Archive for the ‘social history’ Category

World Blog Tour…really?

In cultural history, Family History, social history on August 6, 2014 at 2:40 PM


globe-and-quillWorld Blog Tour…who knew???

Probably not the place to admit this, but I am always a little surprised when someone posts a comment to my blog so I was even more surprised when one of those comments was an invitation to participate in the World Blog Tour. What is World Blog Tour you ask, well, basically it is like a chain letter for blogs. Someone invites you to participate, you invite someone else to participate, and they invite someone to participate, and so on. So a very heartfelt thanks to Kassie Ritman, aka “Mom” over at for the invite (and the comments). Truth be told she is doing some really important work at her site; engaging her entire family in the process of family history preservation by focusing on “the stories behind the photos and stats.” Most of us would love to get our family on-board and Kassie shares some great ideas she’s used with her own family.

So, back to the World Blog Tour, a short Q & A about my own blog and then a quick shout out about some of the other blogs I follow. Maybe (fingers crossed) they will want to participate in the World Blog Tour as well. Now, onto my “A’s” for those “Q’s.”

Question One: What am I currently working on?

I’m an adjunct history professor so the summer is a bit slower than life in the fall. To that end I’ve begun writing a book. My academic research is focused on the 20th Century so this book will trace the everyday experiences of three families from 1933-1945; one each from Germany, England, and the US.

How Does My Work Differ From Others Of This Genre?

While the underlying goal of my work does not differ much (that is I hope to help folks gather, interpret, preserve, and share their family history) my approach does. As an academic and historian I understand that while history is generally explained by the deeds of the great heroes, it is in fact lived by everyone. Each one of us has a unique chapter to contribute and without it the story of history is incomplete. I help clients understand their own family history from the context of greater historical events of the time.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

I have always enjoyed history, studying the past, and trying to understand how our present condition was influenced by the events that came before. Most everyone I speak with indicates they too enjoy history but not the way it was taught in school; the endless memorization of places, names, and dates that were out of context. Hopefully my writing will encourage others to do some research of their own to reconnect with their own family history.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Rather boring actually. Develop a thesis, do some preliminary research, re-think the thesis, and repeat. I jot down or record thoughts as they come to me and have kept a Commonplace Book for decades. I can easily fall into procrastination and then be forced to conduct a writing marathon but thankfully those are coming less and less.

A quick “shout-out” to some old friends and new discoveries.

Debbie Perham at A Lifetime Legacy is doing some amazing thing on Long Island. From her “grown-up show and tells” to her Facebook page for those who live or were from Commack Long Island she is making great strides in helping her tribe discover, preserve, and have fun with their family history.

Another plug for Kassie Ritman, aka “Mom” over at Her blog is full of really innovative ideas to get the family involved in the project and when you have more players it is just that much more fun.

Ben Highmore over at looks at history from a cultural perspective. Ben teaches cultural studies at the University of Sussex in England and recently published The Great Indoors: A Home in the Modern British House. Obviously his writing is about all things English but his style is very crisp and his work is a lot of fun to read.

Finally, the folks over at StoryCorps. While this is not really a blog they are doing some amazing work preserving the oral histories of everyday folks. Taking the form of recorded interviews, participants (two) simply sit in conversation. A copy of the recording is preserved at the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (talk about preserving history). Check out their work and look for a StoryCorps program in your neighborhood.

So check out the blogs, start your own, and remember, you should be Saving History…because your story is priceless.

Dealing with our parents stuff

In clutter, Family History, social history on August 5, 2014 at 7:41 PM

downsizing parents stuff

Dealing with our parents stuff.

Claudia Buck of the Sacramento Bee published an article in the Seattle Times entitled “Boomers need help dealing with their parents ‘stuff’; basically a how to downsize your parents’ belongings. The statistics are clear; the parents of the baby boomers, generally in their 80’s and 90’s are passing on and leaving behind a lifetime of stuff to their children. Most of us don’t need an article to remind us that this “stuff” can become quite a dilemma for the family. If we have not already inherited our own parents “stuff” we certainly have enough of our own to know it’s everywhere. Lining closets, stored in boxes, crammed in attics and garages, our material lives take up considerable space.

Professional Organizers are featured in the article as their services are often enlisted to help sort, organize, and dispose of the accumulation… DISPOSE??? Yes, sometimes in the literal sense as boxes, furniture, and pounds of ephemera end up in dumpsters and charity bins across the country. Other times items are simply pared down and re-stored with the promise to “go through this stuff soon” but sometimes “soon” never comes and the boxes get passed down again. Of course we cannot expect to save everything, especially things we know little about, but that is exactly the point. Someone, at some point knew about that stuff, what it meant, and why it was saved in the first place. The things we amass help tell the story of who we were, what life meant to us, and what mattered to us.

If you find yourself dealing with your parents stuff, remember, part of that stuff is your history too. Ideally we can make time to discuss and document the memories before we find ourselves sifting through a garage filled with things. Remember, you too should be Saving History…because your story if priceless.


The value of social history

In Family History, social history on July 28, 2014 at 8:16 AM

Grandma and grandpa 1938

In the course of my dissertation research, which is looking at how student perception of history education changes when family history research is incorporated into curriculum, I’m finding little real scholarship on the pursuit of social history here in the US. Broadly defined, social history is the accounting of historical events from the perspective of common people (oh how I dislike that phrase), more specifically what I like to refer to as the ordinary folks like you and I who have lived extraordinary lives. This is not to say that one perspective is more accurate or valuable than another; clearly understanding WWII from a military perspective is critical to understanding the war at all, but so too is understanding the civilian experience during that period. How did the mothers and fathers and children interpret the conditions of their lives during that time, what was their understanding of the events and did they even talk about it?

Of course it should be noted that there are a few very good social history projects being conducted in the US; the American Social History Project at the Center for Media and Learning at CUNY is doing incredible work engaging young students and the general public. Likewise the Center for Oral and Public History at CalState Fullerton, one of the best in the country, is also doing incredible work engaging young students and the general public. What seems to be missing though is real deep work on the connection between family history and social development. I have to wonder why. Of course it is clearly understood that Roosevelt (FDR) was responsible for very important policy during some of the bleakest moments in American history and understanding the political nature of those policies is important to understanding the history of the period. But so too is the perspective of my own grandmother, who used ration cards, raised four children alone after the far too early death of my grandfather, and forged a life on the foundations of those policies. Her perspective, added to the others, brings depth to our understanding. So, where is the scholarship? If you’ve found some, I’d love to know. Leave a comment. But more importantly remember, you should be Saving History…because your story is priceless.


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