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

By David J. Russo | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Amateur historians still write local history, but those who have been involve since the 1930s have lacked the energy, commitment, purpose, and capacity of the antiquarians whose work spanned the century and more from the 1820s through the 1930s. This change has come as a result of altered circumstances. Until the 1960s, amateurs who wrote local history were generally the only people who wanted to do so. There was no academic group with its own theories, methods, and language. Until recent years, what an amateur did had the authority of something that was virtually unchallenged. Criticism was trivial or nonexistent, with reviews or notices often arranged by the authors themselves. An antiquarian with years of collecting and research to his credit was in a position to assert his authority, to gain the assistance of those who shared his interests, but lacked the ability or interest or time to produce a history on their own. Those who contributed, assisted, and subscribed were extremely grateful that one like them would commit himself to the onerous task of producing a history their community. The author and those around him shared a view of what the purpose and value of the enterprise were: to preserve the record of the past before it was irretrievably lost, to exhibit pride in their long-term association with their community founded and developed by ancestors worthy of their remembrance, to record the progress of their town's or city's past, and to proclaim the likelihood of a progressive future.

This was local history of the successful, by the successful, for the successful, using the past to display pride of status and accomplishment, as academic observers were quick to point out. When subscription publishers like Lewis and Clarke reduced local history to a formula for commercial profit, those whose counterparts elsewhere supported "genuine" antiquarians brought these firms their desired profits by paying to have laudatory biographical sketches and portraits included, which together comprised half or more of a "history" whose actual historical segment was written by a staff writer in the publisher's office. In short, the antiquarian pursuits that could become the central passion of an amateur historian's life could

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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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