What is the value and purpose of local history?

The title above is the question I am trying to answer for my Masters, which appears to be never ending at this point. I am looking at two hypotheses suggested by academics:

1. Local history is great at teaching enquiry skills (working with sources etc.)

2. Local history is great at illustrating national history

For each hypothesis I have designed a scheme of work that directly addresses the issue and then completed focus groups with students. Hypothesis 1 focused on the history of Bristol Docks for Year 11’s controlled assessment and hypothesis 2 focused on learning about the transatlantic slave trade through a very Bristol focus for Year 7. This has been an awful lot of work but some great conclusions are emerging, especially about how children perceive the past. Both Year 7 and Year 11 have discussed how they like local history as they can easily imagine the past by knowing where it is and what it looks like now. One Year 7 girl brilliantly said in kid-speak:

“It kind of puts a picture in your head how it was like if you know where it was.”

I now have the un-ending task of writing this all up which is where I hope you might be able to help!

1. What do you think about the statement – What is the value and purpose of local history?
If I get enough comments I might be able to use these in my dissertation, so please comment away!

2. Do you know of any reading related to any of the above that might help?
If so please also comment below


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2 Responses to What is the value and purpose of local history?

  1. Tom Shields says:

    Local history gives students the opportunity to do history and specifically historiography. From something as simple as doing oral histories of baby boomers to judging the accuracy of historic events. Students gain a much better appreciation of what historians do, while developing tangible skills.

    A great resource to use is Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks by James Lowen

    Hope that helps with your dis

    Stay Well


  2. Daniel Eisenmenger says:

    I think you are right but I would add a third point: local history can in general illustrate not only national history but abstract developments and structures. In addition, it can show the relations and connections of the people from one’s town with other towns, regions in Europe and elsewhere. By this, students will discover that the national frame of regarding history is as a modern construction. There is a European project that is combining teaching enquiry and writing skills and local history: http://www.classroom4wiki.eu/index.php
    You may take look, I think, the idea of the project might be inspiring for your thesis!

    All the best,


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