— Mae D'Amico, History in the Making

This is my final ten minute presentation for my Study of History class.  This is the closing of a wonderful semester, I would like to thank everyone who helped my in any way.

Final presentation youtube video.
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Final Presentation.

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This is my Final Essay pdf for the class.

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The short book The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis is a historiography-like book about a real court case that took place in France in the sixteenth century.  The scandal revolved around a peasant family who had an unprecedented dilemma: Martin Guerre returned to his home to find his wife happily living with her husband, a man also claiming to be Martin Guerre.  From there a court case ensued that would be remembered by historians and now thanks to Davis, the mainstream public.

Reviewing Davis’s work is Robert Finlay with his article, The Refashioning of Martin Guerre.  Finlay starts his article rather unobtrusively just commenting on the life and society of the peasants presence in modern history and mainstream media.  Then he comments on how Davis popularized the story of Martin Guerre with her book.  When Finlay starts to bring up Jean de Coras, however, the real criticism starts to show.  Coras too, published about the story of Martin Guerre but he was actually alive during the whole scandal and reported the actors as very different than how Davis portrayed them.  The Guerre impostor in Coras’s account of the tale was a charlatan property snatcher who got what was coming to him.  Finlay later makes the case that Davis exaggerated sources to make a dramatized story of the Martin Guerre that could hardly be called history but something more like historical fiction– an invention of Davis’s imagination.  To the heart of Finlays article is the assertion that the wife of Martin Guerre was not in on some plot, but duped by a scoundrel.

Natalie Zemon Davis

Davis reponded to Finaly’s article with one of her own titled, On the Lame.  For one thing, Davis defends the style of her book, writing that she wanted it to read like a detective novel.  Basically, that she wanted it to be readable by the average person.  Davis also subtly challenges any who have picked up a torch against her research to look into it– all the research is noted there, in the next.  Coras was also only one of four who reported on the judicial case of Martin Guerre in 1555.  Davis concludes that Finlay assumes in his own narrow mindedness that Martin Guerre’s wife would not be able to tell the difference between the impostor and her real husband.  She writes this cannot be so and then sites psychology sources to back up her argument.

As for me, the reader and the student, I found Davis’s account of Martin Guerre hardly convincing.  I agree with Finlay that she let her imagination run away with her and even with a credible list of sources there is no call for stretching the truth and then calling it history.  Coincidentally, that is actually exactly what I am trying to prove in my term paper for this class.  I disagree with Finlay when it comes to the Martin Guerre impostor, however.  People did age a lot more rapidly in the sixteenth century from harder lives and labor, but there is nothing that could so alter a man that his wife couldn’t be able to tell the difference.  To assume to seems rather patronizing towards the female sex, although I hope that is not how Finlay meant his assertion to come across.  The true conclussion of this debate, I fine, is that the real story cannot be disserened being so long ago.  The true story Martin Guerre will stay a half-mystery of history.


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E.P. Thompson’s article is fundamentally about human perception of time and how it changed over the years.  At first time was something that just passed until, Thompson argues, time became a commodity– that people exchanged their time and services for money.  Thompson’s thesis is that human progression into industrial capitalism influenced our apprehension as to the function of time.

Thompson asks the simple research questions, how was time spent prior to industrial capitalism.  In some cultures time was related to how farm chores progressed or with a sundial.  How did the clock from there revolutionize time?  What did the pocket watch mean to people?  How did the relationship between time, bosses, and workers change with this new comprehension?

The conclusion seems to be that Thompson was correct, the relationship between employer, employee, and the dreaded clock became an intimate one over time.  He concludes that this change developed unnoticeably but many things progress like this in history.  It is a very interesting piece because most people nowadays just assume that this is how things have always been, but then, so everyone has assumed that in history.

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This is my Lit Review Final for my paper.

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Proof and Persuasion Through History is an article by Anthony Grafton about footnotes.  Although footnotes are thought of boring source references in order to avoid plagiarism accusations  they are really so much more, depending on the author.  At the end of the introduction Grafton theorizes that footnotes are not just the proof that a work is credible but that footnotes are the collective legacy of historians over time trying to devise a method to produce good, credible writing.

Some of the questions that Grafton seems to ask in his research are, what are the more notable authors of critical footnotes in historical writings?  What is the general opinion of footnotes in writing?  What are some criticisms of   the history of footnotes?  How do footnotes separate traditional historical writings and contemporary writings?  What was Ranke’s great contribution?

Grafton’s conclusion is that historical writing, like history itself, developed slowly, it is a work in progress.  Although Ranke may have dramaticized more than proved his work to be accurate in his footnotes, he made them a popular concept in historical writing.  They were not the most accurate footnotes, more self-justifying, but that fit in with protestant practices at the time– which is a good comment on how time periods influence historical writings.  Footnotes are the progression of historians’ efforts to legitimize their efforts throughout time.

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The French Revolution in the History of the Contemporary world by Albert Soboul is an article about how revolutions around the world and the way that society had been set up historically in France caused the French revolution.  Soboul’s thesis seems to be that the French Revolution is an event that cannot be isolated from the history of Europe as a a whole as well as the American Revolution.

