thread: 2015-08-31 : This August Past

On 2015-09-02, Meguey wrote:

"Unfortunately, a lot of history is based on archival research: reading journals, looking at immigration manifests, official records, sometimes ethnographic research conducted through interviews... That requires a bunch of effort, and not many historians can do that on a local level."

Speaking as an historian, and a local historian at that, I can assure you that your local historians may be the only people who have actually read through the things you list. They also may have researched and positioned countless artifacts within the context provided by the various written records. In the two local museums in which I work, one of which is in Old Deerfield, the curators and staff and volunteers know more about the history of the local area, in breadth and depth, than pretty much anyone else around. We can also tell you how these towns connect to larger geographic areas, and how the local history here connects to local history in other places. Also, as your small local museums and historical societies generally have smaller collections and smaller governing bodies, we can be more flexible in adapting to new discoveries and new interpretations of data.

Obviously, some places will present a slant toward one viewpoint or the other, and that can get very tied up in politics and the struggle for funding, but the general goal is to discover and highlight less heard voices, not to conceal them. For example, I was recently involved in mounting an exhibit of native bead-work from the early 1800s. Part of the express purpose of the exhibit was to highlight both the work of local tribes in that time-frame (in context with the more widely known Seneca work) and to showcase the unbroken thread of local native bead-work to the present day and current artists still working in the area.

All this to say, sure, as with everything, be aware that there may be bias. I am biased in favor of local history as a way of remembering and conserving what has gone before, in the hopes that it will be of use to those that come after. Yes, I sometimes wish the people who started my museum in 1870 had used an accessioning system that planned for objects to be taken off exhibit and moved around (oh lord, the day I spent today double-checking databases!), but I am deeply glad they thought to try, even if their interpretation of the story was imperfect.?


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