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Historical Research: A Study In Contrasts

When doing Historical Research, keep the difference between now and then firmly in mind.

GOVERNMENT

NOW: Citizens of age and not convicted of crimes can vote. Informed citizens should vote in every election. Citizens can run for public office. Candidates with moral or ethical flaws have reason to fear the media.

THEN: Male property owners can vote; in the US they must also be white. Men of substance with good connections can run for office. Silence covers most sexual exploits; men wink and understand, women endure. Profiteering, graft, or financial deceit are poorly defined and admired on a grand scale; definitions and censure emerged and took hold slowly.

FAMILY

now: Parents and children are equal before the law, and an adulterous spouse may find him/herself in divorce court. Abusive spouses can be stopped if the victim has the will to do it.

THEN: Father, oldest son, or brother determine what's best for the rest. Boys can sow their wild oats, their fathers often show the way. Girls must be virgins. If wives do not keep silence about hubby's activities, they may be rejected by him, without means of support and subject to censure by society.

RELIGION

NOW: It's your choice; do your own thing.

THEN: Small towns
If your faith is not that of the majority, you can't be trusted.
Metropolitan areasbr Whatever your faith, make sure you go to your place of worship and make sure you are seen. If you belong to a religious minority, don't worry, we'll watch you.

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PROGRESS

NOW: We learn every day; our minds can expand, there's no limit to learning.

THEN: We know all we need to know; new ideas are dangerous. After the French Revolution: Engineers invent practical improvements and that's OK.

WORK

NOW: 40-hour work week, longer hours earn overtime; your spare time is your own to do as you wish.

THEN: Men: In the trades dawn to dusk six days a week, seven days on the farm. In banking and business variable, often relaxed. Behave decorously in public.
Women: (except the well to do) Work dawn to dusk seven days a week, in spite of frequent pregnancies. This involved washing, cleaning, preparing and preserving food without modern tools, chemicals, or appliances.

GENDER GAP

NOW: Capable women can become whatever they're willing to work and study for.

THEN: Women's feeble intellect requires male guidance. Girls should learn to read, figure and do household tasks well; more education damages their health. Family needs govern the education of boys.

PROPERTY

NOW: Rights are defined by national law with some local variation; children inherit equally.

THEN: Men own and manage the property of their wives and children; wives or children cannot protect their estate from mismanagement.

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TIME & DATE

NOW: Check the Coordinated Universal Time signal. The whole globe uses the Gregorian calendar for business purposes. Different religions observe calendars going back to their founder.

THEN: Before 1582 - THEN: The Julian calendar, though flawed, was used throughout the Christian world.

From 1582 to 1793 - The British Empire retained the Julian calendar; while the continent adopted the Gregorian calendar in stages. The difference grew from 11 to 13 days in 211 years.

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