Over the past week, I’ve discovered a not-so-surprising fact about library research: is it is very easy to get sidetracked. Remember how I said that my next blog post would be summing up African-American reactions to the war? Well, before I began to compile my notes on African-American reactions into a cohesive blog post, I decided to check the secondary source accounts against memoirs of individuals who were in Ethiopia at the time of the war. My goal in doing so was to evaluate how the efforts of African-Americans actually affected life during the war, as seen through the eyes of individuals on the ground. Unfortunately, my selection of sources available was not great, and I ended up just consulting three memoirs for this stage of the research: the two-volume memoirs of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the recollections of John H. Spenser, an American lawyer who served as an advisor to the Ethiopian emperor until the 1970s, and the somewhat unreliable memoir of Wynant Hubbard, a rather racist American war correspondent who remained in Ethiopia for some of the crisis.
Last week and this week, once I finally settled on a topic for my research, I began constructing a timeline of the diplomatic and military events of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. Most scholarship about the diplomatic and military aspects of the war date from the 1960s and 1970s, and are therefore considered “old” by historian standards, but I found them to nevertheless be good sources of information on the bare-bones facts of the conflict. To this end, I consulted the Italian Angelo del Boca’s (Ethiopian-sympathetic) account The Ethiopian War 1935-1941, the American Brice Harris’s United States and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis and the Ethiopian Bahru Zewde’s A History of Modern Ethiopia: 1855-1991. I also consulted the secondary sources I had read previously, especially William S. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race. Furthermore, I corroborated my dates with two published memoirs: the two volumes of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress and American international lawyer John H. Spencer’s Ethiopia at Bay. I tried to include specific dates as much as possible in the timeline: once I enter my second stage of research next week analyzing African-American newspaper accounts, I will search for articles surrounding the dates of specific events such as Haile Selassie’s Christmas 1937 radio address.
In the week or so that I’ve been doing my research on African-American participation in the Italo-Ethiopian War, I’ve discovered a very important fact about historical research: it’s messy. It doesn’t always go the way that you’ve planned.