Wednesday, March 8, 2017

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How to Be a Boss at Research - Part 1

How to be a Boss at Research Part 1: Intro, Different Types of Sources

Hey Ya’ll!

Abby here, and today I want to start a conversation with you about something that’s really important to a lot of us in this historic costumer/reenactor community.

Research.

More specifically, what it means to do research, how to do it well, and what to look for in other people’s research to know whether or not it’s actually useful.  You see, with the growth of the Internet over the last few years and the explosive trendiness that is historic dress in general (especially in academia…lordy!), there has been a huge expansion of knowledge and accessible information that is just coming to light day after day after day. Lauren and I are not “old” by any modern standard, but the dress history/costuming/reenacting world is totally different today than it was 10 years ago! Ideas and beliefs that were commonplace when we first really got into this hobby are now easily considered outdated and wrong. Kind of crazy, but it’s true!

Whatever you say Benepickle Cutiepatch*...

With that in mind, the amount of new kids coming into the hobby on top of the continuing expansion of the internet…knowing what is good information/bad information/responsible standards of research practice can be tricky. So this series (which I originally thought was going to be one post with bullet points - bahahahha that's hysterical.) is going to break down research in very basic terms. My hope is that it will be accessible, applicable, relatable, and amusing. Because I can't stand being boring. 

First, we need to break down the different types of resources that we have available to us, today. 

Primary – Documentation that comes from the period you are studying. For examples: newspapers, court records, original books, manuscripts, letters, original clothing pieces (kinda…this one is a bit tricky - because clothing was often remade, you need to be able tell when something is original to the garment vs. later remake...but I digress...) etc. They all must come from the time period that you are studying. This is the absolute best option for historical research. The more primary documentation the better.

Ryan, you can read Ackermann's to me every damn day of the week. <3 

Secondary – Modern publications regarding the past. Good secondary sources will cite primary sources to back up their argument. Some excellent modern authors are Linda Baumgarten, John Styles, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, and Anne Bissonette, among others. Older secondary publications can be a bit precarious. Norah Waugh and Janet Arnold did excellent jobs with their books, but we know for a fact that some of their patterning/terminology is just wrong. So, while their written work is from a great deal of primary documentation and is very very good, but we know that there are patterns and other aspects of their books that should be taken as inspiration and not as cold hard facts.

A small selection of my babies

Tertiary – Facebook groups. Forums. Blogs. (Yep - even ours!) Etc. Though as a newbie, it is beyond tempting to go head first into these groups for answers, support, and conversation, it is vital to understand, that unless someone is actually citing their statements (or opinions) to you on a facebook group/forum/blog that you should take all of it with a grain of salt. Almost everyone on these groups means well, but a lot of bad information is passed along this way. This is how mythology spreads, or silly rules or rumors get started. It’s a dangerous place for a new researcher to go.



Ok - So now what? In the upcoming weeks we're going to go through all the different types of sources and discuss how to find them, how to use them, and how to know when it's time to toss out the junk. Basically what I have come come refer to as - The Rules of Engagement. 

<3 <3

* I know his name is Benedict Cumberbatch, but I can never not change it up for my own amusement.

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20 comments:

  1. Dear Abby,
    This post is far from boring - I mean how could it be with Benepickle Cutiepatch!! As one of the "newbies" to the hobby, after years of rushing home to check the blogroll like any other kid would for their favorite TV show, I want to thank you for this series on all things research. Too often, I find myself turning to the experts at the tertiary level of research - be it bloggers or facebook sewing groups- and neglecting to follow up with the primary and secondary sources. I am so looking forward to your further discussions about the researching process and the future installments in the series!
    Thanks for inspiring us,
    Anneliese :)

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    1. Oh girl, if you like Benepickle Cutiepatch then hopefully the rest of the series will continue to be entertaining...I've had wayyyy to much fun with memes for this series! :D

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  2. OK so am I the only person who, on seeing a photograph of someone's books, immediately has to enlarge it so that I can read all the spines? (Please tell me I'm not!)

    Seriously impressed that you've got something from my local museum - National Museums Liverpool!

    Joking aside, I'm really looking forward to reading this series. I'm just about to start the research for my Masters, and while I hope I've got some idea what I'm doing, all help and advice is eagerly received.

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    1. ...no...you're not the only person....hahaha :) I actually went to Liverpool twice in grad school (U of Glasgow) to study, first was a school trip for Dec Arts and then I went back later in the summer to study some of the 18th century clothing that is featured in that little book. Loved it - some really great gowns in that collection!

      Hopefully this will be of at least a little use, though if you're in grad school the whole world of research is available to you now, unlike when you're out of grad school and having database withdrawals. (Story of my life, currently..) :) Good luck with your studies!

