Crowdsourcing History

in #explore19183 years ago

One of the things historians talk about is how bias affects historical scholarship. Even when we try to be as objective as possible we can never fully escape the Biases in the sources themselves, in whatever historical method we choose, in our language, in the culture and time we belong to, and even in each individual historian. Steemit could make a good platform for reducing some of these biases—with a worldwide base and diverse community, many individuals could give their own takes on a primary source, contributing to a better understanding of it. Of course, this method will likely introduce biases of its own. However, I’d like to give it a try. So in this post, instead of looking at sources myself and writing a short history, I’m going to share some primary sources, my initial notes about them, and invite you to share your notes and thoughts on them in the comments.

I decided to do a search for today in the Inquirer. This is one article I found:
Source: Grace Oakley, “The Tyranny of Foolish Rules,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 1918. © This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004. Used for educational/academic purposes.

Here are some of my notes.

-Who is Grace Oakley? Seems like she might live at one of these homes—more research is needed
-What does this tell us about 1918 America?

  • Young unaccompanied women were assumed to be up to no good, while young unaccompanied men are not—or if they are, it’s ok
  • Women aren’t being paid enough to be self-sufficient

-How can this be made relevant to the present day?

  • Wage issues can be connected to current issues
  • Low-income housing today imposes many restrictions on residents—including warrantless searches of residences for guns and other prohibited items

Please share your thoughts, ideas and notes in the comments!

100% of the SBD rewards from this #explore1918 post will support the Philadelphia History Initiative @phillyhistory. This crypto-experiment conducted by graduate courses at Temple University's Center for Public History and MLA Program, is exploring history and empowering education. Click here to learn more.


I'd be curious what others have to say about this bias-check experiment, but I'd want to focus more on not what we think so soon, but to examine for text in the article for what it is saying. Less about us and more them - at least at first. For instance, why not spend some time dissecting this looking for the argument:

Laws never have a human being a backbone. Self-control and self-reliance are like healthy muscles; they develop from being exercised.

Architect Louis Kahn is famous for guiding his students in a master class at UPenn to be humble before their materials:

"You say to a brick, 'What do you want, brick?' And brick says to you, 'I like an arch.' And you say to brick, 'Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.' And then you say: 'What do you think of that, brick?' Brick says: 'I like an arch.'"

Similarly, we need to humble ourselves before our materials and ask them what they want to be and to say. When we fail to do that, we are probably introducing one kind of bias or another.

Let's always ask our primary sources what they want to say. And then listen -- carefully. And be open to how they want to be presented.

Reminds me of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, Carousel, which I saw for the first time over the summer. One of the young woman characters in the play was living in a boarding house with a requirement to be home before curfew (about 20 minutes in the linked video). If she was late, she was threatened with losing her job as well as her home.

According to wikipedia, that was based on the 1909 Hungarian play, Liliom. If that scene came from Liliom and if that was based on actual events, this sort of requirement might have been an international phenomenon in the early decades of the 20th century.

Also, this excerpt is interesting:

The deficit is taken care of by the charity of kind-hearted, well-meaning people, who do not analyze far enough to realize that a far better method would be to go to the root of the evil which permits girls to be underpaid, rather than to strive to make up in gifts what they really should have as salary....

...Laws never gave a human being backbone. Self-control and self-reliance are like healthy muscles; they develop from being exercised...

In the first portion, you're tempted to think of it in a modern context, ala Lily Ledbetter, but the second sort of contradicts that idea, as if Oakley is complaining about laws that are already on the books. And that reminds me of The Misogynist Origins of American Labor Law.

A century ago, just as markets were attracting women to professional life, government regulation in the United States specifically targeted women to restrict their professional choices. The regulations were designed to drive them out of offices and factories and back into their homes — for their own good and the good of their families, their communities, and the future of the race.

I really would like to know more about what Oakley thought was, "the root of the evil which permits girls to be underpaid"