Feedback

One of the most positive aspects of receiving feedback is that it helps to shed light on problems in my draft that I overlooked or just couldn’t see. It allows me to step back and look at my work from a distance, and from a fresh perspective. My mother is an artist, and when working on her pieces she has always taught us that it is important to step away from your work, because you can get too close and too wrapped up in the details. Because of this, you end up missing the big picture. Working on my research paper, I have really come to understand what she means. Sending my research paper in and receiving feedback is really helpful because it allows me to step back from my work and look at it in a new light.
I am particularly lucky that I have such great, and knowledgeable mentors that offer really meaningful and insightful feedback and criticism. I really want to use all of the help that I can get to not only write a great research paper now, but also to improve my own writing and researching skills in general and forever. I am fortunate that I have such amazing resources. My mentors help me to think about new research ideas and arguments in different ways, and help me to expand on my ideas via different routes that I would have never considered or thought of. It’s so nice receiving the support and help that is needed to write a scholarly research paper from people who are so professional, knowledgeable, kind, and successful. The feedback that I have received is relevant and personal to my paper and research, and that is so invaluable.
I have been working on formatting my first draft better so that it flows more smoothly. I want to make sure that every sentence leads to the next, and that the whole research paper is cohesive. My sister reminded me of the “MEAL” acronym that I think that I first learned in elementary school. M stands for Main Point, E stands for Evidence, A stands for Analysis, and L stands for Link to Next Sentence. I have been keeping this in mind while I am reformatting my paragraphs. Another analogy that I found helpful, from my dad, is to think of the paragraph as a greased chute with every sentence leading into the next one. I also need to work on writing in the “active voice”. My biggest challenge is rewriting sentences so that they are more clear, concise, and cohesive. I also need to focus on making the sentence structure less candid, and more professional and scholarly.
The strongest point in my paper is that I have a lot of research done already, so I have a good foundation and backbone. I also have a team of scholars helping me, so that is a strong point. I just have to put all of the pieces together so that my research doesn’t look like a puzzle anymore.

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The First Draft…

I had a lot of fun creating my first research draft! I tried to make a few compelling arguments. I should really stop researching and looking up more material, and that that is sort of frustrating because I don’t want to miss anything. But, if I keep looking at new sources then it will make my research convoluted. I would like to add more information about the Midewiwin, and also to maybe touch more on the relationship between medicine and charms in both Indian and European culture. I would also like to add more information about the different plants and herbal remedies that the Great Lakes Amerindians contributed to medicine and science. There are so many different avenues to explore in this subject, that it is kind of difficult to choose which paths are the strongest. I also think that I use too many dashes when I write, so I should go back and change some of those to periods– not everything needs to be connected with a dash. I also think that I used the phrases, “so-and-so noted” and, “it’s important to note” and, “so-and-so says” too much so that it is repetitive. I am excited to revise my paper!

Putting Together my Outline

Putting together the outline for my research project was a useful way to organize my material and extrapolate my analysis from it. I started with a vague idea of what I wanted my research to be about: French Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century in the Great Lakes region, and their involvement with medicine. Writing the outline was very helpful in arranging and harmonizing my thoughts. It also helped me to see the progression of the story I want to tell. It was useful writing the historiography last semester, because I already had a ton of notes that I thought would be useful this semester. So, even though I am still researching, I have a good foundation to work from.

I tried to format my outline from the ground up, in that it is important to establish a background before I get into more relevant material. I can probably focus less on the Society of Jesus as an order, but I find it useful in molding an accurate view of them in the seventeenth century. I don’t think that I am finished with my outline—I like to add supporting (and alternate) material/evidence whenever I find it, and to use it as a map.

I think the strongest point I can make so far is in the connection between the missionaries and the Native American tribes through “bleeding”. Also, that the Jesuit missionaries used medicine, often intertwined with religion, to connect with the Amerindians in a meaningful way.

I need to find more supporting evidence in how the missionaries used the medical knowledge that they learned from the Native peoples. I think that I should better explain the idea of “medically proselytizing”, and make it a larger part of my research. I should also add analysis into the body of the paper, versus leaving it in the conclusion.

I was surprised by the amount of material I have already accumulated while researching these past two semesters. I’m also really surprised in how difficult a time I am having in putting together my thoughts and analysis in meaningful, impactful ways. I have a lot that I want to say, but I am having a hard time explaining the concepts super clearly. Putting together the outline really helped in that area because it made my research much less convoluted. I will keep adding to my outline so that I can use it as a guide in writing my research paper.

The Primary Source – The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents

Little is known about the early days of the French Jesuit missionaries in the New France region. The main reliable source is a 17th century compilation of letters called The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Some of the revelations are rather surprising. It’s important to recognize that these letters were written with the intent of being published and sold to gain funds for the Jesuit’s missionary work. The letters were written by the missionaries and sent to their superiors in Europe where they were further edited to please readers. This can lead to an exaggeration of details/events in trying to gain or keep their audience (the European donators).

