Monday, April 16, 2007

DoHistory and Martha Ballard's Diary

DoHistory is a fascinating website that I came across several years ago, forgot about, but recently rediscovered.

From their About this Site page: "DoHistory invites you to explore the process of piecing together the lives of ordinary people in the past. It is an experimental, interactive case study based on the research that went into the book and film A Midwife's Tale, which were both based upon the remarkable 200 year old diary of midwife/healer Martha Ballard. Although DoHistory is centered on the life of Martha Ballard, you can learn basic skills and techniques for interpreting fragments that survive from any period in history. We hope that many people will be inspired by Martha Ballard's story to do original research on other "ordinary" people from the past."

Starting when she was 50 years old, Martha Ballard wrote in her diary nearly every day from January 1, 1785 to May 12, 1812 (27 years) for a total of almost 10,000 entries.

Who was Martha Ballard? - - "Martha Moore was born in 1735 in the small central Massachusetts town of Oxford, but the real story of her life begins in Maine with the diary she kept from age fifty. Without the diary her biography would be little more than a succession of dates. Her birth in 1735. Her marriage to Ephraim Ballard in 1754. The births of their nine children in 1756, 1758, 1761, 1763, 1765, 1767, 1769, 1772, 1779, and the deaths of three of them in 1769. Her own death in 1812.
"The notice of Martha's death in a local paper summed up her life in just one sentence: "Died in Augusta, Mrs. Martha, consort of Mr. Ephraim Ballard, aged 77 years." Without the diary we would know nothing of her life after the last of her children was born, nothing of the 816 deliveries she performed between 1785 and 1812. We would not even be certain she had been a midwife."
--from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale

Be sure to read the Project History page that tells how Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a middle-aged University of New Hampshire history professor looking for her next project, met Martha Ballard in the two-hundred-year-old pages of the midwife's diary on a summer day in 1982.

The About the Online Diary page tells how the husband-and-wife team of Robert and Cynthia MacAlman McCausland spent their evenings for nearly ten years in transcribing verbatim Martha Ballard's 1,400+ handwritten pages to create the text version. It also tells how the image version was created.

The How to Use Primary Sources page includes a History Toolkit with "short essays designed to help the beginning historian conduct and organize his or her own historical research."

Other information available on the site includes:

And of course, there is Martha Ballard's Diary!

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