Encyclopedia of Local History

Article excerpt

Encyclopedia of Local History. Edited by Carol Kammen and Norma Prendergast (Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2000. Pp. xvi, 539. Ill, appendices. Cloth, $79.95).

This book will become an indispensable companion for anyone who reads this journal. Be they members of local historical societies working to preserve the remnants of the past, historians gathering materials from dusty courthouse records in preparation for writing a local history, family historians hoping to discover their roots, teachers assisting students to develop projects for history fairs, or librarians struggling to assist their patrons' search for ancestors-all will discover answers to practical how-to-do-it questions as well as essays designed to stimulate imaginations. What are Sanborn maps, and how can I find one of my community? This Encyclopedia of Local History will point the reader in the right direction. It also inspires the local historian to ask questions that might not have been imagined. What, for example, can culinary history contribute to understanding the life of a community? Or how do local historians in England, Scotland, or Nigeria pursue their craft?

The encyclopedia works at several levels. For the researcher it provides a range of entries on source materials such as account books and court records, photographs and postcards, immigrant passenger lists and census materials. In addition to examining the uses and limitations of these sources, these entries point the reader to bibliographical materials, libraries and web sites. Family researchers will find helpful entries on such topics as the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Jewish genealogy, and Afro-American genealogy. While the editors assign special entries for established research centers such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, and the Library of Congress, they are careful to include essential web sites as well. In their effort to anticipate the problems a researcher may confront, the editors have included useful legal definitions such as fee simple and entail as well as an essay on the Freedom of Information Act. For the prospective writer, there are entries on the editing and publishing of manuscripts. For those interested in museums there are several cross-referenced discussions on museums, living history museums, house museums, the ethics of museum work, and such special topics as repatriation and patrimony.

This is an encyclopedia that is designed to provoke questions as much as answer them. The editors have solicited a wide range of essays on such subjects as the history of education, the American Indian, the environment, business, health care, toys, and etiquette to encourage local historians to expand their horizons. In that vein, Sharon Babaian invites readers to give more systematic attention to technology, and in doing so she offers helpful references to prospective researchers. The encyclopedia encourages local history that is truly democratic. Thus, it includes essays on American Indian, Chicano, Asian American as well as African American history and an invaluable appendix listing numerous ethnic groups with relevant bibliographical citations and websites. …