The following rant, while having a connection with Everton J. Conger and the Civil War, is concerned with a larger, and in some instances, more important aspect of that picture.
As some of you may know, I am currently researching a biography on Conger. For those of you who have done historical research, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Doing research costs money. I’m not talking small change either.
In my last post, I wrote about the hearing transcripts concerning the suspension of Conger from the territorial Supreme Court of Montana. They total just over 1,000 pages and before I can write about this aspect of his life, I have to read each and every page, in addition to other letters and papers which I know exists.
Not being made of money, and not having valuable free time to go to Maryland, I had to hire a researcher to get the papers for me. Luckily, the man I hired came up with an idea that saved me a considerable amount of money. He used a digital camera and took pictures of each and every document, and then sent me the discs.
Even doing that cost me around $500.
Fortunately, a loyal customer where I work took an interest in my project after we discussed it one day. After telling him about the problems I was having in figuring out how to afford getting these documents, he offered to bear the costs on the single condition that I let him look through the papers sometime.
My jaw dropped. Protesting at first that I couldn’t take advantage of his generosity, he assured me that he wanted to do this. As a retired neurosurgeon, he has a habit of helping people in need.
Now I have the documents. The problem is they represent just a scratch on the surface of what I need to be able to do my work properly.
There are two sets of microfilm concerning Lincoln’s assassination. The larger of the two (16 reels) are available to me through a regional university library, but the other set, four reels in all, are hard to find. I decided it would make more sense for me to just own them, so I could use them at my leisure and not have to worry about having to return them.
Cost to me–$260 (does anyone remember when microfilm from the National Archives costs $6 a roll?).
Books aren’t a problem. With the advent of inter-library loan and the proximity of libraries around me, I can get much of the secondary sources, and in the case of some newspapers, primary sources, with little or no effort.
But a work like this has to be based on primary material. In order to get what I need, research trips to Montana, Ohio, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. will be necessary. In some instances I can hire researchers, but as I’ve already pointed out, they still require money.
Here’s where the rant begins.
People like the fine professors over at Civil Warriors are eligible for all kinds of research grants and foundation monies that help them in their work. The independent scholar, with no large institution behind him or her, is dependent on the kindness of patrons, or more likely running up the balances of already groaning credit cards.
It’s not that I begrudge the professoriate their research grants. I just wish those same foundations recognized that not all the research work in history is done by the Ph.D., and that there is a legitimate need for grants for those not affiliated with a university (and no, I’m not interested in turning this into a “who is or isn’t a historian” debate).
There is a website run by Michigan State University which lists various grants and fellowships available to individuals studying history. Most are either too specialized for what I need, or are only open to undergraduate, doctoral or post-doctoral researchers.
My good friend Sam Wheeler and I have talked about this, and Sam gave me some good hints on how to defray the costs of traveling to do research, but with gas fast approaching $4 a gallon, even doing what he suggested will still leave a major hole in my pocket.
Since I first started working on this project, I figure I have spent close to $3,000, only scratching the surface of what I need. Even if I’m fortunate enough to find a publisher willing to take a chance on my book, I will never get back what I’ve put into it.
That’s fine (to a point) because my main purpose in writing this book is to bring to life someone wrongly forgotten by history. While making money is always nice, knowing that I’ve in some way contributed to the literature on Lincoln’s assassination is worthwhile to me.
But unless it starts raining pennies from heaven (fitting when the subject is Lincoln), the work may end even before it gets started.