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
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when we first really got into this hobby are now easily considered outdated and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.

One Comment

  • Kay

    May 2, 2023 at 9:08 PM

    One example of errors in secondary sources:

    A lot of people don’t bother to read the forward/preface in books. Norah Waugh did not write The Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930. It was published in 1968; Norah Waugh died in 1966.

    Her good friend Margaret Woodward gathered up the heap of notes she left behind, and did her very best to finish the book, in Norah’s memory.

    I contacted one of the museums because I wanted to see an actual photo of one of the dresses in the book. That’s when we figured out that the item or catalog number of the dress in question had got messed up, either in Norah’s notes or Margaret’s transcription, nobody caught it, and now 55 years later they have *no idea* what dress it was or where it might be.

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