History majors become historians during Bluffton class
Students in Dr. Perry Bush’s History: Theory and Application class are encouraged to get lost in their work in order to “feel the peculiar sensation of time travel.” The class is offered every other year, and at the beginning of the semester, students are assigned six houses in a specific neighborhood in Lima to research, starting in the early 1900s and continuing into the 1940s.
The fall 2016 students studied the “Far North End” including Murphy, Burch and Ewing Avenues. While they did some research of the physical properties (including if the house is brick or wood frame), more importantly, they’re studying the people who made up the neighborhood.
“Most of the people I found lived in this area their whole lives and are buried in this area. Marion Harness lived in Lima for 50 years. He worked in the railroad industry and he had no children,” said Lauren Miller, a junior history major from Dayton. “There was another man, Faye Edwin Ishon, he was born in Ada, lived in Lima and was buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Bluffton. He was super involved in the community. He was a member of Shawnee United Methodist Church, the masonic lodge and the American Legion. He was in World War One.”
Miller found this information by using websites like ancestry.com, but also by searching in basements and remote corners of places like the Lima Public Library and the Allen County Museum for records such as the Lima City Directory and Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps. The goal of the project was to find as much information about the people of the community over a span of three decades.
“I really liked that process. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the class because I felt like a detective. I was finding all of this information that normal people (people who don’t spend their free time searching through microfilm) would never know,” said Alyssa Hornback, a sophomore history major from Fishers, Ind.
“The students really get into it,” said Bush. “They’re not just working from research someone else has done, they’re becoming the world experts on this data, on this neighborhood. For the first time, I think they’re getting the sense that they are real historians.”
Bush designed the class based on an urban seminar he took as a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University. In that class, he was assigned 10 houses to study over a 100-year time span. “I remember as a graduate student how much I enjoyed that class. I learned that these are real people and the project wasn’t some antiseptic class exercise,” said Bush.
Near the beginning of the semester, when students are collecting data and information on their neighborhoods, Bush takes them to Lima and they drive through the neighborhood.
“Every time I go to Lima now, I think ‘Right there is my street. I can tell you all about it,’” said Hornback.
Through the years, the neighborhood has changed. Miller, had some difficulty picturing her families in the updated surroundings. “It’s weird. A couple of my houses are still standing, but there are things like NFL flags in the yards. So, it’s hard to imagine what they looked like in the early 1900s.”
Through his research, Brayden Rutter, a junior history major from Fostoria, found a direct link to the Far North End. “I learned that my grandparents lived on Grant, one block east of the area I’m studying on East Murphy, and my great grandparents lived on Flanders which is one block south of East Murphy.”
Rutter’s grandparents and great grandparents even lived in the neighborhood during the time period the class is researching. Rutter’s grandmother is still alive, and he has plenty of questions for her. “I’m excited to talk to her. It will be an interesting conversation. I want to find out if what I discovered is accurate to what she remembers.”
Because Bush has taught versions of this class since 1996, students are able to cross-check their data with data collected by students from previous years who studied neighborhoods such as the Old North End (Haller and McKibben Streets), South Lima (Kibby Corners and South Main) and the Garfield Neighborhood (North Jackson and Pine Streets).
Bush said what the students discover is that Lima in the early 1900s was a city filled with second, third and fourth generation Americans. They largely were the grandchildren of Irish and German immigrants who were overwhelmingly blue collar. Many of the people worked in the railroad industry or in manufacturing. “It’s not a utopia, but what they find is that if you had skills, Lima rewarded you with a little piece of the American dream, not a mansion, but a decent little home in a decent little neighborhood.”
Bush said he chose Lima for the project because Lima is nearby and it’s the county seat but also because of Lima’s “fascinating” history. “Lima was a city of skilled workers. They produced the Cadillac of locomotive engines (the Shay steam engine), they had John Rockefeller’s first refinery and they produced the cigars Neil Armstrong smoked when he got back from the moon. Lima is a classic, industrial city that rewarded people with stability and security.”
I felt like a detective. I was finding all of this information that normal people (people who don’t spend their free time searching through microfilm) would never know."