Laura Ulrich, a talented historian rewrites history with her book A Midwife's Tale using a previously disregarded diary by a midwife in the eighteenth century (Ulrich). The book explores the complete view of the society in light of chauvinist morals, religious beliefs and practices, household economies, and crime. It is fascinating how the information in this book changes the conventional view on women, their impact and role in the society and social change in general. Martha Ballard, the woman whose diary this book is based on is revealed as an ordinary midwife of her time but her diary ends up being very influential and has such a big impact years later. Her influence can be emulated and replicated by modern day women. The story takes us back in history and paints a picture of the social setting back then through a womans eye. This paper will analyze the methods and sources that the author used to understand Martha Ballards life and times.
Reading through the book, the authors approach of inquiry stands out. This suggests that she employed qualitative method of inquiry. Qualitative research seeks to analyze human behavior, reasons behind such behavior, and examines the how and when of all decisions and behavior.
In a bid to understand Martha Ballards life and times, Laurel Ulrich sets to answer several questions key among them being how did the people make a living? In the first chapter she illustrates how hard the living conditions were for the people of Maine as the river was freezing every now and then through the years. This shows tough conditions of Martha Ballards life and times.
Laurel proceeded to inquire about the gender roles in the society. One could argue that she was out to find the root of the present day gender discrimination. She went on to clarify how men and women related in the time of Martha Ballard. It is also fascinating that at a time when many people in general and women in particular were illiterate, Martha Ballard kept a diary. Did someone originally have an interest to educate women? The author attempts to answer this question too.
Last but not in least, in line with her approach of inquiry and qualitative research method, the author looks into the customs of the people. She points out some phrases Martha used in her diary that might be unfamiliar to many people today. She also tries to understand the way people managed their society and symbolism of various actions by the people at that time.
In a laymans language, history involves interpretation of the past based on the evidence available in the present. Sometimes such evidence seems useless until someone puts in into use and through the interpretation process. Use of historical methods extends back to as early as the nineteenth century. Laurel was therefore not the first historian to employ historical methods.
Fundamentally, just like any other method, use of historical methods is prone to errors mainly because each generation tends to interpret history subject to an array of varying factors. The most common mistake made by historians is making assumptions as it is not easy to generalize about the past. Historians are therefore tasked with finding appropriate sources that can help the reconstruct and interpret the past. Being a historian, Laura Ulrich was no exception.
In her book, Laurel uses the primary sources which unlike secondary sources include raw materials such as Martha Ballards diary. The diary helped the author to get value judgment of Marthas life. Using chapters from the original diary, Laurel demonstrated even the very minor day to day activities of a housewife from Maine in the post-revolutionary New England. The readers can see and visualize Marthas life by reading this book thanks to the use of a primary source of information. The author also proceeds to speculate why Martha kept a diary and more so why it was preserved and passed on by her family. It is through this document that the economic, social and political role of women in the society is explained.
It is also highly probable that the author used a few other sources to supplement the main source of information for instance secondary sources. The diary gives the insight but secondary materials could also supplement these insights in order to give more detailed accounts and better understanding. An author cannot rely on a single source of information especially in historical academia which is packed with numerous sources. Authors will analyze all these sources surrounding the topics of research for comparison reasons.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that this book is a gift in the world of historical academia. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich took a rather new approach by basing her research on Martha Ballards life who was an ordinary woman and still managed to make a success out of the story. Through the diary of an ordinary woman, the readers gained insights on early health care, the role and importance of a midwife and the social setting in general of a traditional English society. It brings awareness that women were always involved and influential not only in the household but also in the community. The author was able to effectively relay all these lessons by the using a perfect mix of methods and sources of information.
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Print.
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