Thursday, 12 March 2009

Local History

Local history sometimes gets a bad press with historians. Perhaps it's just that it happens to be the sort of historical research less likely to be undertaken by the academic than the interested amateur. Perhaps it is because it is in some respects the natural successor to the work of antiquarians, which has often been superceded. Perhaps it's just a feeling that history should be big, important, and concerned with more than when a local town got its buildings.

This attitude, thankfully, is far from universal. For me, history, as with any form of "storytelling" art, should be at least partly about comprehending the world around you. It should also follow interest as much as a potentially mistaken sense of what is important. Local history seems important to both processes.

There are, moreover, some excellent examples of it out there. While the precise pieces in question obviously vary considerably from place to place, the revised editions of the Victoria County Histories are always a good place to start for English places. That said, it's important to treat any work on local history (though also any history book) with care. Some of it is done with love and skill, but there are always examples around that are poorly researched, willing to present anecdotal evidence as fact, and generally terrible. The best way of sorting out which is which is probably to ask your nearest local history society.

2 comments:

Dave King said...

I had not realised that local history had such a poor image among historians. Shame on them. Social history I find more interesting than political (on the whole), and local history is often rich in that.

stu said...

Not always, and the better university history departments usually get involved in the local history of their area with night courses and so on.

But there is a tendency to see the occasional badly written pamphlet on the area as typical. A tendency to see 'amateur' as 'amateurish'.