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Regional History: The Point?
And a Special Alert to my fellow alumni...
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That’s rather like asking, “What use is history?” Except as an archival record of events—and assuming the record is accurate—what is its value, and to whom?
Some historical disciplines are controversial for good reasons. Some are hard to define. For academic historians, regional history is a conundrum. While academics respect African, Latin American, Pacific Rim and Atlantic history, books on the history of Snake’s Navel County are discounted as quaint, if that. While there are often good reasons for this—the authors are often amateurs who have collected lore for much of their lives, and published without outside review—these dismissals are shortsighted if because…
History happens where, when, and how you least expect it.
We know that the actual record of humankind—history in the raw, before the reporters, historians, politicians, webmasters, bloggers and other blowhards get to it—is a disorganized mess, with pieces of puzzles strewn everywhere. The analogy used in crashes is apt: solving one jigsaw puzzle that is mixed up with three others while half the pieces are unrecognizable and two of the boc covers are wrong. Sure, we have “eyewitness” accounts—sometimes. And we have physical evidence—often. But just as often, we have people arguing with the evidence, and the evidence is often, well, subject to interpretation. Regional histories—the amateur variety—are usually cleaner than the academic in that there’s rarely any “scholarly dispute” about who built the first bridge in Meshaw Township, or whose barn they knocked down to build it. There might be disputes, but they infrequently mention them in those picture books you see at the checkout counter or in the souvenir shop in your travels.
The “amateur” regional histories only exist because the authors saw a need.
For those of you of a curious bent, I invite you to look for history books on the Florida Keys. There are many, but relatively few are “respected” histories written to “scholarly” standards because few are interested in those dusty little islands where Hemmingway lived—briefly. However, histories of Adams County, Pennsylvania in 1863 are legion because, as we all know, Gettysburg is there. Histories of Hardin County, Tennessee—where Shiloh happened—are also few because, well, who cares about Shiloh, other than the handful of us who wrote books about it?
Traveling the Interstate in the US, you run across a lot of regional histories.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. The “point” of regional histories is first, that the authors have something to say, like any scholar or scribe. After that, these little books might become important someday. Who knew that Shanksville, Pennsylvania, would one day be infamous as a 9/11 crash site? The author of the 1980 history of Somerset County sure didn’t, but his book sold more in a week than it did in the two decades before; too bad he was already dead. Regional history—professional and amateur—has a role as a part of the very messy record. Let’s not dismiss all those books at the checkout.
Tideline contains a great deal of opportunities for regional history, but I forwent them in exchange for continuing the Stella’s Game Trilogy.
For those of you who read and hopefully enjoyed Stella’s Game, Tideline: Friendship Abides continues the stories of the four friends who make their way in the world, losing touch, then making contact again in their hectic worlds. The paperback is a bit more spendy, but if you want an autographed copy, let me know; it’ll be cheaper.
CK Class of ‘73 Update
OK, you’ve got this far. I’ve heard from Eric and Sarah in response to my call, but nada from anyone else. I’ve heard from our estimable secretary, Lucy, who is having some personal stuff to work out. In that event, I’ve taken the mantle to attempt a website… God help us all. (The reason I'm doing the Substack letter every week is because I’m crap at website building.) Also looking for a venue in the area where we can just hang out. With no responses whatsoever on the class gift, we may have to call that a wash. Anyone at all with anything to say to the contrary can feel free to contact me… I dare you.
Is There A Difference Between Science And Technological History?
Is There A Difference Between Republicans and Democrats?
On 15 October:
1501: Arthur Tudor married Catherine of Aragon, thus setting off a firestorm of questions that would spark a revolution and, I argue, a civil war in America. Most scholars are certain that Arthur could not consummate the marriage, so making his brother’s later claim that Catherine (who he would marry after Arthur’s death) was not a virgin when they wed invalid. Then it gets complicated…
1971: The last living person claiming to be a US slave, Sylvester Magee, died in Columbia, Mississippi. Claiming to have been born in North Carolina in 1840, Magee would have been 130 years old at the time of his death. Since the oldest living person—a French woman—passed after 122 years, Magee’s claim is dubious. You thought the Tudor marriages were complicated…
And today is NATIONAL AESTHETICIAN DAY. A big shout-out to all you… um… people who make others look better.