Albert Soboul

Some questions that Soboul poses are how other revolutions caused the French revolution?  How was the social structure, more specifically the hierarchy in France set up at the time and why was there some air of instability or unrest?  How did the rebirth of commerce effect the country before the revolution?  Soboul’s conclusion is that even though the French Revolution was obviously doomed to fail even in the second year of it’s occurrence, the reason it was still being fought for are reasons that still stir the hearts of men today.  This revolution was just a classic equality revolution this time set in France.  Freedom and equality, the overcoming of the bourgeoisie by the peasant masses, action with thought and reason– all things that people still hope for today and look back at in history with nostalgia.

Francois Furet.

The French Revolution Revisited by Francois Furet is an article about how different eras view the importance of different historical events and whether the French Revolution is in itself significant.  Furet’s thesis is to find whether or not the French Revolution was in itself unique or whether it just prolonged the cyclical violence and conflict that had been going on for centuries just to restart that cycle.  His research questions seem to be asking what other cycles France went through historically that got them to the French Revolution?  What political parties were involved in the revolution and what was there significance?  How does the French Revolution relate to the Russian Revolution?  Furet’s conclusion is that the French revolution was not in itself unique but the first of it’s kind– the birth of a democratic state in Europe for the other states to follow suit.

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David Cohen is analyzing an interesting topic in his article, Homosexuality in Ancient Athens.  The subject Cohen in addressing is studied by many anthropologists, the subject being: sexual preferences outside current societal norms.  Cohen researches the topic by studying it through Athenian law and how that law portrays their views on homosexuality   Cohen’s thesis seems to be that to understand Athenian homosexuality, one must investigate more into what the the laws and social norms were at the time pertaining to sexuality.

Cohen seems to ask certain questions in his article.  How do Athenians see sexuality?  More specifically, what was considered normal sexuality?  How were the fears of incest presented in Athenian law?  How are their views of sexuality portrayed in their laws?  How do writers of that time discuss sexuality?  How did the relationship between men and women effect homosexual behaviors?

Cohen’s concludes that there is no one Athenian attitude when it comes to pederasty.  Athens had very widely varied laws and views depending on where someone lived.  To try and simplify or rationalize all of Athenians views on homosexuality would diminish our understanding of their complex culture.


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Paper Proposal

As the top soil eroded and blew from the western plains, the farming people of the Midwest who were migrants just a couple generations before gathered their belongings once again and moved west to California. The migrants came from many states, mostly Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, but in the time of the great exodus on Route 66, John Steinbeck the writer of The Grapes of Wrath, chose to focus on one Oklahoman family, the Joads. In his narrative following the slow deterioration of the family and their hardships, Steinbeck portrays the Okies in their attempt to go to California and then their fate once they arrive. In this paper I will not try to contest the historical events written about in The Grapes of Wrath, but rather to discuss whether or not Steinbeck in his novel created a historical myth of the plight of the Okies by exaggerating real events.

The man in question, John Steinbeck.

To arrive at the right conclusion, there are many questions that need to be asked. Initially one that could be raised is why did Steinbeck write the book at all? Was this some sort of political ploy to get more people involved or was it simply just a good melodrama he wanted to articulate like his other novel based in California, East of Eden? A question even more essential to my paper, what did Steinbeck get right in his research? What was overlooked or exaggerated? A question more related to my sources would be how other media sources helped Steinbeck create a historical myth? For this question I would draw mostly from primary sources like the pictures of Dorothea Lange or the folk songs from Woody Guthrie.

California and the Dust Bowl Migration by Walter J. Stein is the primary monograph that I will use for this paper. Stein’s book investigates the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl migration on California as well as the push and pull factors that brought the workers there. In the index there are even specific pages that quote Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or check a certain aspect of the book for historical accuracy. The second secondary source that will be paramount in my paper is American Exodus, by James N. Gregory. This book researches the history of the dust bowl migrants and the way that the media portrayed their lives in California. In the introduction Gregory mentions that the media initially portrayed the migrants only through pictures that would bring attention to their dismal living and working conditions.

The novel in question, The Grapes of Wrath.

The novel in question, The Grapes of Wrath.

In addition to those very topic specific books I will also use Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination by Charles J. Shindo which is based mostly on media perceptions of the Dust Bowl and that they only scratched the surface of what was truly going awry in California at the time. I will go through each source and extract what is relevant to my paper, trying to be as unbiased towards the thesis trying to be proven as possible. Primary sources, contrary to traditional analytical history papers will not be the best place to start on this paper as it has already been pointed out that they might be biased toward making a political point. Secondary sources will be key, primarily the monograph by Stein and the book by Gregory. For all the sources used in my paper it will be important to draw my own conclusions rather than just summing up what other historians have pointed out in their research.

The topic and purpose of this paper will not be an easy on to write or conclude. It is unconventional for a student studying history to try and disprove a fictional novel. However, when it comes to such an influential novel like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, I am convinced writers, especially historical fiction writers, should be held accountable to the accuracy usual historians are responsible for. As Edward H. Carr points out in his book, What is History? C. P. Scott, a liberal journalist wrote, “Facts are sacred, opinion in free.” Steinbeck’s opinions of how the Okies lived, died, and suffered were his own, but the facts will be held in higher esteem.

Working bibliography for my proposal.

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