Saturday, March 14, 2009

Doing Research

I'd like to wander a bit off the actual work of Mt. Rainier NP, and into the work behind my projects researching the early history of Mt. Rainier, the pre-NP years of 1890-1900 and the early post-NP years of 1900-1920 for some subjects of particular interest, meaning what I've been doing since I found the first mention of report of the 1896 expedition just about a year ago.

As I have mentioned here and elsewhere, and you can see links and Web pages on the Mt. Rainier NP photo guide, the history research has created a number of projects, the 1896 expedition, the pre-NP years (1890-1900), the early photographers and the first USGS topographic map (1910-1915) along with other minor topics of interests.

Well, this research first splintered into different avenues of research before finally starting to meld into a whole picture. It's hard not to see where one overlaps into the other when it involves people. And that's been the key opening the work into other areas and threads which ties them together. It as a vibrant and exciting time then. We can only wonder the what if we had been there to experience it.

And that's where the research has gone in another direction. Beside presenting the official and published records of the achievements, I've found documents which opens the door to the people, their lives during this time. And this is what's added the real flavor to the research.

First I found some of Bailey Willis' old letters written during and after the expedition I found an unpublished manuscript he had written in 1882, describing the beauty he saw while working for the Railroad in the area of Mt. Rainier. In the letters I discovered he took his 10-year old daughter on the expedition and she was supposed to do the summit climb too but Israel Russell recommended against it, only to say later she could have easily done it.

I recently discovered an article in Scribner's magazine in 1897 by Russell. It's only one of two post-expedition articles he wrote in this shortened life. But different from the later article, this one was personal. And besides adding more notes about the sequence of camps and events, which considerably helps, he wrote of his thoughts.

And that's part of the joy I've found doing this research, finding these gems, giving a face and voice to the people. We lose that in history when we just look at the documents. The documents have been cool too, finding original print and digital version of 1890s' publications and maps, but now it's venturing into the human side of things.

And that's the really neat part, and why I started with the expedition. I wanted to understand, as a geographer, hiker and photographer, where this team went, explored and camped. Right now I have the preliminary sequence of dates and places, and now adding the letters and this article has added the voices.

Which is my goal. When you're there, you should think about the people who worked to make it a national park, the people who have worked and are working there, and the many people who stood where you are when you're there. You're having a unique experience in time and place and a sharded one with history and geology, and why it's cool to hear their voice.

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