Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All done; time to go home

Today I finished my research at the Library of Congress.  In addition to the marriage license petitions I mentioned in my last post, I have found a few letters concerning "clandestine marriages," those marriages conducted without a Catholic priest present.  This was a punishable offense in Spanish society, being outside the observance of those rules laid down in the Real Pragmática de Casamientos.

There were also several royal edicts, or cédulas, regarding the Real Pragmática, the rules for marriage among the military and among government employees, and the rules for the marriage of slaves.  It is going to be interesting transcribing and analyzing these documents.  The transcription at times will also be harrowing and frustrating.  For example, the document in which the rules for the marriage of slaves is spelled out is heavily damaged by worms. There are other documents which suffer from faded ink or from just plain awful handwriting.  That's what makes paleography a challenge.

The research was intriguing.  The staff in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress are real pros.  They know their collection and are very helpful.  I had some frustrating times with the scanning microfilm readers, but that is more because at times machines and I just do not get along. 

Now I begin my preparations for going home.  I leave Monday afternoon, and am looking forward to getting home.  I am not a city person; I prefer suburbia or the country.  It is also very hot in Washington, D.C., being the middle of July.  City heat is a thing all its own.

I'll post entries here as I go along in the transcription and analysis of the documents, and the development of my thesis.  I was hoping to look at how the different governors had applied the Real Pragmática, but the marriage license petitions span only 1785-1803, the administrations of two governors, Vicente Manuel de Zéspedes and Juan Nepomuceno de Quesada.  I think there is enough material, and taken together with background reading on the Real Pragmática and other issues relating to marriage, I'm sure I can come up with something.

Just what that will be remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Road Trip!

I'm going on a road trip, but not by car.  I'm taking the train to Washington, D.C., next Wednesday -- provided that the arrangements get made on time -- for two months of research at the Library of Congress.

Why not fly?  I have issues with flying, which make it uncomfortable.  One problem could be serious.  Even though I was chewing gum and doing all the things you're supposed to do to equalize pressure on landing, I had an excruciating pain in my left ear on landing in Orlando in 2008 when I returned from my research trip to Seville, Spain.  Not quite a burst eardrum, but I don't want to take any chances with that!

So, the train.  I like the train.  Not so far to fall if something goes wrong, which -- knock on my little wooden head -- it won't.  And you get to see the scenery, see the real America.  I like that.

I'll be mucking about in the East Florida Papers at the Library, looking at the originals for parts which don't show up readably on the microfilms.  The 1793 Spanish census of St. Augustine, Florida, is one of those.  I'll also be looking at matrimonial license petitions.  This research is all for my thesis, which is on the application of the Real Pragmática de Casamiento (Royal Pragmatic of Marriage), proclaimed in 1776 by King Carlos III, and extended to the colonies in 1778.  One thing I'm wondering is if the various governors of East Florida in the Second Spanish Period applied the rules differently.

Yeah, it's one of those esoteric airy-fairy thesis topics.  But it can be quite important to those of us studying Spanish colonial Florida.  At least, I hope it will be.  And I hope one of the university presses will think it is, too.

So Monday through Friday, I'll have my nose to the grindstone, reading old Spanish and transcribing.  I have a bunch of the matrimonial license petitions already transcribed and some translated, as I am hoping to publish a book of annotated translations of these records.  Some of them have wonderful historical and genealogical information in them, and many of them just have good stories!  And at bottom, that's what history is to me -- a good story.

Monday and Wednesday evenings, the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room is open to 9:30.  I might feel a little antsy about walking to the Metro Station and from the bus stop back to the condo where I'm renting a room, but maybe there are tactics I can employ to make the journey safer.

I'll be haunting that reading room, and also on Saturday using the National Archives, for another project I have in mind, which is a more long-term thing and not for discussion right now.  When I have a germ of an idea, I tend to play it close to the vest.  My publisher has expressed an interest in this project.  It will require further research trips to a couple other cities, something that will be another two years down the road, at least.

But it's enough to keep me off the streets and out of the pool halls for a long time to come!

The term is over!

