Ok I know we are getting to the tricky letters of the alphabet but you are probably thinking, what on earth can she being going to drivel on about now.
You know those occasions when you have to provide your current occupation? It is usually when you are applying for some kind of insurance. Frequently there is a pre-prepared drop down list with no option for ‘other’. No chance that this list will include ‘historical interpreter’. Often ‘historian’ doesn’t appear either, although strangely most of these lists include ‘art historian’. I told you we were in danger of extinction (see yesterday’s post). Depending on my mood (and what I think will get me the lowest premium) I might go for ‘lecturer’, or ‘researcher’, or ‘author’, or even ‘museum guide’ – none of which describe all of what I do. If I say I am an ‘historian’ it conjures up visions of a, usually male, antiquarian, beavering away in a dusty study, communicating with no one. This so isn’t what I do.
Err, you are meant to be writing about unity remember. – I know I am getting there. There are two aspects to this – how can a united front help the cause of the historian and how can a study of history promote unity in a community or group.
Access to a world-wide audience can give historical research a completely different complexion. Group projects can be undertaken by those who never physically meet. Take, for example, my 1946-1969 project. Nearly 100 women from three continents are contributing to this study, giving me data that would be very difficult to collect If I had to meet with these ladies face to face. The scope for collaborative research is infinite. Databases can be added to by those working in distant locations; group participation makes for more detailed and comprehensive research.
Local historians can accomplish far more as a group than one person can alone. This is not just an issue of time. Each person will bring their own specialist interests to the team and can enjoy working on the aspect of community history that they enjoy best. Someone who has a fascination for ancient earthworks may not be the right person to conduct oral history interviews. Team work brings greater and more focussed results.
The Society for One-Place Studies is undertaking a joint project about the First World War. This is a brilliant idea because members can share ideas and experiences, can encourage each other and will eventually be able to compare results. This will make the research much more meaningful than isolated projects. Members will be able to see just how typical their communities were. Family history is like a jigsaw puzzle. If you work with others you may find some of your missing pieces. Sometimes we are all too keen to hang on to ‘our’ research (See O is for ownership) but sharing really does have its benefits.
Unity of course is power. Many strange things are happening to heritage, to archives, to online genealogical data providers at the moment. If you want to campaign for the retention of an archive facility or changes to an online data provider’s system, then there may not be not safety but there is certainly impact in numbers. Joining together in an organised way is far more likely to bring about change than a lone voice in the wilderness.
Finally, a study of history can bring about unity and I have touched on this in previous posts. Creating a community archive can bring a community together, as they explore their shared heritage. Family history spawns renewed contact with distant family members, it may lead to family reunions, it may help to unite the family. All in all then uniting in groups of like minded people can be beneficial to historical research and engaging in that research can bring a disparate individual together with a sense of common purpose.