September Journal Club Post-meeting Post



Our first Journal Club meeting was this Tuesday and we had a decidedly delicious discussion about Colonial Jamestown and cannibalism.  We used Rachel B. Herrmann’s “The ‘Tragicall Historie’: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown” as a springboard for a conversation about primary sources.  Herrmann noted that historians previously took the Jamestown Starving Time documents at face value and treated their mentions of cannibalism as established facts. She demonstrated, however, that there are clear differences among the sources, including the details of the possible cannibalism.  Moreover, she outlined the particular motivations for the authors of each source, revealing clear reasons for propagating or denying stories about cannibalism.

Using Herrmann’s article as a model, we thus reviewed the best way to handle primary sources that provide quite different accounts about events.  Succinctly, we covered how historians evaluate and interrogate sources.  For evaluation, they first ask the basic questions: who, what, where, and when.  Once they have this baseline, next they evaluate the type of source for what information it is likely to convey.  For example, the details in a private journal and a newspaper article potentially will vary.  Next, for interrogation they consider both the historical context of the source and the motivations for the source’s production.  Herrmann discussed the historical context of both the 1609-1610 Starving Time and the mid-1620s when many of the Starving Time accounts appeared. She also detailed clear personal and economic reasons for the discussion of cannibalism in these accounts of the Starving Time. Following these steps, even budding historians can read primary sources actively and search for source variations that reveal much about the past.

The last thing we did at the meeting was determine that blue was the leading choice for favorite color among this month’s Journal Club participants.  Blue was followed closely by green and red.   Sorry to orange, gold, and grey, but you are bring up the rear.  Remember, charts and tables help get across information clearly and concisely.  If you are writing a term research paper and have complex data to convey, consider a table or chart.  For this pie chart, I used the free tools on Meta-Chart.


September Color Chart


The only thing missing from the September meeting was YOU.

The next Journal Club meeting is Tuesday, October 20th, once again at 2pm in DM370.  The October meeting’s focus will be on secondary sources. I will post more details over the coming month.


Best, Dr. Ferdinando

Inaugural Meeting: September Journal Club


Dr Weimer and I are pleased to announce the formation of FIU History Journal Club. This combined discussion and workshop program will address student writing and research in a fun and friendly atmosphere.  Each month we will use a journal article as a springboard for discussion of various topics, including primary and secondary sources, the research and revision process, and transcription and translation.  This month it is primary sources!

Each Journal Club meeting will have two parts.  The first half of the meeting will be a discussion of the article.  While we will have a few prepared remarks about the reading, we intend to throw it open to the floor for broader discussion.  For example, you might mention what you thought about the piece and whether the author convinced you of their argument.  For our first meeting on primary source, you also should consider such things as how the historian interrogated the primary sources, how they integrated them into their article, and their selection of quotes from the sources.

The second half of the meeting will involve a more practical workshop.  For this month’s meeting on primary sources, Dr. Weimer and I will demonstrate the many possible ways to find primary sources using the ones from the article as examples.

Our inaugural Journal Club meeting thus will focus on finding and interrogating primary sources, and will be held on Tuesday, September 15 at 2pm in DM370.  The article we are all reading is Rachel B. Herrmann’s “The ‘tragicall historie’: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown.”  It is a great piece that examines the early history of the Jamestown colony during and after the “Starving Time.”  Certain primary sources suggest that the some of the English colonists practiced cannibalism during this time of want, while other sources do not mention it.  Herrmann examines these sources, when they were written, who by, and for what purpose, all to investigate how rumors of cannibalism echoed through future decisions about the colony and contemporary interpretations of abundance.  It is a great example of scholarship that does more than merely read the primary source.  A link to the article is just below, and an abstract is further down the page.

Best, Dr. Ferdinando

If you are on FIU’s internet, you should be able to access directly the article through JSTOR:  Rachel B. Herrmann, “The ‘tragicall historie’: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown.” The William and Mary Quarterly 68 (2011): 47-74.

If you are not on campus, you can still proxy in and access it through JSTOR: FIU Library EZ Proxy Off-campus Access.

Article Abstract:

In the winter of 1609–10, Jamestown colonists struggled through a period that came to be known as the Starving Time. Historians have generally accepted the validity of cannibalism stories that George Percy and John Smith wrote in the following decade and a half, despite other contemporary accounts arguing that cannibalism never took place. On the basis of the existing evidence, it is impossible to say whether early settlers ate corpses, Indians, or dead wives; a more answerable question is how people in Virginia and London made use of cannibalism rumors for their own purposes. In the 1610s and 1620s, Starving Time narratives were responsible for effecting new laws about food production and consumption. Writers crafted their tales to reassure colonial investors that the Virginia project was still solvent. Such publications changed the idea of abundance, creating a turning point that forced colonists to become industrious producers rather than lazy gatherers. This reassessment of the Starving Time examines abundance in early Virginia and how seventeenth-century transformations of that concept created one of America’s first founding myths: that of avoiding starvation in the New World.