In the book In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time, Hans Gumbrecht attempts to demonstrate something that was entirely new in 1997, and is still largely unfamiliar to historians. Instead of describing an event or a person from a traditional standpoint, using words, a few statistics and images, and maybe video or audio recordings if it is recent enough, Gumbrecht brings the year 1926 to life by describing its culture, its politics, and throughout all, its zeitgeist. He accomplishes this by writing many chapters that have no one continuity and which are linked to each other in subject. In short, he rejects establishing one historical narrative in favor of permitting the reader to explore the year 1926 any way they desire (within the limitations of Gumbrecht’s research, which are admittedly very broad). Aside from breaking the narrative structure of the study of history, In 1926 also seeks to flout the academic desire to emphasize one event, one person, or one document above others, oftentimes to the exclusion of many others. Rather, Gumbrecht has compiled a volume that tries to contain all of 1926 within its pages – a practically Sisyphean task. All the same, his success in achieving a de-emphasis of any one figure or event is quite evident; at no point in In 1926 does something stand out as any more important than anything else; indeed, Gumbrecht brings famous authors, little-known early filmmakers, jazz musicians, and everyday people onto the same plane, and does not seem to designate any one thing as more significant than any other. In this way, In 1926 is less like a traditional history study, which argues a particular point; rather, it creates a “snapshot” of life in 1926; rather than subjective propaganda, it is an objective still life, simply attempting to show things how they were. This is not to say that the book is not biased; it focuses very strongly on European and American goings-on, with much less about, for example, what was happening in East Asia or Africa at the time (and when I did find mention of these places, they were typically in relation to something happening in the Western world. Overall, In 1926 is an extremely valuable resource to see an example of different ways history can be presented; even if it is somewhat hindered by its status as a physical book rather than, say, website, where hyperlinks can more effectively connect topics, we can build off the type of research that Gumbrecht has done.
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