Sunday, July 22, 2012

Local, the quarterly (maybe)

Kickstarter, an on-line grass-roots "funding platform for creative projects," has a project called Local: A Quarterly of People and Places. Its funding window closes next Saturday the 28th, and it intends to be devoted to local history or perhaps what I would call microhistory: "seeking out the overlooked American narrative, chronicling one town per issue." The first issue, on Jersey Shore (Lycoming County), Pennsylvania, apparently is not yet available, but it looks gorgeous on screen.

What they say on Kickstarter: "Like traditional journalism, we do investigative pieces, humor and meditative columns, reviews, and special sections.  The difference is, we do so from a microcosmic vantage point. Think when This American Life meets National Geographic and your daily newspaper. Well, something like that."

As genealogists, we know local history and local historians. They're wonderful indispensable people, but they also have to live there. There are some stories they don't touch, some depths they don't plumb, some analyses they don't make. Maybe these folks will, if only because they get to move on after they've "done" that particular place.

There's always been a tension between locals and cosmopolitans. Sociologist Lyn C. McGregor captured it nicely in her 2010 book, Habits of the Heartland: Small-Town Life in Modern America, her participant-observer study of Viroqua (Vernon County), Wisconsin. In her view, locals may be either quiet or boosters, but they are committed to that particular place in way that even long-term "cosmopolitan" residents aren't. Cosmopolitans want certain qualities of small-town or rural life -- and if a given place fails to provide them, they will seek them elsewhere. Locals don't normally do that. (Her terminology is a little different. There's an interesting critique of the book here, but I don't think he does it justice.)

Can Local the quarterly -- evidently a cosmopolitan bunch themselves -- bridge this gap, speak to all three groups and to outsiders as well? I hope so.

Hat tip to AHA's "What We're Reading."

Lyn C. McGregor, Habits of the Heartland: Small-Town Life in Modern America (Ithaca NY:  Cornell University Press, 2010).

Harold Henderson, "Local, the quarterly (maybe)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 July 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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