The Mt. Vernon News
As regularly published, publicly accessible documents, newspapers offer an important source of information on the family farm. Unlike "big city" newspapers, which often focus on national and international news, today's small-town papers devote considerable space to issues of local interest. We must read the paper daily to learn more about diversity in our community and to be aware of upcoming events of interest to our project.
The Mount Vernon News, published daily except Sundays, is the primary newspaper in the county. It arrives at newsstands at approximately 2:30 PM on weekdays and by noon on Saturdays. We have a subscription to the paper that is delivered each day to Davis House.
Each week one student will be assigned to read the paper and cut out all items relevant to rural diversity. Weekly assignments will begin with the Friday paper and ending with the edition the following Thursday. Students will post the items collected on the bulletin board in the research room for the rest of us to read. On the following Friday, the student responsible for collecting the previous week's items will store them appropriately in the research room file cabinet.
Search the paper carefully for items of potential interest. National and international news items related to diversity tell us what kind of information local residents receive through the paper. Local stories will convey news of diverse groups within our community. The religion page and personal items will have relevant materials as well. And don't overlook the editorial page. In short, every page of the newspaper is a potential source of relevant items.
It is crucial that a complete reference be given for each item collected. Many newspaper items will be used again as primary research materials in current and future projects; materials without complete references are useless. A complete newspaper reference includes (1) author of article, if any; (2) title of article; (3) newspaper name; (4) complete date (month, day, year); and (5) page number. With large papers (e.g., the Sunday New York Times), you should also note the section name or letter (e.g., "book review section" or "section A"). Months with more than four letters should be abbreviated to three letters (e.g., "April" becomes "Apr." and "July" remains as is).
Since the author and title will be included in the item you cut out of the paper, only the final three bits of information need to be noted on the back. Thus, a typical note would be: Mt. Vernon News, Sep. 1, 1998, p. 3. Be sure to use a writing implement that is legible (pencils often fade) but will not seep through the porous newspaper (i.e., felt-tip pens are to be avoided). A ballpoint pen is best, and you'll find several in the research room.
We'll file our newspaper items by month and year, with a new folder each month. Be careful to file your items in calendar order; that way, the next person to use the materials can easily find an item or trace a continuing story.
The experience of diversity carries important personal meaning, but it also manifests itself in public life. Local celebrations, family-owned ethnic restaurants, church services often convey distinctive elements of group sensibility. In you first fieldwork experience you will go to a public setting to observe events for their expression of diversity in this rural community.
Before you engage anyone in particular, take a few minutes to observe the scene. What is the setting? Who do you find there? What do you see going on? What mood is conveyed? How does it feel to be there? What is the purpose of this event and its likely significance for participants?
Strike up a conversation with someone around you--your server at a restaurant, the person next to you in the church pew, another bystander at the fair. Try to learn something about them--where they come from, how they came to be there--or ask them to explain something about the situation. Most people enjoy conversation, and a simple question followed by a friendly introduction can easily lead to a broader conversation about community life. Be sure to tell them a bit about our project, too. Its a good way to get the word out in the community.
Because you are in public setting, you should not feel shy about engaging others in conversation. At the same time, be considerate. Try to talk with them when they aren't busy with work or other activities. Don't take up a great deal of their time, unless they make it clear that they wish to talk to you at some length. If you are dealing with someone involved in an economic transaction--someone selling something at a festival or a server at a restaurant--be sure to buy something (it needn't be expensive) or reflect their helpfulness in your gratuity. If you're in a church, be sure to leave a small donation.
As soon as you've concluded your visit, sit down with your research partner in a quiet place and discuss your experiences. What did you learn about diversity, the community, or the people involved? Did the "interview" go smoothly? How did you feel in the situation, and how did those you talked with feel about the exchange? Might the people you met be interesting participants in our project?
Write detailed observations about these experiences in your journals, describing the context in general and your interviews. Write your journal entries immediately following the visit if possible; the rich details of field experience fade from memory very quickly. We'll discuss your visits next class.
If you want to think a bit more systematically about interviewing, I recommend you take a look at Bruce Jackson's Fieldwork, pp. 63-104. We'll consider interviewing in great detail later in the course, but a quick skim of this section now would call your attention to some relevant issues and techniques.
Diversity in Historical Perspective
Diversity has been a part of rural life in Knox County for nearly two centuries, when settlers first crossed into the frontier of the Old Northwest and confronted Native Americans. Understanding the historical origins and changes in the makeup of our community is a central part of understanding rural diversity. In this assignment we will begin to trace the changing character of local diversity in order to place our contemporary view in historical perspective.
A number of resources are available to us. There are four histories of Knox County (see syllabus for references) which contain valuable clues to the nature of diversity and group life. Newspapers, which in Knox County date back to 1815, provide valuable information as well. Demographic data drawn from the United States census offer important clues to the origins and migration patterns of Knox County's settlers.
In order to sample all of these materials, the class will break up into small groups. Four groups of three will read the four county histories. Copies of three of the histories are on reserve at the Olin library; a complete set of histories is available in the special collections room. There is also a set of histories in the local history room of the Public Library of Mt. Vernon and Knox County (201 North Mulberry Street, Mt. Vernon; phone 392-8671).
The Public Library of Mt. Vernon and Knox County also maintains a microfilm collection of county newspapers extending back to the 1850s. Two additional pairs will take responsibility for examining a sample of newspapers from a particular historic period. We will discuss as a class what periods to examine and how to sample newspapers from each period.
A final team of three will examine H.G.H. Wilhelm's The Origin and Distribution of Settlement Groups: Ohio 1850 (Athens, OH: privately printed, 1982), which provides summary data on settlement patterns in Knox County. A copy of this volume is in the research room. This group will also sample some original census data (available on microfilm in the Olin library) to get a feel for the documents from which these summaries are drawn.
In each case, your task will be to identify materials relevant to diversity and community life. Make xerox copies of any materials you consider important to understanding farm life, being sure to get complete references for each item. You will then write up a report summarizing your findings, with the primary materials you've collected included as an appendix. Each team should write a single report, considering these questions:
1. What materials did you review and in what time period? In the case of newspapers, what strategy did you use to sample issues of the papers? How effective was this sampling strategy?
2. To what extent do the materials you reviewed focus on local life? How rich was the material on diversity?
3. What is the character of diversity as portrayed in these materials? Where do the images come from, and how are they portrayed?
4. What are the sources of this information and knowledge? Who speaks for these groups?
5. What continuities and changes do you find when comparing diversity in the past with what you know about diversity in Knox County today?