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  3. Thanks for sharing this Abby. It is hard to encourage others to seek out information about their persona in this age of instant gratification and technology. Having the knowledge to decipher information is key to success.
    I witnessed an interesting atrocity at an event. I watched a re-enactor who seemed to have done no prior research, whip out their telegraph device (that which is more commonly refereed to in modern times as a smart phone)and use Google to look up the answer to a question they had been asked. I try as much as I can to use primary, but it is can be hard to come by for certain topics. I more often use well cited secondary sources as well as museum pieces and photo-graphical evidence. We in Nevada are lucky to have the Marjorie J Russell Textile Museum's collection for reference.

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    1. Oh dear...I think I have a meme for that somewhere.....or at least I can go make one featuring Ryan Gosling...(you'll find that he's like a co-author for this series with me....I apparently really like Hey Girl memes..ha!)

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  4. What a great blog topic! I can't wait to read more! I had no idea that Norah Waugh and Janet Arnold weren't 100% accurate...I'm so glad that you mentioned this!

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    1. Yeah, it's small things (so like they're 93% vs 100% ya know?), but it's stuff that is frustrating for the new costumer as well as the academic because it's terminology (misuse of the term Polonaise in Arnold, for example) and missing seams/misdrawn patterns (Waugh), etc. They're still amazing works, but we need to acknowledge that they're not perfect (no book is, but I talk about that in a later post.) :) I think the best thing to take away from that comment is just to be aware of what you're looking at, and really practice critical thinking. :)

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  5. I totally agree with many of your issues; however, having heard Janet Arnold give talks (ages ago) so much of her research is very sound, and a lot of it is indeed based on primary sources. Her work, as well as Waugh's (which is older, as well as the work by the Cunningham's) is the jumping off point from which a lot of modern costume history scholarship springs from.

    That being said, the field is a changing and a growing one, and differs on this side of the pond than in England.

    My personal bugaboo -- that horror called Pinterest. As so many merely google images (as you stated correctly) they often take one to a Pinterest page, where information is often wrong; incorrectly cited; and a reproduction garment is not noted as such and stands next to a mounted garment from a major museum. People use it as a resource, but to my (academic) mind, it isn't an acceptable one at all. Anyway, nothing can replace a real library and a run of complete fashion periodicals to skim through ... but if you don't have access to them, use a Dover reprint (especially the ones edited by Stella Blum) rather than a quick internet search. One can also be pleasantly surprised at what some - even local - libraries have. And - Cumberbatch as Sherlock is on BBCAmerica as I type this.

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    1. I always use an old Czech saying aboout fire and say Pinterest is a good servant but a bad master.
      In other words, it's a tool, not a resource. Much like Google is a tool and not a resource.

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  6. Thanks for your comment! While I am deeply jealous you actually have been able to hear Arnold speak, and we agree that their books are the jumping off point for scholars and new costumers. (As well as still being some of the best publications out there.) I still stand by what I say in regards to Arnold and Waugh's research not being perfectly sound. For example, Arnold refers to a style of gown in her Patterns of Fashion book as a Polonaise. It's not. In fact, this counters what Norah Waugh correctly describes in her Cut of Women's Clothing book, and what more recent scholarly work has proven to us. So there is a mistake that's there, that has been further corrected with modern research, but is still something that people misidentify. As for Waugh, she left seams out of her gowns patterns. Her research, again, is amazing, and wonderful, and like I said before, utilizes primary sources. She still has mistakes in her books, and these mistakes have confused people.

    These are two very quick reasons why I say that while they did excellent jobs with their books and that it’s obvious they come from a great deal of primary documentation (I mean, both authors fill up pages and pages with just direct quote after direct quote..and it's amazing), but we know that there are mistakes and that there are parts of the books that should be taken as inspiration (for example, the missing seams) and not as cold hard facts. :)

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    1. So Arnold simply failed at terminology? That's her big flaw? That is all?

      You know, questioning Arnold's patterns in general (as you do here) for her use of the word polonaise is extremely misleading to your readers. Because they're not going to read "she gets a word wrong" but rather "her patterns suck." And you're not helping because you throw it out without actually elucidating this point in your original post.

      There is a marked difference between Waugh leaving off seams and Arnold getting the term "polonaise" wrong and that you equate them and name in one breath (and actually don't even specify this in the original post) just to prove your point that "our knowledge is constantly expanding" is also dishonest.

      Because, those dresses Arnold measured and sketched, are not changing. Disintegrating, perhaps. But they are not expanding and neither is our knowledge of them. Because they are specific. They are not generic. And Arnold was not trying to make them generic. As such an unsourced, unreasoned, unexplained "they are wrong" claim on what are the best extant patterns of extant 18th century clothes is just untenable.

