Downtown History May 29, 2006 16:25:39 GMT -5
Post by David Sechrest on May 29, 2006 16:25:39 GMT -5
An Exercise In Futility?
"In writing this history, many obstacles have been presented. Especially is this true of record history. In many cases, the records are not paged, and if indexed, it has been done in such an imperfect manner as to mislead rather than assist the person making researches."
For those of you who followed along last year when George and I discussed the true location of F. J. Crump's Opera Hall, then you are aware of the trials and tribulations in such matters. It would be nice if an old map of Columbus could be found with a HUGE arrow pointing out the EXACT location of Crump's Opera Hall.
If one exists, I've yet to run across it.
The matter of recording history is easy. Anyone can write about any historical topic at all. Villians can be made out to be heros. Derogatory information about a person's life can be left out at the whim of the writer to enhance a person's overall life. Historical events can be changed with the mere typing of words on a computer. I am most certain that if I wanted to write an account of the Holocaust, I could come up with all kinds of information saying it never happened. Books have been written explaining that men didn't walk on the moon in 1969. It was all done in a movie studio. And while I wouldn't throw The DaVinci Code into the world of accurate historical data, Dan Brown and Ron Howard sure have raised quite a debate regarding the life of Jesus Christ.
So, where is all this leading? Well, as I stated earlier, it is easy to write about historical events. The difficulty lies in research.
I remember while writing the article about John Crump's life that a Testimonial was held to honor him on May 29, 1903. This was mentioned in an article that Laura Long wrote about John Crump in the 1950's. I wanted to see what our local paper of the time had to say about the event, so I hurried off to the Library to check out that edition. After searching through a week or three from the time period, nothing was mentioned. It wasn't until researching another subject that I ran across another account of the testimonial, and that it occured on May 29, 1893. It was, indeed, mentioned in that edition.
Once, I mentioned an inaccurate entry in the book, The History Of Bartholomew County, Volume II. Someone said that there is bound to be inaccurate information in such a large undertaking.
My question is why?
I know part of the answer to that: In most cases, it is very time consuming. We haven't quite reached the level of technology that is truly needed for researching. I spoke to The Republic last year about a system whereby any edition of their newspaper could be searched word by word. Coming from a background in data management, a program such as this would require great resources. Newspapers would have to be scanned and "ocr'ed." But even in OCR'ing a page from a newspaper, many of the words wouldn't be recognizable by the computer, and a clarification by a human would be needed. If the paper being scanned is "a dirty copy," the program has even that much more difficulty in trying to recognize what a particular word might be.
It takes a lot of time and eye strain to go through microfiche copies of the newspaper on file at our local library. Some of the earlier editions of the Republican are in very bad shape and very difficult to read.
Part of the problem in providing accurate information is because of the above-mentioned problems. Writers have a deadline, and just don't have the time to invest in a thorough undertaking. In some cases, things are made more difficult by a general knowledge of where places were in our early days. Street addresses were very rarely used in the advertisements in our early newspaper. Places of business were described as being "down the block from" or "up the street from" or inside McEwan's Block, or the Irwin Block, and so forth. Our library does not have city directories prior to 1879, no phone books, or very little of anything else that tells what residents and places of business were once a part of Columbus.
While our earliest newspaper provides the best way of research, that "history" begins in April, 1872. Other newspapers came and went before the Republican, the earliest dating back to 1831, with none of these editions on file.
Another part of the problem is taking for granted that the first reference you find is in itself accurate. As in the case of the Laura Long article regarding Crump's Testimonial, it wasn't. Further research was required to validate the info.
When I first created the Historic Columbus Indiana Website, I had no idea what it would be, or where I was going with it. Originally, it was to be nothing more than a nostalgic look at life in Columbus in the 1950's and 1960's. But somewhere along the line, the jist of the website changed. And because of those changes, I have pledged to provide an accurate record of events on the website. When people visit, I want them to be comfortable knowing that the information is true and accurate, for what good is our history if it isn't?
Some of you might think I'm picky about this. Well, you're right: I am. And I will do my utmost to ensure that all historical accounts on the Historic Columbus Indiana website are true and accurate.
But, then again, I run into problems like the person I quoted at the very beginning of this post.
The words were originally written by Colonel John A. Keith in 1879...