Monday, August 8, 2011

Galveston Research Summary #7 - Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

Previous "Galveston Research Summaries" can be found below:

#1 - Dissent, Sedition, and Confederate Secret Police (here)
#2 - Ursuline Sisters (here)
#3 - The Pearce Civil War Museum and Collection (here)
#4 - New Orleans Archdiocese Records a the Archives of the University of Notre Dame (here)
#5 - Digital Resources at Rice University (here)
#6 - Texas General Land Office (here)

Summary of Galveston/Civil War Research Project (here)

And now, for the latest in Galveston Research Summaries (!):

I had the great pleasure this past weekend of visiting the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History (CAH, website here) on the campus of the University of Texas (Austin, TX) to do some research for my Galveston/Civil War writing project.

The mission of the CAH is:

Through stewardship, scholarship, and outreach, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History increases knowledge and fosters exploration of our nation's past.

As a leading history research center, we collect, preserve, and make available documentary and material culture evidence encompassing key themes in Texas and U.S. history. Researchers, students, and the public mine our collections for a wide range of academic, professional, and personal uses. Our collections also inspire our own projects, including books, exhibits, programs, films, and educational materials. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History is an organized research unit and public service component of The University of Texas at Austin.

My good friend, Guy R. Hasegawa, Pharm. D., co-editor (and contributor) of our book, Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine (Edinborough Press, 2009), has been the subject of several of my "Medical Department" columns for The Civil War News. In one of those columns (here) he gave advice on efficient use of the National Archives, but that advice is pertinent to visiting any archives, and I took it to heart:

“First, do your homework, and be as specific as possible in stating your research interest,” he told me...His second suggestion is to allow plenty of time: “It takes time to locate microfilm or have paper records retrieved,” he said. He also noted that Civil War documents are generally handwritten and are difficult to read quickly. In short, he concludes: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that any sizable project can be done in one day.”

So, first I did my homework!

The CAH has some excellent online finding aids (here) and I also took advantage of the terrific Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO, here), which helped with some specific keyword searching. In fact, TARO, is so helpful, I'm sure I'll make it the subject of another of these research summaries!

Second, I limited the amount of material I would ask for, especially since the Saturday hours at the CAH were limited. I identified two collections I was interested in - one the wartime diary of a leading GAlveston citizen and the other a handwritten account of the Battle of Galveston - and had the "box number" reference numbers ready as soon as I arrived an checked in. Even then, I still used the time allotted and didn't finish all of my research.

Although Guy didn't mention it, I'm sure he would agree that it's also important to know the policies and procedures of an archive before you visit as to regulations for what paper, writing utensils, computers, photography, etc. are or are not allowed. The CAH policies are here.

The staff at the CAH was VERY helpful and courteous...I look forward to visiting again!

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