January 24, 2008
Researching Chicago's History and the Purpose of this Blog
I am often asked why I write this blog. Fair question. I don't have a large readership, there are not that many people interested in its subject matter, and I'm neither an academic or scholar. What is the point?
1) The purpose of this blog is to provide information and resources for the study of Chicago's history. Both primary and secondary sources are presented for the reader, but they come with a warning label: "Consider the Source." All information sources need to be evaluated and cross-checked for accuracy and validity because no matter what the source, it is presented from the vantage point of the author. Questions need to be asked, such as: when was the book or article written?; why was it written?; is the information accurate?; is their contradictory information?; is there more to the story? A high degree of information literacy and critical thinking skills are required of the researcher. Researcher Heather Vallance talks about "Primary Source Agenda: Loss of Literacy" over at The Pen and Spindle and you are encouraged to read her thoughts.
"Information literacy," according to the National Forum on Information Literacy, "is defined as the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand."
I agree with the American Library Association. Information literacy "is a means of personal empowerment. It allows people to verify or refute expert opinion and to become independent seekers of truth. It provides them with the ability to build their own arguments and to experience the excitement of the search for knowledge."
And, that is where the fun starts.
2) Research is exciting; it is information archeology! To me, there is no greater joy than when I uncover a new source, or a rare book, a quotation or a bit of information that makes a person or event come alive. And so the second purpose of this blog is to hopefully instill a sense of the excitement that can come from a study of history, reading and research. Because, my dears, history is fun! History is hopeful. History confirms the universality of the human condition and places each and every one of us on a timeline connected to all who have gone before. I like that a lot.
So, there you have it. Of course, the next questions are "Why Chicago History?" and "Why Study History?," but I'll leave that for another day.