Local history studies & research projects

Collage of archival reference titles as a symbol of the many resources used in local history studies.

The following is a list of local history studies and research projects sorted by country (England, India, &c.), organization (regimental histories), and type of resource (maps, newspapers). Each country, organization, or resource page serves as an index to for further information.

  • England
  • India and Burmah
  • Ireland
  • Maps
  • Regimental histories
  • Summit County, Ohio, USA

Please note that many of the local history articles presented on Arborealis flow from the editor’s family history research interests. Thus the depth and breadth of topics will be delimited by certain periods of time and specific to certain local districts. — Republication of transcripts under the sub-menu items, above, is pending. (2020-12-18).

Why study local history?

What is local history? One definition was given by Kammen and Wilson (2012), viz.:— 1

Local history is the study of history in a geographically local context and it often concentrates on the local community. It incorporates cultural and social aspects of history. Local history is not merely national history writ small but a study of past events in a given geographical but one that is based on a wide variety of documentary evidence and placed in a comparative context that is both regional and national.

Family history without any concern for local history makes for dry reading material indeed. On other hand, aspects of local history can inject flavour, give people pause about the world in which their ancestors lived, and fill in contextual gaps where individual records are scarce or simply have not survived.

Traditionally, “reading history” at uni focused on the grand sweep of larger-than-life events. Local history can be viewed as the history of the people who lived more ordinary lives than not. This perspective will include the leaders and heroines, the arch-criminals and the wild-eyed miscreants, but only if they are discovered in the course of a local history project. Other ways to consider the place of local history within the broader subject is to consider it a slice of that larger history pie; as a concentric ring around the individual and family unit, like layers of an onion or more colourfully, one of the smaller matroyshka dolls.

However, local history studies also focus on the interconnectedness between those layers. Further, it borrows freely from a wide array of interdisciplinary subjects such as sociology, economics, politics, anthropology, and geography, and as has become readily apparent this year, epidemiology. By reading and examining elements of local history, we can discover not only the context in which our ancestors lived but also any advantages they enjoyed or constraints under which they laboured. We can identify societal norms, and changes in those norms, at the neighbourhood level. Most importantly, local history to almost any specific area is going to differ from the overarching themes identified by traditional historical research. By “doing local history,” we find out how our neighbourhoods or townlands or parishes were different from the average experience portrayed at the provincial, state, or national level. It is a study that focuses on the variances around the norm at the local level. All of which is very exciting, however, if we ignore the history set into motion by the larger actors, our understanding of local history will suffer by that omission.

What to look for when studying local history:

Detailed local history resources are difficult to find for periods before 1700. However, the list of resources is almost endless for the modern era. A reading list for local history studies can be gleaned from the word art collage at the top of this page. A short list could include:

  • the unit of study:—in Ireland, these can be townland studies, and in England and Scotland, parish studies. However, local history did not necessarily conform to official territorial divisions. Sometimes we have to look to other factors, for example, the landscape (a village lying between two hills in the Cranborne Chase), or part of a parish that gravitated towards the nearest market town (Glenkeen and Bohard townlands in the parish of Aghaloo to the town of Aughnacloy in the parish of Carnteel).
  • important international and national events that shaped conditions, and how local units of government responded and reacted;
  • the natural landscape and how both natural forces and human effort have changed its appearance and geography over time;
  • trends in built architecture;
  • maps, atlases, and gazetteers, and how these changed over time;
  • academic research and analysis published in historical journals and periodicals;
  • extant and changing legislation and regulations published by Acts of Parliament (or similar governing body) and in parliamentary papers, and again, how local governments interpreted and applied these laws;
  • archival documents and manuscripts, and other documents, including provincial newspapers, which identify specific individuals and events otherwise lost to the national record, and so on.

Caveats:

It is important to keep in mind the bias which necessarily crept into interpretation, application, and reporting, whether from political, religious, or other influences. Even with the bias that was (and continues to be) endemic to local news journals, the immediacy of contemporary reportage makes for fascinating reading. For local history research of events from the early 1800s, the sheer number of available resources can be overwhelming. This is a point where academic research becomes invaluable, when historians sort and sift through the data and offer interpretations. In turn, this is a point where the reader, as consumer of data and information, should have an elementary grasp of research methods. Finally, be aware of that old adage, “History is written by the victors,” … or does it? This perspective is challenged by Nick Sacco in his article, Bad Historical Thinking: “History is Written by the Victors.” One of his later sentences, “History is written by everybody, not just the ‘winners'” 2 is particularly à propos to this short essay on the people’s history.


Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “Local history studies and research projects.” Home page for local history studies and research projects undertaken by Alison Kilpatrick, featuring a collage of archival reference types © Alison Kilpatrick, 2020; online at Arborealis, arborealis.ca/local-history-studies/, accessed [insert date of access].

Image credit: — Word cloud of elements of local history courtesy of WordArt.

Footnotes:

  1. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. “Local history.” Citing Kammen, Carol; Wilson, Amy (2012). Encyclopedia of Local History, 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. pp. vii.
  2. Sacco, Nick. “Bad Historical Thinking: ‘History is Written by the Victors.’ Published 15th February 2016 to “Exploring the Past,” online at pastexplore.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/ (accessed 2020-12-16).