By Michelle M. Martin
In a neat, ornate hand Katie Edwards wrote in her diary on April 4, 1870, about the new chapter in her life that awaited her in the Indian Territory. “After a good night rest in a clean bed I rose this morning much refreshed . . . started for the Mission . . . will start with 80 pupils,” she remarked. With this simple declaration Edwards left behind the security and comfort of Ohio and entered the intricate world of the Mvskoke and Seminole peoples in the Indian Territory.
By Michelle Nickerson
“We don’t have anything on conservative women, however . . .”
This is what archivists would tell me during the earliest days of my dissertation research. It was the turn of the 21st century, and I was enthusiastically joining a wave of new scholars taking up what Alan Brinkley had called, in his path-breaking 1994 American Historical Review essay, “The Problem of American Conservatism.”
When College of the Holy Cross professor K.J. Rawson first imagined what would become the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA), he had in mind something fairly simple: a collection of finding aids that would solve a problem he’d faced himself as a researcher—the difficulty of figuring out “where transgender-related materials are held.” The collection Rawson envisioned would guide researchers through the contents of scattered transgender history archives. What emerged instead is a multi-institution collaboration; a centralized digital repository of unprecedented scale that has made accessible digitized materials related to transgender history gathered from collections across the world.
I was wrapping up the second to last chapter of my MA thesis when I received a call from a local historian from Holly Springs, Mississippi. During our conversation, my colleague read out an excerpt from a short biographical sketch about Dr. William M. Compton that she’d found in a local history book published in the 1930s. What struck me about the sketch was that it named Compton as the founder and “Grand Cyclops” of Marshall County’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1861, former South Carolina governor William Bull burned down his house because he was worried that the Yankees might get it. In studying Barbados, the American South, and the Greater Caribbean, I’ve become familiar with the ways the environment slowly chips away at the things that humans construct. Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, termites, encroaching vines, and the simple decay of organic matter often make investigating the material past difficult. In their own way, however, human beings are more destructive—the house that Bull burned down had stood in that spot for more than 130 years.
At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Dr. Robert Kells—then the superintendent of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum—warned state officials that widespread loss of property (including enslaved people), wounded pride, and the vices “contracted by so many of our best men . . . in the army” would unleash a wave of insanity in the state. I read Kells’s predictions during my first trip to the state archives as a new graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi.
One of the strangest and most fascinating source encounters I have experienced so far while working in the Venetian archives concerns the role of food in the records of a set of diplomatic missions to Cairo. In one case, in the early morning of December 17, 1489, at the citadel of Cairo, Pietro Diedo, the Venetian ambassador to Egypt, delivered an assortment of gifts to the Mamluk sultan Qaytbay.