OhioLINK’s Historical Resources Help Researcher Uncover the Truth about Louis XVI
History student, Heather Sommer, uses OhioLINK databases to discover 18th century political opinions about America’s first foreign ally
Heather Sommer, an undergraduate student at Ohio Northern University, is uncovering information regarding the United States’ early foreign policy. For her senior thesis, she is researching American opinion of Louis XVI from the beginning of the French Revolutionary period through his death and the subsequent abolition of the monarchy.
Online databases provided by Ohio Northern University’s Heterick Memorial Library and OhioLINK have proved to be invaluable resources for Sommer’s research. A wealth of primary sources, including 18th century newspaper articles printed in the United States and documents by leading American political figures are easily accessible through internet archives. Sommer narrows in on her sources by using precise search terms and specific dates to find the “diamonds in the rough.”
“It is great to be able to access much of the information I need without having to travel across the country,” Sommer said. “I cannot thank enough all of the archivists who scanned the hundreds of original documents that I have referenced. I’ll skim through fifty documents or so at a time and be lucky if I can find three relevant to my paper, the ones that I do find, though, are worth it.”
Through her research, Sommer has found that most Americans revered Louis XVI on the eve of the French Revolution, for he assisted them in their fight for independence against Britain in the American Revolution. As the French Revolution progressed, Federalists and Republicans began to view the timorous king through different lenses. Ultimately, the vast majority of Americans continually supported Louis XVI as a man, but not necessarily as a monarch.
“I started examining this topic two years ago for my historiography class,” Sommer said. “After completing the course, my professor suggested I investigate this topic further, for he thought I may have found a gap in the literature. After consulting with other professors who are familiar with the period, I decided to expand on this topic for my senior thesis work. Now it has become my passion. Today, Louis XVI tends to have a negative reputation in the minds of many, yet the early American republic celebrated him as a hero.”
Sommer also relies on OhioLINK for her secondary sources. OhioLINK’s interlibrary loans allow her to request books relating to her topic from other libraries across the state.
“Sometimes you just need to flip through the pages of a book. If the local libraries do not have the books I need, I know I can find it through OhioLINK. It is a great tool for researchers in all fields,” Sommer said.
When complete, Sommer hopes to publish her findings, but does not plan on ending her research there. She wishes to go on to graduate school where she can continue researching her subject.
“For my undergraduate work, I am only looking at a six-year period out of Louis XVI’s turbulent eighteen-year reign. I would love to go back earlier in his reign and research in more detail what the American elite thought of him before and during the American Revolution. That way I could fill the whole spectrum.”
Sommer’s ultimate goal is to share her love for history with others by pursuing a doctorate degree and teaching at the college level.
“It is amazing what you find when reading primary sources,” Sommer said. “You get to see what people were thinking and feeling hundreds of years ago, and it is surprising how similar they are to you. They too are angry or frightened, delirious or elated. Human emotions do not change, only the events that trigger them vary.”