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
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
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
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
must have been more literate than other people or did they have
someone else write them?