Week Ending 04/11/2014

On Monday, April 7, Bruce Larson and his wife, Natalie, graciously welcomed Ryan (Feeney) and I into their Williamsburg home so that I could conduct my first ‘official’ WDP oral history interview.   Mr. Larson is a veteran archaeologist who spoke to me about his work and the journey that eventually lead him to work for the Department of Defense as the Atlantic division cultural resources branch head.   Prior to the interview, I spoke with Mr. Larson about what I hoped to learn from his interview, so that he would have time to reflect before the interview took place.  That strategy seems to have worked well, because he knew exactly what to say and how to say it.  I couldn’t have asked for a more gracious and helpful interview subject.   I think the interview went well overall, because Mr. Larson was so forthcoming with information.  However, I am not so sure that my interviewing skills were wonderful because I ultimately asked very few questions.    Today, Dr. Lelievre and Mr. Larson will escort me on my first field site visit, which I am excited to experience.  We are going to the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station to visit Charles’ Corner, a community similar in many ways to Magruder because of its proximity to the York River, ethnography and involvement with the Department of Defense .  I may not be able to access Magruder itself, but a visit to Charles’ Corner will almost certainly inform my understanding of Magruder.    Stay tuned for next week’s blog and an entry on that experience!

On Tuesday, I met once more with Wilford Kale, to touch base on my research and the project, as well as to get his signature on a Deed of Gift.  I did not conduct a formal oral history interview with Mr. Kale, but he did provide me with his extensive personal research notes on Williamsburg Presbyterian Church.  Since these are not formally published and I want to be able to cite  some of that information in my paper, I wanted a Deed of Gift so that I could have confidence that he recognizes and approves of my intent.

This week was not without its disappointments.  As it turns out, my interview with Brian Palmer (the Magruder descendant and professional journalist I was so keen to interview) will not be moving forward.  He is deeply engaged with the production of his documentary on Magruder, Make the Ground Talk, and his own research for that production.  Anyone interested in Magruder and/or antebellum/postbellum African American Tidewater communities may want to visit his blog: http://bxpnyc.wordpress.com.   I know I will be following his progress and anxiously awaiting the release of his documentary.

This project has been been a learning process for me in so many unexpected ways.  I think I know something, then I realize that what I ‘know’ is far less than I thought.   This disturbs me deeply.   I like having answers and not getting them seems like a failure.   As the deadline to write this paper and conclude this project advances ever closer, I am challenged to overcome this feeling and value my research experience for all that it is, revealing or not.


3 Responses to “Week Ending 04/11/2014”

  1. 1 mal2013 April 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I think the best research projects end up asking more questions than they answer. A primary objective of the WDP is to help its participants become independent researchers. I think you’re undergoing a right of passage as a researcher, which includes, as you note, being humbled by one’s ignorance and realizing that the new questions generated in the process of conducting research are often more interesting than the answers one anticipated finding at the outset.

  2. 2 amhiponia April 13, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    The disappointments are definitely the worst. I’ve had my share of last minute cancellations myself and you seem to be handling everything with grace. I agree with Professor Lelievre, as you get closer to writing your final report. I think it would be impossible to truly get into detail with every aspect of your topic, even with all of the time in the world. Those questions that come out of your data are the most important things to be asking and I’m looking forward to see what you find out!

  3. 3 rwduke April 14, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    For my next interview I think I will use your approach of telling the interviewee what you are looking to get out of the interview. This strategy can put the interviewee at ease because they are more certain about WHAT to say and HOW to say it. It provides them with more information about where you the interviewer is coming from. Some people might be nervous or concerned that the purpose of the interview is to “out” something they did and this technique provides a level of confidence in you the interviewer.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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