I'm back home from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where I'm running hard after a Master of Liberal Arts in Florida Studies.  This term was hard, but I also goofed off a bit.  In grad school, there are no Latin Honors (cum laude and all that), no honors in the major, so I have decided to study, yes, but also not to get all knotted up about it, and if I make a B, that's fine.  That's all I need.  But so far, I seem to be heading toward A's.  That's fine, too.  I certainly do not mind.

The toughest class was Theory of History.  Theoretical stuff makes my head hurt, anyway, but historical theory can get really out there.  The professor is a young neo-hippie (doesn't even own a car) who is uber-smart.  He's very fond of the French Revolution, so we read a lot of translations of French historians.  I've already talked about being a bit of an Annaliste in my own methods. I like background in my histories.  We explored other theories and methods, some of them I liked, some I didn't.  Post-structuralism (post-modernism) can only, in my opinion, lead to paralysis.  If you believe there's no such thing as "truth," what do you do as a historian?  Why bother?  I think there is such a thing as "truth," though it may not always -- or ever -- be absolute.  I think we can say things about the past that are true, and from which we can learn.

The seminar in Modern Florida was not that tough, but there was a lot of reading, some of it absolutely excellent.  One of those was Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, an account of a very dark incident in the history of the United States and of Florida.  Dr. Arsenault, who conducted the seminar, assigned the book, and almost all of us agreed that it was the best of the books we were assigned.  The author, Gilbert King, won a Pulitzer Prize just last month for the book, and it is well-deserved.  I did my paper for this course on "Prohibition and the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg, 1927-1933."  I'm waiting for feedback from Dr. Arsenault on that.  It was fun to do, and interesting to me because Prohibition is one of my favorite periods of U.S. history, and I served in the Coast Guard.  My husband also served (he's the reason I joined), and was stationed in St. Petersburg in the early 1970s.  Our younger daughter was born there.

And Dr. Arsenault gives great parties!

The last class I took was in Feature Writing (as in newspapers and magazines), which I took to satisfy the writing requirement for the Florida Studies degree.  I chose that course, as I figured there would be far less reading in that than in a literature course, which was another way to satisfy the requirement.  I didn't need 10 books to read on top of what I had to read for Theory and Modern Florida, and I hate having books assigned and then having to dissect them looking for what I think is often not there.  But I won't get into that.

The Feature Writing course was interesting, though the professor in the beginning was too enamored of the technology of the online component.  The University of South Florida is switching from Blackboard (used for mounting assignments, receiving submissions of homework and papers, e-mail service to the class, and other functions) to Canvas.  We used Blackboard at the University of North Florida, where I did my post-bacc work, and I thought it was a dog.  I think Canvas is a pig.  Paper works.

The other reason I took Feature Writing was that we actually WROTE!  We had to do two major feature articles (2500 words or more).  Mine won't be published -- that's not where my interest lies.  But it was fascinating to do the articles.  The first one was on suicide, a rather grim topic.  I learned a heck of a lot, and once I get back home, plan to do some awareness work.  It's just so important.  The second article was on the great white shark.  That was most fascinating.  I chose to focus on the shark that was tagged in March off the coast of Jacksonville, FL, and the efforts of OCEARCH to tag and track great white sharks around the world.

And that was my term.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thesis topic

I have picked a topic for my master's thesis here at good ol' USFSP.  My main area of study is colonial Spanish St. Augustine, mainly during the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821).

I have decided to examine the application of the Spanish marriage law (the real pragmática de casamiento) in St. Augustine during that period.  One of my questions is whether the law was applied differently by different governors.  I have not got past the first governor of the Second Spanish Period, Vicente Manuel de Zéspedes, who appears to have been rather an old softie when it came to folks getting married.

Another question is to see how much the law was either bent or completely ignored!  It prohibited interracial marriages, but there are documented instances when these did occur, generally of light-skinned mulattoes or octaroons with white Spaniards, and generally among the elites, who probably could get their way no matter what (also one of the questions I'll be looking at).

So I have more reason to go to Washington, D.C., and look at Spanish colonial sources at the Library of Congress, and will have to get onto lots of transcribing when I get done with this term.