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Investigating Local History

Vintage Saint Paul Minnesota Postcard, The High Bridge And Harriet Island, Printed In USA, circa 1910s.

Vintage Saint Paul Minnesota Postcard, The High Bridge And Harriet Island, Printed In USA, circa 1910s.

Public Domain Images

Our Teacher's Guide provides compelling questions, links to humanities organizations and local projects, and research activity ideas for integrating local history into humanities courses using a collection of NEH and State Council funded digital encyclopedias about the history, politics, geography, and culture of many U.S. states and territories.  Note: Not every state and territory has produced an encyclopedia. Resources for  historical , humanities , and arts councils are available for all states and territories. 

Guiding Questions

Who lives in your state or territory?

How has the function and structure of your state or territorial government changed over time?  

What artistic and cultural contributions have individuals and groups made to your state or territory and the United States?

What technological innovations have been created in your state or territory and how have they affected the people, environment, and culture?

How are local history and culture related to what you are studying?

"It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand." — Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Since  April 2001 , the National Endowment for the Humanities has made grant funds available for all 50 states, all five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to create comprehensive online encyclopedias. Included below with the state encyclopedias that have been created to date are links to state humanities councils, arts councils, and historical society websites in the interest of telling as full a story as possible about history and the humanities across the United States.  

  • Alabama Encyclopedia
  • Alabama Humanities Council
  • Alabama Historical Marker Program
  • Alabama Historical Commission
  • Alabama State Council on the Arts
  • Alaska Encyclopedia
  • Alaska Humanities Forum
  • Alaska Historical Society
  • Alaska State Council on the Arts

American Samoa

  • Amerika Samoa Humanities Council
  • American Samoa Historic Preservation Office
  • American Samoa Arts Council
  • Arizona Humanities Council
  • Arizona Historical Society
  • Arizona Commission on the Arts
  • Arkansas Encyclopedia
  • Arkansas Humanities Council
  • Arkansas Historical Marker Program
  • Arkansas Historical Society
  • Arkansas Arts Council
  • California Humanities Council
  • California Historical Resources
  • California Historical Society
  • California Arts Council
  • Colorado Encyclopedia
  • Colorado Humanities Council
  • Colorado Historical Society
  • Colorado Creative Industries


  • Connecticut Encyclopedia
  • Connecticut Humanities Council
  • Connecticut Historical Society
  • Connecticut Arts Alliance
  • Delaware Humanities Council
  • Delaware Historical Markers Program
  • Delaware Historical Society
  • Delaware Division of the Arts

District of Columbia

  • Washington, D.C. Humanities Council
  • Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
  • D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities
  • Florida Encyclopedia
  • Florida Humanities Council
  • Florida Historical Markers Program
  • Florida Historical Society
  • Florida Council on Arts and Culture
  • Georgia Encyclopedia
  • Georgia Humanities Council
  • Georgia Historical Markers Program
  • Georgia Historical Society
  • Georgia Arts Council
  • Guam Encyclopedia
  • Guam Humanities Council
  • Guam History
  • Guam Council on the Arts
  • Hawai'i Humanities Council
  • Hawai'i Historical Society
  • Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts
  • Idaho Humanities Council
  • Idaho Historical Markers Program
  • Idaho State Historical Society
  • Idaho Commission on the Arts
  • Illinois Humanities Council
  • Illinois Historical Markers Program
  • Illinois State Historical Society
  • Illinois Arts Council Agency
  • Indiana Humanities Council
  • Indiana Historical Markers Program
  • Indiana Historical Society
  • Indiana Arts Commission
  • Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Iowa Humanities Council
  • State Historical Society of Iowa
  • Iowa Arts Council
  • Kansas Encyclopedia
  • Kansas Humanities Council
  • Kansas Historical Markers Program
  • Kansas Historical Society
  • Kentucky Humanities Council
  • Kentucky Historical Marker Program
  • Kentucky Historical Society
  • Kentucky Arts Council
  • Louisiana Encyclopedia
  • Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
  • Louisiana Historical Markers
  • Louisiana Historical Society
  • Louisiana Arts Council
  • Maine Humanities Council
  • Maine Historical Society
  • Maine Arts Commission

