I cannot count how many times I have told people I study history and they have replied “I wasn’t good at history, I am terrible at remembering dates.” Sometimes I laugh this answer off, depending on how engaged I feel like getting in a conversation. And sometimes this reply leads to robust discussions about history and historian’s attempts to interpret and analyze the past from a variety of different angles, using cultural, social, gendered, environmental, racial, and economic approaches. But what I never talk about is what I think I really do. The bad-ass profession I’ve actually chosen that brings me to the edge of danger and brushes with the ultimate questions of fact and fiction: history detective.
Special agent history detective Alexandra L. Straub scourers the dark underbelly of historical records, investigating closed cases of the utmost importance. She solves mysteries about the past changing the face of the future. Her most prized tool is the call slip. She has investigated evidence from all corners of the world. From top secret federal archives to small town historical societies. There is no reading room left unturned.
And here is my point: my Digital Scholarship project has led me on another exciting history detective adventure! From an unsuspecting reference in an appendix of a rare book to the grey walls of the Pennsylvania State Archive to an exciting email correspondence (okay maybe it wasn’t exactly “exciting”) I found a database of what I am interested in mapping for my Digital Scholars Project!
And here is my other point: although sometimes research is frustrating and tedious, it’s all in a day’s work of a history detective.