Introducing: Barnstorming the Midwest

Introducing: Barnstorming the Midwest

At the urging of my wonderful colleague and deskmate, Marquette MA graduate and MA Student of the Year Emily Dattilo, I am going to do my best this summer to keep something of a travelblog(ue?) as I barnstorm (get it) the Midwest filling out the first legs of my research for my dissertation-in-progress, “Midwestern Liberalism in the Age of Reagan, 1978-1992.” Here are what I think are quick-and-dirty FAQs on this research/blogging project:

Why are you blogging and not focusing on writing your dissertation?
That’s a very good question (did Fr. Avella put you up to this). I am working on, in the words of my incomparable first adviser, Dr. Tom Jablonsky, writing a few pages every day that I can put toward my dissertation. Those are in the form of notes in my Notepad collection, but this helps me organize my thoughts as I’d say them to both academic and general audiences.

What is this research?
Mostly it involves going through the papers of elected officials, political parties, and grassroots advocacy groups. Those various figures/organizations donate their papers to local archives, often state or university archives, which usually accession (sort and catalog) them and make them findable and easily navigable for scholars. I’m incredibly indebted to people I’ve already met who have done this, like Ruby Wilson at South Dakota State, Michael Seminara at the University of South Dakota, Katie Jean Davey at the Minnesota Historical Society, and dozens of other archivists around the Upper Midwest.

To actually do the work, I sit down, pull out my trusty Google Nexus 6 (hi, Google! I’d love a sponsorship!), connect to the wifi, open up Google Drive, and scan pictures. It’s like taking a picture, but it’s a PDF and I can crop/edit the PDF before saving it in the location of my choosing.

How are you funding these trips?
I was incredibly fortunate to receive two generous research fellowships: a Legacy Fellowship from the Minnesota Historical Society, and a fellowship from the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Those are both on projects specific to, respectively, DFL politics (especially around Rudy Perpich) in 1980s Minnesota, and female candidates’ experiences running for election in Minnesota (Joan Growe for US Senate, 1984), Wisconsin (Vel Phillips for Secretary of State, 1978), and Iowa (Roxanne Conlin for governor, 1982). The funding I receive there allows me to concentrate almost exclusively on those three states but also to work from time to time off my savings in the Dakotas as well.

What cities do you plan to visit?
Looking at my current schedule, this summer I will travel for research to (in chronological order) Pierre, Madison, Ames, Bloomington (IN), Iowa City, Grand Rapids (MI), Iowa City, Milwaukee, Madison, Iowa City, Ames, St. Paul, more St. Paul, some more St. Paul, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Brookings, St. Paul, Grand Forks, Winnipeg [OK, so this one’s for a CFL game], Bismarck, Stevens Point, Green Bay, St. Paul again.

And then you’re done with the dissertation research?
Oh no, just through the first round of figuring out what’s out there, what I can readily get and digest, and where I’ll need to visit and revisit as I hurtle toward finishing my dissertation by my target of December 2019. I do, however, tentatively spend this spring as a Teaching Fellow at Marquette University, teaching two survey courses of HIST 1101: Intro to American History. I’ll also–thanks to a generous travel reimbursement from the Marquette Department of History–be heading this fall to Atlanta, Boulder, and Boston for the papers of Democratic president Jimmy Carter, Democratic hopeful Gary Hart, and Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

So what will you blog about?
Two things. First, I want to explain what papers I’m looking through, what I’m looking for, and what I find. I’m not sure about ownership and publishing for non-dissertation purposes, so I will talk (to quote Michael Scott) in general specifics for much of it, but I want to at least begin framing out the house that will eventually be my dissertation.

Second, I hope to explore the culture and scenery of each city. You know what this means: amateur photography and overly-snobbish, ill-informed craft beer reviews. I’ll be camping a little bit, bringing my bike lots of places, and always taking recommendations along the way. Part of being a Midwestern historian-in-training means learning more about the culture of these five (six? we’ll have to talk about this) states, and I’m excited to explore places I’ve been and places I’ve never thought about going: from the Cutover to the Driftless Area, Bismarck to Milwaukee, the Missouri River to Lake Superior.

My plan right now is to break each post up into two sections, one on research and one on culture. Hopefully the former will at least approach the length of the latter!

Didn’t you say you were going to be publishing a lot of maps about party control of state legislatures on your blog too, though?
I’m getting really sick of you, Bold Headings.


Alright, so on the whole, there you have it. I’m barnstorming the Midwest starting this week in Pierre, and I hope to have posts and reviews up within a week of visiting each location! Please always feel free to contact me with travel tips, research questions/ideas, blog topics, and opportunities to meet up and say hi!

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