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14. Highlights of the Research Process

The first period, it's a very small proportion and in some ways that just makes it interesting. Why are these people different? What makes them start this large social movement that keeps getting bigger and bigger?

How are we going to do this? For this first period it's going to be very hard to do by oral history so we are going to have to bury ourselves in a library, look for these kinds of documents and try to learn as much as we can about the historical experience of these migrants as a people. In other words, in a sense, turn around completely and say, "Let's see if we can figure out something about African American social life and culture in the South in the nineteen-teens so we can understand the world from which these people came." So at that point, you do begin to try and figure out what's "typical."

At the same time we try to figure out whether these particular people left behind documentation of their personal experiences, of their first-hand knowledge and their impressions. And that's where you go to things like letters, to sociological studies where people were interviewed, and we can find them. Then we try to weave this together with some kind of coherent narrative, some story, and again, this is something that's not impossible for students to do for things like History Fair papers, other kinds of projects, to take these kinds of documents for short periods of time and to try to weave together, in essence, a narrative of how people experienced and understood a certain process.

You could try to create this kind of narrative that encompasses a range of people, places, conditions that characterize this large process. So for example, going back to these letters, you start to ask some of the questions about the letter, trying to figure out who were these people, who wrote these letters, did people write them themselves, if people wrote them themselves then they must have been more literate than other people or did they have someone else write them?

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