Summer in Review

The summer is finally over, and school is starting in less than a week. Time seems to have flown by all too quickly! Looking back over the last three months of on-and-off research, I’ve decided that I really enjoyed it and it has been a unique experience.

Previously, I had never been able to delve too deeply into any single subject. I am a Computer Science and History double major, so my days usually consist of me working first on a piece of code to make computers communicate over the internet, only to switch gears and read an article on American-British diplomacy during the inter-war period, and then switch back to CS, but this time on determining the time-complexity of a specific search algorithm. Not only that, but all of those assignments would be over within a week, and I’d be moving on to another set. To be able to work on a single project for over three months was thus a new experience., and to have only one single project to focus on was an alien feeling. I had to learn how not to get bored on a single task, and switch between activities. For example, I would switch from transcribing articles and letters to analyzing secondary literature, to avoid getting exhausted from a single task. And to be able to really delve into the complexities of a single topic, in this case the Huguenots and their descendants, and then share that information was a rewarding feeling.

Difficulties were at times frustrating. I previously mentioned I had to change my approach mid-way through the project due to lack of success. When trying to track down the family papers of Huguenot descendants to look for cases of continued identity, I realized it became too large of a task due to sheer volume of documents to comb through in each one in addition to tracking them done. The fact that they ended up being scattered around the country only compounded the problem. Furthermore, my geographic approach to focusing on New York and Virginia was less than successful, since Huguenot perception and identity was influenced on widely available literature from all over the nation. For example, in one case a historian in Boston writing on the Huguenots relied on articles in a  newspaper published in Philadelphia for information. Those articles came from an author likely in South Carolina who relied on a Huguenot descendant’s work from New York, who originally came from and whose Huguenot identity was formed in Virginia.

However frustrating, it was fun to be able to try and think of different approaches, which led me to new sources. Finding the newspaper articles I mentioned two blogs ago was a real treat since I am pretty sure no one has considered them for almost a hundred and fifty years. Tracking down the sources of historical works in an investigative manner was different from how I normally read secondary literature. Getting into the head of the historical authors was really revealing of both how the worked and why they wrote what they did. In the case of the Fontaine-Maury papers in Swem that I worked with previously, it revealed an interesting story of plagiarism, how a single work can be manipulated to change its reception, and a heartbreaking tale of love lost.

For now, though, I’m confident the summer was successful. I’m currently focusing on preparing to present my research at the showcase in September, but after that I will start writing. Until then I will be going over what I have found this summer, and ensuring that I can meet history’s burden of proof, and considering how I can fill in what might be missing. I can say, however, that previous views on Huguenot identity and perception in the 19th century are incomplete. Huguenots and their descendants did not just write their family histories in isolation in the 1830s, and there was not just an organic blossoming of Huguenot interest in the 1880s. Instead, Huguenot histories published in the 1830s by themselves and their descendants helped instigate an early academic interest, in both professionals and amateurs, in the Huguenots from the 1830s to the 1850s. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the idea of a Huguenot entered public knowledge and use. It was used then in passing in literary fiction and other works, on religious issues, including what was previously shown as issues with immigration,  in protestant virtuosity, and other areas, specifically that on emancipation and slavery. I have yet to fully understand the impact of the Civil War, but it appears that the growth of interest other historians noted in the 1880s academically and socially in the Huguenots was partially influenced by, and perhaps triggered because of those trends from the 1850s and before, and a crisis of identity after the war at the same time of the anniversary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

 

There have been many people who made this research project possible, and there are perhaps too many to thank. However, I want to highlight a few. First and foremost is Professor Sheriff, who was encouraging in her Historian’s Craft class when I began an essay that has now morphed into this project, and kindly became my adviser last semester for this project. I also want to thank Juleigh and Stephen Clark, now retired librarians at Rockefeller and Swem libraries in Williamsburg, who pointed out the first sources for me which got me started. I also thank the William and Mary Parents Fund, who generously supported this project through the Charles Center. Without it, I would not have been able to spend the summer accessing the ten archives in three states, driving and flying the countless miles to do so, and taking the time to access the numerous digital resources which made this project possible.