      You want to encourage people to do their own research. But all you accomplish is making the existing research sound flawed and meaningless to consume. You think you encourage people to make better and more historically accurate gowns, but you just give them the excuse to make next backlaced monstrosity.

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    2. First, thank you for your comment, I appreciate good discussions and debates when it comes to dress history, but I need to be honest - you've misunderstood me. So let me do a better job of clarifying a couple of things here so that way we're on the same page.

      To begin, this is an introductory post, so I wrote it to be light, easy, and open ended. I did not want to get into the details of each subject because it's currently a 12 pages long Word doc and I didn't want people to die of boredom. This post was only meant to get people's attention so they will know to check back on Wednesday for the next month or so. I only brought up those two quick examples of Arnold and Waugh for ema2boys because she specifically mentioned it. I still decided to keep my answers brief because I have a whole blog post devoted to secondary sources. No reason for me to put the cart before the horse.

      To address another point, I never specifically mentioned Arnold's patterns. I mentioned her book, and how it is not perfect. It isn't, and that's ok. To me, terminology is a huge part of dress history, and is something I am particularly passionate about. You might not agree with me, that's ok. However, when I see museums and new/experienced reenactors and costumers misusing terminology it causes confusion in the scholarly field as well as the hobbyist field. I made that brief point to get people's attention, so they know it's ok to question everything. Just like it's ok for you to question me.

      I also have to say, the "meaningless to consume" point of your argument is simply your own opinion, based off of a very brief commentary. I would ask that you hold that thought until the actual essay on secondary sources in published in a few weeks.

      Thanks again for your comment.

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    3. Oh man, the questioning of Goddess Janet got someone's overly starched flounces all ruffled. Personally I don't think anyone is above a critical eye, as long as it's applied with politeness, and I don't think most of us who are familiar with Arnold's useful patterns thought that you were implying they were faulty, Abby. Like you said, the fact is that terminology is vital for getting everyone on the same page, and while mistaken usage doesn't render all previous research null and void it SHOULD make you look carefully at everything. Looking forward to this research series!

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    4. Frankly, though, precisely the fact that Arnold is so often cited did make me stop and go "okay, you may know what she got wrong, but I don't!", so maybe clarifying just a little bit more in the original post would have been helpful.
      I have, admittedly, a bit of a unique experience, in that I'm Czech and get most of my info from tertiary sources out of necessity (shipping cost for books etc.). On the other hand - I throw it out here because with the internet and things like the Historical Sew Fortnightly, this class of costumer is going to be more prominent than it was those ten years ago. And for us especially, this sort of blog post is EXTREMELY important!

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  7. Great Article Abby!! And yes to everything you wrote! One of the things I love is hearing what mature ladies (like those over 80) who attend my programs say about what their Grannies wore...I will sit for hours taking notes and just listening to their remembrances! I like Pinterest for a jumping off point, but one of the things that totally irks me is when the images don't take you to the original source (the museum where the image comes from or the blog post that has the fashion plate or ANYTHING that has real information about the image!!) Anyway, can't wait to read more!
    Blessings!
    g

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    1. Ah yes, those times when you find something great on Pinterest, but the description is so obviously totally wrong. Slightly wrong I can live with, but occasionally it's so entirely off that I can't bring myself to pin it as is, and have to get the right details first. [Never go back to college - it makes you obsessive about accreditation :)!]

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    2. One of the best ways I have been able to combat the crazy and sometimes non existent captions on pinterest is clicking through to the original source! Sometimes it takes you back to the website or museum the image came from and that can be a huge blessing. Other times, though, it takes you no where and a reverse google search is in order!

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  8. These rules can apply to all areas of life. I've met people who do not know how to discern information in any sphere of life. They believe it when the co-worker in the factory gives them medical advice. They believe it when they read theories from fringe sub groups (try googling flat earthers). They pass on and share all kinds of crap on Facebook (wrong, outdated, or scam material). And the whole "fake news" stuff... My rules are: my sources should be reliable. Example: medical advice should come from doctors! I ask mechanics for mechanical advice. My sources should be backed up: If multiple scientist and explorers tell me the world is round and getting polluted, then it is round and getting polluted.. Be prepared to change my stance as new and more relevant information comes in. Try not to become emotionally invested in things I have always believed. (But balance so that I don't change my stance with every bit of fluffy info that blows by.)

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    1. Agreed. I'm always completely blown away by folks who don't understand filtering of information and constant re-evaluation. The world is changing by leaps and bounds and we have the most unbelievable information at our fingertips...why would you settle for the dregs and not want to search for the absolute BEST you can find?

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