Whenever a new person (usually a famous historical female) piqued my curiosity, I would pour over biography after biography, totally immersing myself. Annie Oakley, Eva Peron, Clara Barton (okay, so maybe I had a thing for musicals as well...) I just couldn't get enough.
I haven't entirely grown out of this. It's why I still love learning and trying new things. Only, now it's even easier to find the information that I used to have to scour the library for. Now I can just turn to the Internet. When I was younger I was unaware that I should read things critically and check for reliable sources - if it was in a book it must be true! Older, slightly wiser, and with a history degree under my belt, I know I have to exercise caution with research on the Internet. It's a great place to start with a new subject you know little about, but knowing how to fact-check is crucial. Let me show you how I tackle online research.
Let's start with a topic that I know a little about, but I'd love to learn more - women in baseball. I start where most people start, with Google. Unless, I'm looking to buy something, I typically ignore the sponsored ads at the top of the results. I don't begrudge Google trying to make money, they do offer a service, I'm just not going to start there with my research.
I'll begin with the next three results. The first - the AAGPBL website is informative, but I don't want to focus on that today. I think A League of Their Own and Diamond Dreams do a great job at promoting that. I'm looking for something different. The Wikipedia article about women in baseball is more modern than I'm looking for, but this third page is interesting.
The Girls of Summer takes you through a brief, entertaining history of women in baseball - and not just the AAGPBL. What catches my eye are the featured female umpires.
I had heard that there have been a few professional female umpires, but I really don't know much about their stories. I had no I idea that Amanda Clement was umpiring men's baseball games in the early 1900s.
I had read about Pam Postema before, but I honestly couldn't remember where. I am intrigued, and I want to know more.
This is how it starts. I get curious and I want to know more. What starts out as an interesting article, balloons into multiple Firefox windows with various tabs, in an order that likely only I understand. Hopefully I can guide you all through my process without losing too many of you along the way.
As I mentioned earlier, with online resources, I like to check who operates the website to see how reliable my new-found source is. When I clicked the header on The Girls of Summer exhibit, I am taken to this page:
Project participants include Louisville Slugger and the National Baseball Hall of Fame - awesome, but where do I go from here? The Baseball Hall of Fame also happens to be the home of the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, and they have an online database.
The ABNER (American Baseball Network for Electronic Research) Library Catalog (Abner - get, it? no...okay....never mind) lets me search through the library and archive holdings.
A quick search of Amanda Clement reveals a scrapbook with newspaper clippings, a few cartoons, and advertising handbills along with comments written by the creator.
Unfortunately, even though the Hall of Fame collection is searchable online, you can only view this item in the reading room. Since I'm in London, Ontario and Cooperstown, New York is over nine hours away - I'll have to settle for further online research.
Now that I'm thinking along the lines of researchers I do a check-in with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR.) The SABR website is great, they have a lot of online resources for researchers.
SABR produces several publications including a research journal. You can search their journal archive from the website.
You can also open articles from archived publications.
Just to see if I could find anything else online, I checked the notes at the end of the article. There were quite a few citations from the scrapbook I located at the BHOF, as well as other archival material from the research center. There was also an article from Sports Illustrated that I manage to find in their vault.
From here, I go where many do when looking for quick info - Wikipedia. Now, Wikipedia takes a lot of heat because it is open to editing by anyone. I'm not recommending you cite it in a paper (I wouldn't recommend you site a regular encyclopedia in a paper either) but it's often a good starting point.
Unfortunately, this time Wikipedia fails me. There's a mention of her in the Baseball Umpire article, as the first paid female umpire, but there is no citation. Usually, I would read through the article and then click on all the "references" links at the bottom. Then I could assess the reliability of those sources. Maybe after all this online research some Wikipedia additions and editing is in my future.
This was a quick tour of how I conduct my online research and check sources. During my research I came across four other professional female umpires and did similar searches on them as well. It turns out there is a lot more information out there than I expected (and too much to cover in one blog post.) Perhaps I've found my latest obsession...