Blogs > Cliopatria > Do History: Martha Ballard’s Diary Online

Jul 7, 2006 1:13 pm

Do History: Martha Ballard’s Diary Online

Created by the Film Study Center at Harvard University and hosted by Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

This site explores the remarkable 18th-century diary of midwife Martha Ballard. It examines how historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich pieced together the diary within a broader historical context to write the award-winning book A Midwife’s Tale and offers a behind-the-scenes tour with filmmaker Laurie Kahn-Leavitt on the making of the film, also called A Midwife’s Tale.

Both facsimile and transcribed full-text versions of the 1400-page diary are available on the site, and the latter is searchable by keyword and date. A searchable archive offers images of more than 300 documents on such topics as Ballard’s life, midwifery, birth, medical information, religion, and Maine history. Also included are late-18th-century maps of North America, Maine, and Hallowell, Maine; images of Augusta and Hallowell Maine; and a walking tour of Hallowell. A timeline traces Maine’s history from the first attempt to settle the coastline in 1607 through Ballard’s lifetime (1735-1812) to the 1997 release of the film A Midwife’s Tale. Instructional resources include interactive exercises that offer students the opportunity to transcribe and “decode” portions of the diary; suggestions on ways to use the site for conducting research on genealogy, midwifery and herbal medicine, diaries, and other primary sources; 15 ideas for classroom activities; and links to the teacher guides developed for the PBS film. Additionally, two “Doing History” exercises allow visitors to build a story around Ballard’s notes about two controversies. The “On Your Own” section helps “beginning historians” organize and conduct research with ten essays describing the stages of a research project and offering step-by-step instructions on cultivating such research skills as reading 18th-century writing, reading probate records, searching for deeds, and exploring graveyards. There are also links to five additional “how-to” websites, a bibliography of over 125 related scholarly works, and links to more than 40 related websites.

This rich site provides students and teachers with an ideal case study of the work involved in “piecing together the past.”

Read a more in-depth review written by Brandeis University professor Jane Kamensky at or listen to an audio review at History Matters Audio Review. Or explore other website reviews at History Matters www.history.

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