Earlier today, when I came into work, my boss at the archives gave me some copies of old articles of the Morris Tribune from 1917-1919 that he had recently come across.
Although I’ve considered myself formally done with my research for a few weeks now–I mean, our website is due next week–I was grateful that he thought of the project. I decided they might have some nice information in them to beef up my existing pages on the website. I never got around to looking at the newspapers when I did my initial research, though it probably would have been a good idea.
Good thing I decided to take a look, too: as I was looking through the articles related to the West Central School of Agriculture, I came across a glaring error in my research.
One of the articles reported that in 1917, 150 students were enrolled in the school, a thirty-five student increase from the previous year.
This was all fine and dandy until I realized I had documented and included on one of my website pages that there were 500 students by 1914. This could not be correct! The math did not add up. 500 in 1914 and 150 in 1917? No, that was impossible! The source I got the 500 number from was The Great War documentary created by the Stevens County Historical Society. I’m not sure if I wrote down the numbers wrong when I was watching the movie or if they reported inaccurate information in the film.
Regardless, I found myself freaking out because I didn’t want to be responsible for shoddy historical research! As I thought about it more, I realized that the small size of the campus couldn’t have even supported 500 students in 1914. The two residents halls weren’t big enough (The Boys Dormitory, which is currently known as the upper-class residence hall, Spooner Hall, only houses up to 90 students today) and the few other ill-equipped buildings on campus in 1914 couldn’t have sustained such large numbers. As I found out by looking through more of the articles, by the 1918 school year, the school was in dire need of overflow housing with close to 200 students. Furthermore, the 1914 Moccasin, which I did look through early on in my research, had relatively small class sizes with nowhere near 500 students in the whole school. I should have been skeptical of the 500 number from the start.
I’m so glad I was able to look through these articles and catch this mistake. I haven’t changed it on the website yet, but I will soon.
I’m taking this as a lesson–to be more careful with my source information in the future and to question information that doesn’t seem right from the beginning. After all, this is a learning experience. Although I’ve done historical research before, I’m still learning. We all make mistakes and this is one I’m definitely going to keep in mind for the future.