In the previous article, I discussed the historian’s obligation towards objectivity and accounting for different perspectives when interpreting sources. In this article, I will talk more generally about the scope of my research for this project. Organizing one’s research and writing can be one of the more difficult aspects of studying history. For many topics, there is a wide availability of information, and the question becomes, “Where do I start?”
Historical scholarship first requires reading the historiography, or body of literature, on a particular topic. In terms of my study of Knox College’s history, this includes four primary texts — which I’ve referred to as the ‘cannon’ of literature on Knox College. They are: Hermann Muelder’s Fighters for Freedom and Missionaries and Muckrakers, Earnest Calkins’s They Broke the Prairie, and Martha Webster Farnham’s Seventy-Five Significant Years. These books are a roadmap for the scholar interested in researching Knox’s history, providing a comprehensive history of the college’s first 100 years.
The information gathered in these books will inform the scholar of possible subtopics that may need further study. For the first part of this project, I chose to focus on three events in the college’s first three decades that I believed were significant and warranted further coverage: the college’s origins, religious sectarianism, and women’s education at Knox. The topics of Abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, have been covered extensively by scholars who have dedicated their professional careers to studying them and therefore I did not feel it was appropriate for me to attempt a recapitulation here, but rather to refer the readership to the excellent sources already available.
Through the first stage of the project, I have gained an appreciation of the expansive archival information available on the history of the college. I have come upon a number of topics I would like to go into more detail about, but as mentioned, I’ve had to choose those which I believed were most significant, or had received less coverage in the past. As the project continues, I expect organizing my research will become more and more difficult as the available sources multiply. From these sources, there will be more and more stories to tell, and more decisions to be made.