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/

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