Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Using Publications for Research

When I was in high school I read book called Megatrends by John Naisbitt. Part of his reasearch methodology involved newspaper analysis. The author described the origin of that process, which was first used during World War II to assess enemy casualties. The official reports from Germany often under represented the scope of the negative effects of the war. But local newspapers proudly reported the names of those who died in the service of their country. By collecting together local newspapers, Allied intelligence could tabulate the total German deaths. It would take a week or more to get the newspapers, but in the end they could get accurate numbers.

Not having any real formal training in historical research, I have had to use the tools I already knew. One of them was collecting small details from periodicals and putting them together to create a wider view. For example, the Liahona was a monthly(ish) newspaper of mission activity for initially the Southern States Mission and later other missions too. The newspaper reported number of baptisms, branches formed, arrivals and transfers of missionaries, and more.

Just picking one stat reported I can look at how perceptions of missionaries were changing in Tennessee. The chart below tracks the number of times missionaries asked for food and lodging but were refused during the first six months of recording. The number of missionaries was relatively constant staying between 15 & 16 for each conference for the entire six months.

So for a short time in 1904 there was a spike in the number of time missionaries were refused entertainment in middle Tennessee. I would love to know why middle Tennessee had such a negative atitude toward LDS missionaries in the spring of 1904, while at the same time east Tennessee did not. As I plot out this same stat for other time periods and other areas will I see something more? Is this part of a southern-states-wide trend? What made the two areas almost trade places by the summer? Maybe one conference reported the number of times they were refused [I had to try six homes before I found a place to stay] while the other reported only the nights they had to sleep under the stars. I don't know the answers, but now I have questions.

I have been asked where I find my stories, so many about such a small area. Well, with a small amount of raw data, I can formulate questions about what I want to look at next. Having a question I want to answer is a great place to start.

Here is a sample of the other things reported inthe Liahona during those same six months.

Tennessee Conference Presidents and their addresses [August 1st, 1903]
Middle Tenn.—U. G. Brough, 535 N. E. 2d St., Nashville, Tenn.
East Tenn.—Geo. A. Laugston, care C. B. Madaris, Dayton, Tenn.

Subscribers to the Liahona [7 February 1904]
The Liahona had 22 subscribers in Tennessee. The two Conferences in Tennessee have seven hundred twenty-three members.

Arrivals and Appointments
On March 28th, [1904] ... John Woodward and Thomas E. Nuttall, Middle Tennessee; J. W. Ahlstrom and J. H. Walton, Jr., East Tennessee.
April 17th, [1904] Z. C. Whittle and John G. Shields, Jr., Middle Tennessee;

Transfers [10 May 1904]
A. C. Hull, Georgia, to act as President of the East Tennessee Conference;

Died [11 June 1904]
James Underwood Ennis, of Liletown, Green county, Tennessee, died at the age of 23 years, in Indianapolis, Ind., but his remains were shipped home for interment. Brother Ennis was a promising young man and one who was ever proud of fhe fact that he was a Latter-day Saint.

Meeting of Conference Presidents [12 July 1904]
Dates and locations of future conference meetings
Mid. Tenn., Aug. 7th, [at] Glanraven;
East Tenn., Aug. 14th, [at] Void;


Ardis E. Parshall said...

Bruce, I've never thought of doing this kind of analysis from the reports and articles I read. I'll have to watch for a question that might be answered with this technique and try it out.

BruceCrow said...

I suspect answers would become most apparent only when a much larger dataset is put together. Kind of like your collection of Brigham Young writings.