Monday, July 29, 2013

"End of Days"

     End of Days: that's the title of my research project. Perhaps a bit dramatic, but after looking through some of the images of, seemingly, war-torn Camden, it seemed appropriate. Since arriving back here in Chicago, I've gotten a chance to peer through all the research data I've collected and look at the bigger picture of what it is that I'm examining. Overall, I'm seeking to understand the role and circumstances of the Puerto Rican community in Camden, NJ in 1971. By doing so, I hope to expose the idea that, although the Puerto Rican community may have been viewed as the catalyst of the riots of 1971, the circumstances leading to the riots were much more complex than that. Ultimately, it was a series of decisions and lack of comprise on the part of city government and law enforcement that culminated into the city's most dire situation. Detroit, another deteriorating city with similar issues to those of Camden, has a population of over 700,000. Camden, on the other hand, is home to just about 77,000 residents. The issues that Camden faced were connected to one another so intimately that the effects of poverty and lack of services suffered by one demographic could not be honestly ignored by another.
        As a part of this internship this summer, it is my responsibility to put together a meaningful essay that shows the product of my research. Not always the most entertaining assignment to work on during a warm summer day, this paper has truly become a focus that is constantly rewarding for me. I've learned so much thus far and I only seem to be headed in the right direction. This week, I was able to complete a 21-page draft of this project which includes 18 sources: 4 original interviews, 5 newspaper articles, 1 original report, 4 censuses of population, 2 censuses of manufactures, 1 Department of Labor report, and 1 book. Now, it may seem like that's an excessive amount of sources for a draft but in order to support claims about the city's history, events, and people, it was quite necessary but also pretty fun.
        An important section for any written piece of history is the historiography, as previously explained to me by my mentor Dr. Michelle Nickerson. Most simply, this section is the history of the history. I didn't expect to enjoy writing this section as much as I did. Perhaps it was because there wasn't much to cite or, more likely, because it allowed me to put this story into a current context of the academic side of it all. The reporting done by the Camden Courier-Post during the time surrounding the riots is certainly the best source of information on the unrest. In Camden County, New Jersey: The Making of a Metropolitan Community, 1626-2000 (2001) by Jeffrey Dorwart, a historian at Rutgers University, the riots covered just about two pages of his ambitious work. Howard Gillette, a leading historian in the history of Camden, briefly mentioned the riots in Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City (2005) by touching on the main points but not delving into much detail. To my knowledge, there is no published book dedicated to the riots, leaving them in a state of vagueness, as a footnote in the history of Camden. And that's exactly what makes this venture so exciting; the opportunity to discover knowledge and create it by bringing all the perspectives I can together into one piece. This work has become much clearer since I first began about 4 weeks ago. It has expanded from reporting events to investigating characters and finally into delving into the nature of they city and it's culture. After completing my first draft, I look forward to making this unfinished product into something I can truly be proud of.

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