History is History... Right?

This week in my local history class I learned some new terms. Even though I have never had a class like this before, I feel like ever little of this information is new. But I thought I would share it!

Define the concepts of 'Nearby History', 'Local History', 'Family History', 'Public History', and 'Social History'.

Local history appears to be the definition of the history of a small group. It might be a neighborhood or a small town, but it is an area where a group can easily be divided off from other groups in most circumstances to be studied. I think that this definition has a lot of fluidity about it in the sense that the definition of 'local' can mean so much to so many different people. Some people who live in my area might see local as the entire peninsula- In fact, when Vicki looks for a helper for my son through a 'local' organization a few towns away, Vicki always looks for someone local to me... which means to her anyone who is qualified who lives on the Peninsula or the close island. I consider my local town to be ********, but my 'local' grocery store is in a nearby town and my 'local' post office is in the neighboring town. So the idea of what 'local' means depends on who you are, your culture and habits as well as location. Another word that could be used to describe local history could be regional history or community history according to J. Amato.

Family history -again depending on your focus- can be limited to basic dates and direct line individuals or can encompass huge amounts of information on family relationships, lifestyle/ occupation/ movement, economics, education, religion, and physical appearance, and then can be branched out to include involvement in the community, politics, or military. For some people, family history is working to find enough names and dates on their tree to 'fill in' a gap. My mother does genealogy in this fashion and rarely stops to even glance at individuals unless she finds something quickly that catches her eye (ex.. she is able to tell me about a relative that is 1/8 Cherokee on my direct line, but for the most part, anything that I want to know on my family tree I have to look at myself- she won't know). I like to help people with their family history and I will do the standard family tree sheet, but I also try and include pictures, sources, biographies if I can find them or write them myself, and other information such as occupations, religious affiliation, movements, etc... Others might go even farther and add the public history portion that is going on at the same time.... which brings us to...

Public history wasn't very well described in the book (at least I didn't think so). I wasn't sure if that is because the answer seems obvious, but in just in case I took the time to try and look it up. My definition of public history is the collection and compiling of information that is 'public' as well as collecting the bits and pieces of information to help make the other infiltration whole and well sourced. So public history could be as close as my towns small Keeping Society and the notes kept every week from Selectman's meetings, etc... and moves to the far reaching history- what our president is doing or what is happening elsewhere in the world whose consequences trickle down to us. Online, I found an organization called the National Council on Public History and in an essay on their site they have a definition of public history that goes like this: “Public history is a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make their special insights accessible and useful to the public.” The article continued on to discuss other ways to define public history and controversies over the above definition. One thing that this definition contained that I think I took for granted until I saw it was that the information should be “accessible and useful to the public”. I have always thought that history had a great use, and has importance today. But I guess I have also assumed that it was available for the most part to anyone who wants it. However, with all the news articles talking about state secrets and other stuff that we can't 'know', I guess history is not always available and it is important to everyone that the idea of availability is part of how history is collected and intended to be used.

Social history is based on the premise that no one lives in a vacuum... that all lives are influenced by the social and cultural world around them. So to understand anyone's motives, we must understand not only them, but the world in which they lived. When trying to figure out what motivates another human being, historians sometimes take educated guesses from the documentation, sources, etc... that they have available to try and explain why someone did something. To try and make a guess on someone's motives without using social history would be to most likely make an incorrect guess, but also give motives that would more likely reflect what you (the historian) would do, not what the individual studied would do. (Boy that could have far reaching consequences on many historical narratives such as King Richard III of England! :) Social history is the stuff that is lost when we only concentrate on the 'rich and famous' for it is the small and simple things that happen in the ordinary lives of people. It is more inclusive as people and history that might never be noticed (because it is considered unimportant) can be counted while researching social history.

