From its inception, local historical writing was published by subscription, as well as sold through bookstores. That is, individuals agreed to buy in advance one or more copies of the completed volume or volumes. In this way, antiquarians proceeded with some assurance that, at least, the cost of publication would be covered. Actual profit was more likely to accrue to those who found an aggressive publisher or who were favored with the financial support -- either in the form of subscriptions or direct subsidies -- of libraries, historical societies, or a government, whether at the town, city, county, or state level.
One of the problems confronted by the local antiquarians who wrote histories was how to retain their independence, their sense of objectivity and fairness in a context in which the financial success of their project depended on the support of particular individuals, institutions, or governments. This problem was one shared by all who wrote with advanced subscribers instead of unknown buyers, but was particularly acute for a group whose writings were focused on the same people who supported them. Antiquarians were intent on being factual and accurate, on describing individuals, institutions, and activities in a manner and to an extent that seemed appropriate, given their knowledge of the entire history of their community. What if this treatment was in any way unsatisfactory to their financial supporters? How could an antiquarian favor their benefactors through unmerited -- that is, unfairly enlarged or favorable -- coverage of their subscribers' lives or historical interests without undermining their sense of themselves as local historians of integrity and worth. Antiquarians struggled with this irresolvable problem through all the decades from the 1820s to the 1930s; to confront it was a natural part of their endeavors.
What limited the problem, and acted as a powerful countervailing force, was the natural rapport between the antiquarians and their subscribers: all were interested in the past and belonged to families with a sense of place and continuity and prominence, which itself derived partly from adherence to a particular community. The distinctions among
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Publication information: Book title: Keepers of Our past:Local Historical Writing in the United States, 1820s-1930s. Contributors: David J. Russo - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1988. Page number: 149.
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