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents also show a purely European outlook on the Native Americans with which they proselytized. Therefore, it is important to use a critical-eye in discerning the Native voice from a European perspective. A simple example of this is in an excerpt written by Father Paul Le Jeune concerning his time among the Montagnais. He writes of an animal that is not known to anyone born and raised in France:

“The other is a low animal, about the size of a little dog or cat. I mention it here, not on account of its excellence, but to make it a symbol of sin. I have seen three or four of them. It has black fur, quite beautiful and shining; and has upon its back two perfectly white stripes, which join near the neck and tail making an oval which adds greatly to their grace. The tail is bushy and well furnished with hair, like the tail of a fox; it carries it curled back like that of a squirrel. It is more white than black; and at first glance, you would say, especially when it walks that it ought to be called Jupiter’s little dog. But it is so stinking and casts so foul an odor, that it is unworthy of being called the dog of Pluto. No sewer ever smelled so bad. I would not have believed it if I had not smelled it myself. Your heart almost fails you when you approach the animal; two have been killed in our court, and several days afterward there was a dreadful odor throughout our house that we could not endure it. I believe the sin smelled by Sainte Catherine de Sienne must have had the same vile odor” (Le Jeune, p. 70).

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An animal the size of a dog or cat, with the bushy tail of a fox that is curled like a squirrel.

Father Le Jeune is describing none other than an Illinois native: the skunk. Although this description is amusing and inconsequential, one can see how Father Le Jeune’s experiences and European viewpoint is established and can be spread to other accounts relating to things that the missionaries are not accustomed to. Regardless, his description of the little animal is overall accurate, but also dramatic and theatrical—and this is a trend in a lot of the accounts given by the missionaries.

The limitations of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents would then be outlined above: the letters are written and edited for an audience, they can be dramatic, and they are purely from a Catholic European perspective. One can liken this exaggeration to modern day advertisements, “Ancient religious manuscript describes terrifying New World animal that will make your jaw drop.”

However, I would argue that their accounts are accurate to the best of the missionaries’ ability. This I deduce from the reports that are easily verifiable such as the description of a skunk.

Here is Father Le Jeune’s description of a flying squirrel:

“There are three kinds of squirrels, which are not so beautiful as those in France. The others, which our French call Swiss, because they are spotted upon the back, are very beautiful and quite small. The flying squirrels are rather pretty, but their chief merit lies in their flying. Not that they have wings, but they have a certain piece of skin on both sides, which they fold up very neatly against their stomachs when they walk, and spread out when they fly. I do not think they take long flights; I saw one of them flying, and it sustained itself very well in the air” (Le Jeune, p. 70).

flyingsquirrel
The flying squirrel
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The more beautiful Swiss squirrel (according to Father Le Jeune)

This accuracy is a major strength for the compilation of letters. The other major strength would lie in its being the only source for the time and place.

One of the most surprising things that I have found throughout my reading of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents is how understanding and sympathetic the missionaries can be to the Native Americans with which they write. For example, Father Le Jeune writes of the Montagnais’s treatment of enemy Iroquois prisoners, “In short, they make them suffer all that cruelty that the Devil can suggest. At last, as a final horror, they eat and devour them almost raw” (Le Jeune, p. 21). Yet, he does not label them as evil as Father Le Jeune continues, “Let no one be astonished at these acts of barbarism. Before the faith was received in Germany, Spain, or England, those nations were not more civilized. Mind is not lacking among the Savages of Canada, but education and instruction” (Le Jeune, p. 21).

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents are a rich source of information—and really the only source for the time and place. The limitations can be easily overlooked with a careful-eye leaving a strong representation of the missionaries in New France as well as the Native Americans detailed in their writings.


Jesuits. (1901). The Jesuit relations and allied documents: Travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France, 1610-1791: the original French, Latin, and Italian texts, with English translations and notes. R. G. Thwaites (Ed.). Cleveland, OH: Burrows Bros. Co.

Research Questions

The focus is of this research is to find what the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries knew about medicine and learned from the Native American tribes in the greater Great Lakes region. The main question that I wish to answer is: What did the missionaries know, scientifically, of the smallpox disease that devastated innumerable Natives in the seventeenth century?

From this I would extend:

  1. What formal training and books did the seventeenth century Jesuits have to read or were likely to have read?
  2. What was the main theory of disease in Europe relevant to the time?
  3. What did the Jesuits learn from the Natives in which they proselytized in the way of pharmacology or botany?
  4. How did they help or harm, medically, the Indians who were victim of disease?
  5. What did the Native tribes know of disease? What was their theory of disease? What remedies did they use?

The absolute main source I have to use would be the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents themselves. It is one of the only pieces written of this place and period– it is a valuable insight into what the missionaries would have thought as each entry is similar to a journal or blog post.

Beyond this, the sources are generally in response to the Jesuit Relations, or reactions to them. This is equally important in understanding the missionaries as it offers new objections and insights into their lives.

 

Concerning the Native tribes, there are sources written by Native individuals themselves that will be relevant in understanding their ancestry and their theory of disease.


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