History department to study urban poor

Students from Stevenson University’s public history department will help conduct the undergraduate research called, Frozen in time: A Study of Washington city’s Indigent from 1847, starting in August 2019 for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC).

Pages such as this one from the Washington City Bible Society census in 1847 will provide some clues for the historical research Stevenson’s public history faculty and staff will be conducting. (Photo from Stevenson public history department blog)

The public history department received approval and a $10,000 grant after submitting a proposal to study the plight of the urban poor in response to a request for assistance from the CIC back in early December 2018.

Stevenson is one of 25 colleges across the United States to receive the grant. According to Stevenson’s public history website, Stevenson’s effort is part of a CIC initiative entitled, “Humanities Research for the Public Good.” The purpose of this grant is to provide visibility to the Humanities’ problem-solving capabilities in service to the community.

According to the university’s public history website, the information to be research comes from a rare primary resource within Stevenson’s archives—a journal with census information dating back to 1847 by David M. Wilson. Wilson is an agent of the Washington City Bible Society, according to Dr. Glenn Johnston, chair of history and university archivist.

Wilson surveyed 1,000 families living in the city, gathering information on whether or not the poorest of Washington owned a Bible or New Testament. The demographics of these families included recent immigrants, the homeless and other poverty-stricken families.

The record is an important data source as it included family names, location in the city, religion, race, number of children and other key pieces of information. The information was handwritten by Wilson and remains intact, thanks to Stevenson’s archival care.

With this information, the department hopes to pinpoint and correlate behaviors of those in the city and answer several questions: Were the residents living segregated within the poorer sections of the city, or were they integrated? To what extent did certain religions interact with one another?

These are just a few of the several questions to be answered by the undergraduate research, according to Johnson. He stresses the importance of this research and its relevance to the present as the next U.S. Census will take place in 2020.

Because many immigrants and homeless people prefer not to participate in the census, it presents skewed information. The inaccuracy of this information is often followed by the wrongful allocation of federal resources to communities that are not in dire need as opposed to those that are. Johnston hopes to use the research from Frozen in Time to provide a context for what might happen in the future.

Students registered for HIST 211: Homeless, Hungry, and Hidden in the fall semester, and students registering for HIST 211: Topic in History in the Winterim 2020, will help continue the research.

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