Local, County and State Histories

Front page and map of Texan EmigrantLocal histories are a literary manifestation of an American self-consciousness and have been written and read since William Bradford set down his account of the establishment of Plymouth Plantation. Significant contributions to the genre were made after the centennial and again in the 1930s, when the Federal Writers' Project produced the first uniform series of state histories. The field has recently been enlarged by the many state and local histories that were written to commemorate the American Revolution bicentennial. Traditionally, the field has been dominated by amateur historians, but since World War II professional historians have contributed increasingly to the monographic and periodical literature that constitutes local history.

The Local History collection at the American Antiquarian Society encompasses more than 55,000 volumes published between 1821 and the present. Local histories published before 1821 are part of the Society's Dated Books and Dated Pamphlets collections, and many rare examples of local history are shelved in the Reserve Collection. It is among the largest and most frequently used resources at the Society, and is the one collection that best reflects the Society's national scope, for it includes works of all fifty states and for thousands of their constituent counties and local communities. The collection is shelved alphabetically by state, with statewide histories followed by alphabetic arrangements of county and then city and town histories. In addition to the straightforward histories, the Local History collection includes narratives of description and travel, gazetteers and dictionaries of place names, bibliographies of local imprints, institutional histories, biographical encyclopedias, and genealogical records that include vital and census statistics, abstracts of wills, and transcriptions of cemetery inscriptions. Also in the Local History collection are the publications of such state and local historical agencies and societies as the Essex Institute, the Pennsylvania German Society, the South Dakota Department of History, and the Society of California Pioneers.

Some uncataloged materials are also part of the collection. For example, the Society's "Worcester Collection" includes a large number of uncataloged, books, pamphlets and clippings relating to the city. (These materials were organized in 1979-80 with an accompanying checklist.) More than 900 periodicals such as the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the Dukes County Intelligencer, and the Atlanta Historical Journal are also shelved with the Local History collection.

Because of the number and variety of works that fall under the heading of local history, there is no standard reference work for the field. However, since the category of regional, state, and local history is one of the six sections included in America: History and Life (Santa Barbara, 1964-), this online resource is an invaluable source for local history periodical literature. Another useful reference source is the eight-volume Bibliographies of New England series. Prepared by the Committee for a New England Bibliography and published between 1976 and 1989, this series represents a recent and successful effort to extend bibliographical control over the vast resources of this region printed from the earliest time to the present. The bibliographies contain entries for both monographic and periodical literature in the areas of political, economic, social, and intellectual history. Entries are alphabetical within a geographical framework; works relating to the state as a whole or to several counties appear first, followed by works relating to single counties, and then by those relating to cities and towns. The project, whose institutional home since 1989 has been AAS, remains alive through the on-going preparation of a ninth volume containing addenda. A third reference tool is A Bibliography of American County Histories (Baltimore, 1985), compiled by P. William Filby. It lists 5,000 county histories published to date and includes information about reprint editions and separately published indexes. This information is of particular importance to AAS because the acquisition of indexes makes any of the originally unindexed histories even more valuable to scholars, genealogists, and staff alike. And the addition of reprint editions to the collection allows the originals to be withdrawn from circulation and preserved as examples of American printing history.

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