavery and given to the other, the Spanish.  But she is also a historical exile: Her image has been demonized by centuries of art and literature.  She is a betrayer of her own people, the word "malinche" actually means something along the lines of "traitor."  So how is her historical portrayal significant, especially to the nation of Mexico?  At what points in time has La Malinche been reviled and when were attempts made to reinstate her as a positive character?  Why is she singled out in the blame-game when hundreds of thousands of native soldiers fought alongside Cortes in the conquest?

I've spent this weekend in the library and have checked out more books than I know what to do with.  La Malinche is kind of haunting me.  There are no accounts that I've been able to find which give any chronicle of the woman's own words - and she was a translator, a woman who spent her life speaking for others.  Why is it so difficult to find out things about her as a historical figure?  And how have literary images of her enveloped her realistic presence in history with their portrayals? I have so many questions to ask and barely any answers! 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Examining the Role of Historians...Through a Historical Lense.

I am currently swimming in a sea of print-outs (see: Bard allows me to kill many trees, for essentially no money.  I still feel bad about it.) in the library, trying very hard to focus on "The limits of historical knowledge" from John Tosh's The Pursuit of History.  He wants me to ask myself if historians can be objective.  I'm going to simply say no and instead thumb through my newly arrived copy (thank you ConnectNY and Vassar) of Diego Durán's The History of the Indies of New Spain.  I think we can all agree that I have reached a new low (or high?) of historical geeky-ness. 

Wikipedia* tells me that Durán's book "was much criticized in his lifetime for helping the 'heathen' maintain their culture."  Now we all know how trustworthy Wikipedia can be, but way before I read any of that I wanted to look into Durán as a historian contemporary to the time period I am interested in.  Why did he write such a lengthy history of a population of people that had already been conquered and converted?  What was so significant about his work that made it so threatening to the powers that be?  Who in sixteenth century Spain and in the colonies had a vested interest in keeping certain histories forgotten?  Wikipedia is also telling me that Durán's book was not published until the nineteenth century - why?  Can we connect that with the previously asked questions?

I can't say too much quite yet about this work, however.  I haven't really read it (and I feel like I may not get through all of it in the three weeks time the library has allotted me.  I can say that since starting this semester, I've taken a new interest in the process of historical writing and its significance to...everything?  Thanks, Jane!  Now I can barely resist the urge to check out as many histories as I can carry.

Speaking of checking out more histories, I read quite a few excerpts from Bernal Díaz del Castillo last weekend.  The thing I really got out of his history (which is, at best, tedious) is his rivalry with Francisco López de Gómara.  Gómara was hired by Cortés to write a history of New Spain.  As I understand it, Bernal Díaz took issue with this history because Gómara himself never travelled to the New World while Díaz had been a foot soldier under Cortés.  Can you say drama?  I would be interested in comparing the two histories.  Is it even possible to determine which one is more accurate?  It must take a lot of frustration for someone to sit down years after the fact and repute the stories of others just to make one's point.

All in all, I think I have a lot of reading to do. 

*Oh, yesterday I learned that approximately 85% of Wikipedia entries are written by men.  Let's let the implications of that one sit with us for a moment.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Couple Definitions/Explanantions.

Jane wants me to talk about senior project and what that means.  And I wanted to talk about some of my classes this semester now that I've been in them for about three weeks or so.

So senior project:  Essentially, this is a senior thesis (about 70 pages for history majors like myself) written on any topic in my field (the early modern Atlantic world) over the course of a year (the senior one, specifically.)  This is a super daunting task!  I will be starting it in the fall, which is terrifying, and also means that I have to have a topic picked out by the end of this semester.  I used to have a topic (see: blog left in the dust), but that idea is boring to me now.  I think I would like to write about women.  Or race relations?  Or historiography.  I guess I'll figure it out eventually.

On to my classes!  This semester I am taking The Early Modern Atlantic World with Casey King; Sex, Power, and Politics with Verity Smith; Fugitives, Exile, and Extradition with Tabetha Ewing; and Introduction to American Studies with Geoff Sanborn.  And of course my Historical Research Methods tutorial with Jane!  Yay Jane!  (Jane celebration blog, anyone?)

Casey King's class is right up my alley, obviously.  While I've taken a couple higher level history classes focusing on the Atlantic world, I needed something broad to make sure I knew the basics.  This class is working out pretty well so far, and Casey is my temporary adviser while I wait with baited breath for the return of Christian Crouch.  We've only focused on Columbus and Cortes so far, which is a bit outside of my interests - I seem to really like the 17th century English colonies.  But!  I am really into it, still, and the heavy use of primary sources in a lot of our readings is helping me think about history in a different way.

Verity Smith's class moves away from my concentration and towards my own personal passions - mainly, feminism.  You could say I'm a fan.  I don't really know how I can tie this to my senior thesis since we're starting our historical conversation on women with the first wave, but I'm sure I will find something to talk about nonetheless.

Tabetha Ewing's class is a bit of a mystery to me at the moment.  I will get back to you on that one.

Geoff Sanborn's class so far has taught me that I have no clue what falls under the heading of "American Studies."  I've mostly just read a lot about malls and big box stores and state fairs.  Oh, and tea.  I also went on a field trip to the mall.  You're jealous, I know.  This is another class which I am going to allow to lead me where it may.

And now it is late and I haven't even gotten around to talking about enclosed cosmography.  Ah, another day! 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another Day, Another Blog.

Hello world!  (And by world, I mean Jane.  Hi Jane!)

This is my new blog.  Can you tell?  The emptiness should give it away.  I'm starting this blog as a companion to the work I will be doing in my Historical Research Methods tutorial this semester at Bard College.  As a second semester junior, I've started thinking about 1) my senior project and 2) graduate school.  While number one is up in the air, I think I would like to attend a library and information sciences program in graduate school with the end goal of becoming a research librarian.  I have all sorts of goals!  Maybe. 

I will write about actual important things later, but for now I think I'm going to try to get some reading on malls done.  All in a day's work.  
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