Nearby history is also a term that can be fairly fluid depending on how you want to look at it. You can start as close as your own head and journal and end as far away as the history of another country. Nearby history is the study of the history that is close to you and affects you whether it is your neighbor and her dirty dustbins or at our town meeting where you and others vote to become the second city in the US to ban GMO crops. It can be the study of you town or how national politics affect your every day life such as healthcare reform, extensions to unemployment insurance, term limits, changes to existing law, etc...

How do the above concepts fit together? Are all the above concepts the same? Why or why not?

Each of the concepts above are very different in some regards as to their approach to their subject. Yet, in many ways, I just took two pages to describe over and over the same concepts. Each concept listed above describes a specific way of looking at and researching history. Yet each concept is almost impossible to separate from each other. History is not and can not be discrete. So to study on part of history is to either ignore or include other parts. Local history can be used to look at a community. Family history can be used to look at a family in that same community and while the local history will be necessarily different than the family history, the local history can compliment and even explain some of the basic family history. Public history can be used to explain events in the local environment that affect the family under scrutiny.

1. Stanton, Cathy, “What is Public History” Redux”, originally printed Sept 2007, copyright 2010, National Council on Public History, Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, found at http://ncph.org/cms/what-is-public-history/


History, It's Importance, and Memory

This is just some homework that I did for my Local History Class, but I really liked the information I needed to get together for it and thought it was useful!

What is the Importance of Memory in History?:

Memory is so important to us as conscious beings for so many of the things we do in life as well as for developing an accurate or inaccurate impression of historical events. In our daily lives, we make decisions based on our past experiences- what to cook, read, and even the classes we picked to take this semester in school are based on our past experiences and what memories we have – “I have managed to complete four courses with my family situation with decent grades, I needed certain courses... which ones could I pick that I would like and find fun.... and here I am.”

Memory when recording history is important because it gives history a flow and an emotional meaning and knowledge that you just can not get from most basic historical documents. A piece of paper placed on the President's desk stating that unemployment rates are over fifty percent (like the Great Depression) will express facts- it is up to your brain to attempt to figure out what the facts mean...emotionally, physically, etc... Interviewing the people who lived through the Great Depression, how they managed to survive and what life was like to live in that time gives you a real picture of that time. The little things that the macro- documents might not think to tell you. /An example of that would be a story that my best friend told me. She was in her early teens during the Great Depression living on a farm in Maine. If someone came to the door and asked for food, her parents would give it to them no questions asked. One day when Sarah was alone a man came and tried to break into the house. He threatened her and her dog had to chase the man away. People didn't come to the door for food after that and she found out later that a pole by the road near their home had been marked with a special mark that warned people not to go there as they weren't friendly. She always felt bad about that because they were willing to give away food- that guy had just gone too far. The idea that 'tramps' or other transients marked the poles is something I would never have thought to look for and most documentation about the GD would not have listed it/

What are the Drawbacks of Memory?

That said, memory can also be a hindrance to the historian... or should be taken with a grain of salt without other corroborating evidence. Memory is faulty and is based upon our perceptions, biases viewpoints and even our biology. Unlike the Harry Potter books, memory is rarely so detailed and specific unless there was a large stressor involved... and the stressor itself is bound to change our perceptions of what is happening. Some things that can change memory are embarrassment, time lapsed between the events, emotional undercurrents, lack of understanding due to poor communication, age etc... So memory can help fill in gaps between documents and what is known, but it can also confuse the issue with irrelevant information. /An interesting study that was released a few years ago did a study of memory by interviewing thousands of people the day after the OJ Simpson trial verdict. They asked them where they were and what they had been doing when they heard the verdict and then a few years later asked them the same questions. Almost half had a completely different memory than the one they had given before and many were very insistent that their current memory was correct and the researches were probably wrong!/

What is the Importance of the Nearby Past?

