Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sharing the Hard Work of History at Bachelors Grove

One of the most talked about phenomena surrounding Bachelors Grove has to be the strange way it has of overcoming people with obsession.  Over the years, there have been numerous people who have been charged with "wanting to possess" the cemetery and the knowledge of it, to be "in charge" of it, to be the be all, end all fountainhead of information on it.  Sometimes this charge has been well-placed; most times not.  But I have found that it is a common charge made whenever someone takes a marked interest in the place. 

After observing first hand, however, this phenomenon--and more than once--and being charged with it myself, I want to go on record with how I really feel about Bachelors Grove history.

I was trained in Cultural and Intellectual United States History. I attained a Masters Degree in this pretty specific area of study, and I wrote a lot of papers on the subject matter having to do with tiny nuances of how people lived and thought in the United States a hundred years ago or more.

I've been blessed--though financially cursed (that's a little joke)--with being able to practice history as my job.  But I'm not a professor of Intellectual History, and I don't write academic papers anymore or survey people in that social science way that we always studied.  I write books that draw people into an interest in local history, and I create lectures, tours and events that keep people wanting to know more.  My joy comes from bringing people together in enjoying history, and my delight comes from finding bits of history that haven't been known since the players actually created the history.  I love to sort of bring people and events back around that have been forgotten about for whatever reason. I like to help people be known again.

This kind of history is called public history, and so I'm really a public historian.  I don't protect or hide my research like academics do, to avoid being scooped by rivals.  The whole point is to share information as much as possible.

Nonetheless, history is hard work no matter what you do with it.  And so I have a lot of fans who marvel at the work I do--and that's really nice to be appreciated--I've also gotten riled sometimes, even recently, when other researchers haven't commonly acknowledged the work that goes into what I do.  True, and as I've just said, the information I find is for everyone. But that it IS "public information" does not mean that it WAS "public information" before I dug it out, fleshed it out, or put the pieces together from dusty, old ones that no one has looked at in a long time.  It's like a pile of car parts that you inherited from your dead uncle.  If you don't know how to put it together, or even what garage it's sitting in, what use is it to anyone?

My point is a simple one.  I don't own Bachelors Grove history or the people interred there.  You can go back to my first post and see that I do Bachelors Grove research for the same reason I do research at a hundred other sites.  Bachelors Grove is no different, really.  I want to tell its story as best as I can.

In the spirit of what writers and artists call "copy left"--a  humorous twist of the obvious "copyright"--I say: this information I've put together is public information, gleaned from public archives that other really great researchers have taken the time to create and keep for many years.  You won't find watermarks on any of these photos or documents, and please do not watermark them when you use them.  If I've thanked a historical society or archive or library for them, please do so as well.  Many archives charge for a one-time use of photos or document images, so it's really nice that they have these for our free use.  On the other hand, I've actually paid a lot of fees for many, many years for membership in archives and databases, and so there is not only a lot of work but a lot of money that goes into this.  If I've actually gone out of the way to say, "I worked really hard to find this piece of information or to make this connection," then you know it was an especially lot of work and a big deal to me that I did, so if you want to mention that, that would be great, but  I'm not going to sue you if you don't. You get the idea.

Again, I've been personally and professionally disappointed when colleagues or other professionals haven't acknowledged my work when they've used it.  All of us researchers have this happen at one time or another, or even often.  But in the end, as a public historian I want the information and my ideas about it and the connections I make to be shared.  So please share the information on this site.  It's very important to the legacy of Bachelors Grove and a thousand other forgotten communities to be known again by us.  In particular, in the case of early cemeteries, the work that goes into actually attempting to document burials is sometimes tedious to the point of painful.  But it is totally worth it if it helps families and, sometimes, restorationists who want to make sure these cemeteries are not lost forever. 

-Ursula Bielski

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