At first, I was shocked we discussed our final projects in class, then I realized we are already in the third week of the semester. Time is moving fast, as it always does in the fall semester. Originally I was thinking of finding a way to combine the final project with something for my other classes or for work, my thoughts went from Cuban Missile/Cold War maps or something for Clio I to something to do with American Revolution Era maps/Army map makers (Check out some amazing AmRev Maps here) to my passion for postal history and how the post office influenced modern roads. One thing that did not occur to me was the idea of Roadside Attractions. It came to me in class and now it has spent almost a week beckoning me to pay attention to it. It could be a great project, but is there any historical argument to be made or would it be a purely fun project.
Something I have always struggled with is the historical argument. Which comes first the argument or the research? It is not like “hard” science where the scientific method is applied and it is ok to be wrong. When a chemist argues hydrogen and nitrogen make water, he uses research and experiments to prove his argument to be correct or in this case incorrect and learns from it. The chemist is given another chance to mix something else to create water, represent his results and correct his errors. In history, we do not have the luxury of being incorrect. If I argue George Washington was the fourth President, do my research based on that assumption and find out I am wrong, Am I supposed to go back and change my argument? Conversely, how are historians expected to know what to research without an argument? If we knew nothing about George Washington, how would we know he was the first President or even President at all? Much like the chicken and the egg, which comes first the research or the argument?
For me, it has always been the argument. Because of this my thesis statements are not always as strong as I would like, but they are always backed up with solid evidence.
In the context of maps, I have never thought they gave an argument. Last week my mind was changed. All of the readings showed how maps are interpretations of the cartographer and can present an agenda of that person. Maps are also rarely cited. I can’t think of any maps with footnotes, and therefore are pretty subjective. How can I take subjective works and create my own argument? How am I supposed to dig deeper if I cannot go back and pull from the creators sources?
I have strayed from my original topic, the final project. I am sticking with my idea for roadside attractions; I want to argue they were created to bring people back off the interstate system and back to small towns, but what if I am wrong? Can I go back change the argument? I feel like that is cheating.
In other news (and to end on a fun note.) While looking for the link to the LOC Am Rev maps, I came across this kid’s educational site. It is basically what we are doing but geared toward elementary/middle schoolers.