Primary Sources and the New Year

I am a historian, I have always been a historian, and I will always be a historian. I love sifting through documents, texts, and materials analyzing each piece in the hopes of constructing an understanding of events. Although I no longer write historical pieces, I think of graduate school fondly and miss those days greatly. I used to sit on the floor with books all around me, digging through primary sources trying to figure out how to grant women a voice in times where it was often restrained. Oh, how I love it!

I spoke at a conference a few years ago where the keynote speaker discussed the different types of historians. He explained that he believed that there were those who wrote history because it helped them define their own identity and then there were those who wrote history because they wanted to solve the mysteries of the past. I completely identify with the first historian he defined. My work has always focused on gender, Judaism, and choice. All three of these topics I grapple with daily and I believe my work has helped me define how I fit within the larger historical context that has helped construct my personal identity.

Although I am no longer writing, I do get to teach history for 45 minutes a day. My students this year are so enthusiastic and inquisitive. Our class often turns to random topics and quite frankly I adore these moments because my dear scholars are genuinely  very curious about the past. Two weeks before winter break one of my scholars politely raised her hand and asked, “Will we one day be primary sources?” I was enthused to hear that she was trying to understand how she  fit within the larger historical narrative.  I responded by explaining that she is a part of social history and that one day she very well could be needed to understand a time within history. We then began discussing what she might leave behind for historians to use as primary sources.

I often think about the age of digital media and how it will define primary sources. Film, letters, books… they are all tangible pieces.  I wonder if all that we write and produce on the internet will one day disappear because the interwebz archives can not possibly store all of the media we create. Perhaps this comes from a place of skepticism (I don’t trust technology to produce quality over long periods of time), none the less, I worry about the historical record we are currently creating and how it will be utilized in the future. I also often wonder about the volume at which we are producing sources and how historians will be able to negotiate what is a legitimate source and what is not. We currently struggle as a society to define legitimate  sources (i.e. fox vs. cnn), how the heck is a historian going to be to trudge through all of the murky material.

We each create our own historical narrative through memory and documents. I have always saved materials from various events so that I could piece together my own history. As we move into the new year I am going to continue constructing my history through primary sources, however this year I am going to use the ever-so-scary internet. I have created a tumblr to document the year 2013. I will take one picture for each day. I am not creating this tumblr because I believe that historians in 60 years will find it and use it to help write analysis on gender, Judiasm, and choice… I am creating it because I am a historian, trying to construct my own identity.


One of my favorite primary sources in grad school. Jewish girl goes on a wild adventure, only to be tamed and returned to the suburbs.

One of my favorite primary sources in grad school. Jewish girl goes on a wild adventure, only to be tamed and returned to the suburbs.