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. Historic plaques are one form of documentation of significant occurrences in the past and oral histories are another. Local history is often documented by local historical societies or groups that form to preserve a local historic building or other historic site. Many works of local history are compiled by amateur historians working independently or archivists employed by various organizations. An important aspect of local history is the publication and cataloguing of documents preserved in local or national records which relate to particular areas.
Local history tends to be less documented than other types, with fewer books and artifacts than that of a country or continent. Many local histories are recorded as oral tales or stories and so are more vulnerable than more well known issues. Artifacts of local history are often collected in local history museums, which may be housed in a historic house or other building. Individual historic sites are inherently local, although they may have national or world history importance as well. Many however have little overall historical impact but add depth to the local area.
The British Association for Local History in the United Kingdom encourages and assists in the study of local history as an academic discipline and as a leisure activity by both individuals and groups. Most historic counties in England have record societies and archaeological and historical societies which coordinate the work of historians and other researchers concerned with that area.
Local history in the UK took a long time to be accepted as an academic discipline. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was widely regarded as an antiquarian pursuit, suitable for country parsons. The Victoria History of the Counties of England project begun in 1899 in honour of Queen Victoria with the aim of creating an encyclopaedic history of each of the historic counties of England. The project is coordinated by the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. The first academic post related to local history was at Reading University which appointed a research fellow in local history in 1908. There was a department of local history (but without a professor) at Leicester University from 1947. HPR Finberg was the first Professor of English Local History. He was appointed by Leicester in 1964. Local history continues to be neglected as an academic subject within universities. Academic local historians are often found within a more general department of history or in continuing education.
Local history is rarely taught as a separate subject in British schools. In 1908, a Board of Education circular had urged that schools should pay attention "to the history of the town and district" in which they were situated. In 1952, the Ministry of Education suggested schools should use local material to illustrate national themes. Within the current National Curriculum, pupils at level 4 are expected to "show their knowledge and understanding of local, national and international history".
The Alan Ball Local History Awards were established in the 1980s to recognize outstanding contributions in local history publishing in the UK (both in print and in new media), and to encourage the publishing of such works by public libraries and local authorities.
In the United States of America, local history is usually concentrated on any history of the place and people from a particular village or township. Several villages and townships would comprise one county or county history. Library records are often divided by State, then county, then township/local history. The American Local History Network (ALHN) in the USA provides a focus for accessing independent genealogical and historical resources.
In the United States, 79,000 historic sites are identified as listings on its National Register of Historic Places. State and local municipalities often have additional landmark designations to cover sites of more purely local interest.
In addition, many regional and state historical societies maintain regional history and actively seek out missing historical collections.
A new form of local history is the movement of "If This House Could Talk" projects in various urban neighborhoods in the United States. These small scale locally generated history events encourage an interest in history and provide for open ended participation by the general public. However, there is often no vetting or third party review of the factual evidence that is presented, and therefore such presentations may require oversight by professional third party history organizations if they are to be transcribed into ongoing collections of local history.
Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union
In the USSR, Russia and Russian-speaking post-Soviet states local history is known as krayevedenie and taught in primary schools. There are also local history museums known as krayevedcheskie muzei.
In Ukraine, the study of local history is known as krayeznavstvo (Ukrainian: Краєзнавство). The National Union of Local Lore Researchers of Ukraine (NSKU) is a trade union for researchers of local history in Ukraine. It was founded in 1925 and has 3,000 members.
Artistic genre uses
The Scottish novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) by James Hogg, a dark study of criminal psychology and religious fanaticism, is essentially structured in all respects as a local history publication of the kind fashionable in Scotland in Hogg's lifetime.
- Finberg, HPR; Skipp, VHT (1967). Local History: Objective and Pursuit. David & Charles. pp. 46–70.
- Finberg, HPR; Skipp, VHT (1967). Local History: Objective and Pursuit. David & Charles. p. 25.
- Finberg, HPR; Skipp, VHT (1967). Local History: Objective and Pursuit. David & Charles. p. 103.
- National Curriculum - level descriptions
- Local Studies Alan Ball Local History Awards Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, published 2011-11-02, accessed 2012-05-06
- History of The National Union of Local Lore Researchers of Ukraine
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