Keepers of Our past: Local Historical Writing in the United States, 1820s-1930s

By David J. Russo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Later Setting

The American Civil War had the paradoxical effect of heightening both nationalism and localism, the identification with and loyalty to both nation and locality of those engaged in the bloodiest of modern fraticidal conflicts. In villages and cities all over the old, divided union, citizens of the United States and the Confederate States turned their attention outward, toward the national crisis at the same time they became concerned about the contribution of their local community to the larger cause.(1)

Historical writing was affected by the war in two ways. At the local level, some who wrote about their towns, cities, counties, or even states turned their "histories" into accounts of their regiments' wartime experiences. As Van Tassel puts it: "In the strictest sense, every state, county, and town was represented by its male citizens in military units which served on the battlefield as extensions of the local community. . . . Histories of towns or states published during and shortly after the war were simply histories of regiments."(2)

And, at the national level, the political division during the war years greatly increased the difficulty those who wrote national histories had in attaining a genuinely national perspective. Even Bancroft History was criticized for reflecting a New Englander's bias toward other parts of the Union. James Schouler, another Northerner, embarked on a Bancroft-like multivolume project and produced seven volumes between 1880 and 1913, covering the period from 1783 to 1877.(3) Schouler attempted to be fair to both sides, even though he had an anti-Southern bias. But: "He wrote as if a representative of the federal government, using as his primary sources government documents and the personal papers of Presidents."(4)

The reemergence of nationalism after the war was enhanced by the centennial celebrations of 1876, which linked patriotism to history in the marking of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the birthdate of the nation. Those who wrote or spoke about the past were naturally encouraged to play a major role. In 1871,

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Keepers of Our past: Local Historical Writing in the United States, 1820s-1930s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in American History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Copyright Acknowledgments vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • PART I The Early Antiquarians 7
  • Chapter 1- The Early Setting 9
  • Chapter 2- The New England Pioneers 27
  • Chapter 3- Their Histories 43
  • Chapter 4- Elsewhere: John F. Watson 63
  • Part II- The Later Antiquarians 77
  • Chapter 5- The Later Setting 79
  • Chapter 6- Town Historians 91
  • Chapter 7- City Historians 109
  • Chapter 8- Repeaters 125
  • Part III- Formulaic Local History 147
  • Chapter 9- Local History as a Publishing Venture 149
  • Chapter 10- Local History as an Editorial Project 165
  • Chapter 11- Local History as Literature 183
  • PART IV The Coming of the Academics 189
  • Chapter 12- Amateurs and Academics 191
  • Conclusion 205
  • Notes 215
  • Bibliography 255
  • Index 275
  • About the Author 282
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