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Old 12-04-2010, 07:37 PM   #1
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Local Histories

Well, my first semester of grad school is finished and I'm going to return to working on the local history book I began in the summer. I learned a lot more about writing local history and as a side-effect of researching for a paper for class I discovered a wealth of information never before published in books about my area.

That being said, I can't decide how best to ORGANIZE the book. If there are any local history writers out there, I'd like some tips:

Should I organize it based on themes? (I.e The Early Days, Immigration, Labor, Law Enforcement, Business, etc.) The pro is that people can find what they want in the book and it makes it so I don't have to make everything flow necessarily. The con is that this would make it like so many other local histories, lacking a narrative and would take away originality.

Or should I organize it like a traditional narrative, starting at the beginning and going further along the timeline, dealing with important events and people as they appear? The pro is that this is much more readable and would present my town in a much more interesting light. The con is that so much I would cover overlaps and would lead to some backtracking that could make the narrative choppy.

Any ideas or recommendations?
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:30 AM   #2
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My approach would be to focus on a particularly important, seminal and/or resonant person or place in the middle of the timeline and structure the chapters to reflect back on the forces that shaped that person or place, and forward to the events that led from and were shaped by them.

This won't work for everything, but has the advantage of focusing the narrative on one of the charismatic or dynamic elements of the overall story, instead of the standard chronology.
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:38 AM   #3
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Visual aids are very useful with this type of thing. A clearly drawn timeline at the front or back, then the chapters can be themes. I really like reading history books like that. I had one enormous textbook like that, but the timeline was very big and detached from the book. It would be taped to the wall above my desk to look at as I read it.

BTW, the book was so heavy that I weighed it in the bathroom scale. It was over 10 lbs. If ever a book cried out to be an ebook!
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Old 12-06-2010, 05:02 AM   #4
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I'd go for narrative. I'd try to tell a story of how the area developed, perhaps with a continuing story about certain families, buildings, practices etc.

A lot of non-fiction writing is structured around narrative, but I have to admit, I've never tried to write non-fiction. So just take this as one person's 2 cents worth.
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Old 12-08-2010, 07:09 PM   #5
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This post might be a bit late to help you, because you should have decided how to approach it by now. However, I've written a few local history projects. If you're putting together a tourist type book - lots of photos to accompany text - what a printer once said to me was a book for people who can't read - then treat each subject separately, so the reader focuses on each topic, sort of potted histories, married to the photos. On the other hand, if you're covering the whole town over a fair period of time, and you want it to be a serious piece of work, then run on a time line as one occurance in a town will affect everything else, e.g., economic recessions or booms. Society is fabric that is woven together. It will also save you covering the same ground over and over. Go to as many original sources as you can. Everybody makes errors and these get quoted time and time again and tend to snowball. Producing a good local history is hard and lengthy work, but very interesting and you will pick up a lot of collateral information which you should be able to use elsewhere, or which will lead you down another road when you've finished the project in hand. Best of luck with it.

http://chrisscottwilson.co.uk
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Old 12-08-2010, 09:23 PM   #6
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I'm approaching it seriously. Most histories written about my town are extremely flawed or simply photographic histories. Mine will be text-based and covering some fresh material, while also taking an historian's method to the research that nobody else has used.

Thanks for the input everyone!
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