Nearby history is important for two reasons. The first is that it affects us on a daily basis. What happens in the homes of my community affects me as surely as what happens in mine. And these dynamics will continue to change the experience of the individuals living around me (and me as well) and will affect our decisions which in turn, will affect the history of the community. Nearby history is also important because as I mentioned above, it really helps flesh out the macro image of a historical event and gives the larger picture more nuance, and more accuracy. And history can play a huge role in a person's life and current situation. A person who had bad parents may chose to not have children, or to have children but do counseling and classes to attempt to change patterns in their life, or may chose to do nothing and hope for the best. We are the living embodiment of our history which affects the way we think and what decisions we make. Even the large picture of history is something that affects all of us; climate change, GMO's, war, recession, etc... It may affect us in very different ways – some may choose to volunteer to non-profits in war zones while some may chose smaller ways to contribute such as recycling and trying to reuse items longer before replacing them- but these issues do affect us all.

What Role does History Play in our Lives Today?

By understanding our past, we are better able to understand our future. When we understand what motivated our parents, we understand better why they make the decisions they do. When we understand what motivates us, we can understand better how to accomplish our goals. And understanding what motivates others or why they make the decisions that they do helps us to accomplish our goals because we will be more successful in convincing others to help (or at least not hinder!) We evaluate our history when we teach our children and if we didn't like the way our parents did something, then we try to change it. When we see the struggles that others have made for advancement (ex. civil rights), we feel motivated and capable to continue the struggle which becomes our personal history and a piece of the larger framework. And some groups are defined by our history -whether we are aware of our history or not. As a practicing Mormon, I have found that many people in my church know very little of church history and find themselves shocked by non-members who know more about our history than they do and as a member we are judged- for good or ill- by what people perceive of that history. I am sure that other groups-religious or otherwise- have the same problem. Being ignorant of your history doesn't change it or how it might affect you and your current lifestyle, family, etc...


History of a Song: May - “I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go”

This song was really interesting to research. I really like the song which gave me the motivation to get started, but the idea that this song has disputed authors was fascinating. I haven't run into that phenomenon yet until this particular hymn. So anyway, here it goes... : )

The words to this song were possibly written by Mary Brown. (And most sources that I found listed her as the sole author or the author of just the first stanza). She was born in 1856 in Canada and died in 1918 due to the influenza epidemic. It is believed that she wrote this song in 1899. The second and third stanzas are attributed to Charles Edwin Prior (1856-1927). The other possible author is Charles Hutchinson Gabriel. He was born in August 1856 in Iowa on a farm. He showed a talent for music early on and while he didn't have any formal training in music, he began to travel and lead his own singing schools in various areas. He eventually served as a music director at an episcopal church in California. Mr Gabriel was married twice in his lifetime and had two children. He died in September 1932 in Hollywood, California.
Car­rie E. Roun­se­fell wrote the music for this particular hymn. She was born in 1861 in Merrimack, New Hampshire. She grew up in Manchester, NH and it was here that she met and married her husband William Rounsefell. She was known by many to be a singing evangelist and she would travel throughout New England and parts of New York with her small auto-harp to sing and preach. She died on Sep­tem­ber 18, 1930, in Dur­ham, Maine.

This particular hymn was originally titled “Go Stand and Speak” and listed under its current name and is #270 in the current LDS hymnbook. It has been performed by many different groups which include the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Arizona Drones. It has also been performed and published in several different arrangements- one LDS favorite is an album called “Let Us Go Forth” produced by Greg Hansen.

This hymn really focuses on a really important theme in the LDS and most Christian religions. The idea that sometimes (and probably more often than we actually do) we should put aside our wants and desires and use our energy and strength to do as Heavenly Father wishes us to do instead. Many scriptures discuss this idea – a few are John 20:21, 1 Nephi 3:7, and Isaiah 6:8. To go and do what the Father asks us to do has been the motivation for so many prophets; it is the reason that Noah built the ark, the reason that Lehi took his family and left Jerusalem, the motivation for Ruth to follow her mother in law to a foreign place. It should be our motivation and true desire to do the same. May we take the time to pay attention to what we are spending our time on and try and listen so that we know what the Lord would have us do. It might help us to reach the desires that we had in the first place, but if not... it might open doors we never dreamed were even available.