Kyvig, David E. & Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You. 3d ed.

Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.

I’ve been fascinated by history all my life and that’s the direction my undergraduate degree went in. Unless you teach, however, it’s not easy to earn a living in history, and I knew early on I would make a terrible professor.

So while one graduate degree was also in history, the other was in library science, and I picked up a professional qualification as an archivist, as well. I spent my career in a very large urban library system and, adding to the mix a lifelong interest in genealogy and family research, I ended up involved for many years in various aspects of “local history.”

There’s a tendency among academics, frankly, to sneer at local history because it usually doesn’t deal with “big” events, and because many of its practitioners are “amateurs.” No international leaders, no world wars, no large-scale ethnic migrations. But the local level is where most of our history is actually made. Approaching history from the local viewpoint, you’ll find a great deal of politics, as well as the effects of war and of generational migration, at least in the U.S. (My own ancestors went from Maryland and Virginia to California in only three generations and took an active part in several wars along the way.) I’ve assisted other researchers in architectural history, and in discovering a few unexpected but well-known guys (like Doc Holliday) in our historical county court records, and in tracing the development of local ethnic communities, and in figuring out where pioneer residents are buried, and in transcribing hundreds of unpublished documents that cast light on how our predecessors lived and dealt with the world.

And in doing talks to local groups, I always recommended the first two editions of Kyvig’s book as the best how-to handbook available. This third edition is a complete update in terms of methodology and available sources as well as pointing out new social, political, and cultural concerns in local research. The chapters deal with storytelling, published and unpublished documents, oral history, photography and other visual sources, artifacts (from both the attic and the public park), landscape and buildings, and the whole problem of historic preservation in tension with commercial development. And the chapter on writing up one’s results and leaving a record for the next generation is still excellent. Until the 4th edition is published, this not-huge volume will continue to be the most useful starting point for anyone interested in the history around them.


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