November 23rd, 2009 by Elizabeth Watts Pope
I was in a bookstore in the ’80s and started reading a book about Puritans feeding their babies ale but now I can’t remember the title. Can you help me find the book?
This is the kind of question we live for at AAS: the test that can make or break you as a professional. Succeed and you will glow with a satisfaction almost akin to discovering gold at the end of a treasure hunt. Fail and it will haunt you for years to come. You may find yourself wandering the aisles of bookshops and libraries muttering about “Puritans,” “babies,” and “ale,” which believe you me will attract some strange sideways glances from the other patrons.
How would you discover the answer to this question? We hope you will share with us your research strategies, tips for searching online resources like Google, and the results you come up with. There is a right answer and I will post it next week, hopefully after we’ve heard some of your suggestions. Basically, this post is an exercise in crowd-sourcing and if it works we may have to begin outsourcing some of our toughest questions to you all. In fact, I already have one lined up which I wasn’t able to figure out. Can a group solve a mystery like this faster than an individual? Let’s find out…
1. The title was something like “How We Lived” or “How Americans Lived.”
2. It was a social history of America from the Puritans into the early 20th century and included something about taverns and the common substitution of ale among Early Americans for often-contaminated water. The book described the practice of weaning Puritan babies with ale (I guess to ease the let-down).
3. The book was spotted in the ’80s (the 1980s, I should clarify) and our questioner thought it had been recently published.
Like any good researcher, my first instinct was to run right to the welcoming arms of that search-engine-to-the-stars: Google. After all, why do all the work if the milk (or in this case perhaps the ale) is free? However, when an initial search of Google didn’t yield easy success, I dug my heels in for a tougher fight. No matter what they say about online access making this generation lazy and less skilled researchers, it still requires a lot of work to figure out the right questions to ask of all these amazing resources. When I was still unable to find anything, I passed the buck to Diann who also struck out. Diann sent around an ALL-STAFF email asking if any other AAS staff members could help. We received some great suggestions, but none quite fit. Then my own competitiveness kicked in. I decided I was not going to let this be the one that got away so I went back in for another try and ultimately hitting the jackpot. How’s that for a paragraph full of mixed metaphors?
Test yourself to see if you have the detective skills and research chops it takes to succeed. Finding the answer is all about figuring out the right questions to ask — and isn’t that a good skill to have in life? If you like your puzzles straight-up or want to find your own solution, you’ve been given exactly the same information we had. If you’d like a little extra help, click here for some hints based on how I found the book. Also, I should warn you there is at least one slight red herring in the information given, but what mystery doesn’t have at least one twist?
All the best intangibles: satisfaction and bragging rights.
Good luck, and I can’t wait to hear what you all come up with!
(Click here for The Answer)