Maryland Humanities Council

Maryland Historical Marker Program

Maryland Historical Society

Maryland State Arts Council


  • Massachusetts Encyclopedia
  • Massachusetts Humanities Council
  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Massachusetts Cultural Council
  • Michigan Humanities Council
  • Michigan Historical Marker Program
  • Historical Society of Michigan
  • Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs
  • Minnesota Encyclopedia
  • Minnesota Humanities Center
  • Minnesota Historical Society
  • Minnesota Arts Board


  • Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • Mississippi Humanities Council
  • Mississippi Historical Marker Program
  • Mississippi Historical Society
  • Mississippi Arts Commission
  • Missouri Encyclopedia (beta)
  • Missouri Humanities Council
  • Missouri Historical Society
  • Missouri Arts Council
  • Montana Humanities Council
  • Montana Historical Society
  • Montana Arts Council
  • Nebraska Encyclopedia
  • Nebraska Humanities Council
  • Nebraska Historical Marker Program
  • Nebraska Historical Society
  • Nebraska Arts Council
  • Nevada Encyclopedia  
  • Nevada Humanities Council
  • Nevada Historical Marker Program
  • Nevada Historical Society
  • Nevada Arts Council

New Hampshire

  • New Hampshire Humanities Council
  • New Hampshire Historical Highway Markers Program
  • New Hampshire Historical Society
  • New Hampshire State Council on the Arts
  • New Jersey Humanities Council
  • New Jersey Historical Society
  • New Jersey State Council on the Arts
  • New Mexico Humanities Council
  • New Mexico Scenic Historic Markers Program
  • New Mexico Office of the State Historian
  • New Mexico Arts Council
  • New York Humanities Council
  • New York Historical Markers
  • New-York Historical Society
  • New York State Council on the Arts

North Carolina

  • North Carolina Encyclopedia
  • North Carolina Humanities Council
  • North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
  • North Carolina Historical Society
  • North Carolina Arts Council

North Dakota

North Dakota Humanities Council

North Dakota Historic Markers Program

State Historical Society of North Dakota

North Dakota Council on the Arts

Northern Mariana Islands

  • Northern Marianas Humanities Council
  • Northern Mariana Islands Museum of History and Culture
  • Northern Mariana Islands Arts Council
  • Ohio Encyclopedia
  • Ohio Humanities Council
  • Ohio Historical Marker Program
  • Ohio Historical Society
  • Ohio Arts Council
  • Oklahoma Encyclopedia
  • Oklahoma Humanities Council
  • Oklahoma Historical Marker Program
  • Oklahoma Historical Society
  • Oklahoma Arts Council
  • Oregon Encyclopedia
  • Oregon Humanities Council
  • Oregon Historical Marker Program
  • Oregon Historical Society
  • Oregon Arts Commission


  • Pennsylvania Encyclopedia
  • Pennsylvania Humanities Council
  • Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program
  • Pennsylvania Historical Society
  • Pennsylvania Council on the Arts

Puerto Rico

  • Puerto Rico Encyclopedia  
  • Puerto Rico Humanities Council
  • National Museum of Arts and Culture

Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island Humanities Council
  • Rhode Island Historical Society
  • Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

South Carolina

South Carolina Encyclopedia

  • South Carolina Humanities Council
  • South Carolina Historical Markers Program
  • South Carolina Historical Society
  • South Carolina Arts Commission

South Dakota

  • South Dakota Humanities Council
  • South Dakota Historical Marker Program
  • South Dakota State Historical Society
  • South Dakota Arts Council
  • Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • Tennessee Humanities Council
  • Tennessee Historical Society
  • Tennessee Arts Commission
  • Texas Encyclopedia
  • Texas Humanities Council
  • Texas Historical Marker Program
  • Texas Historical Association
  • Texas Commission on the Arts

Utah Encyclopedia

  • Utah Humanities Council
  • Utah Historical Marker Program
  • Utah Historical Society
  • Utah Arts Council
  • Vermont Humanities Council
  • Vermont Roadside Historic Marker Program
  • Vermont Historical Society
  • Vermont Arts Council

Virgin Islands

  • Virgin Islands Council on the Arts
  • Virginia Encyclopedia
  • Virginia Humanities Council
  • Virginia Historical Highway Marker Program
  • Virginia Historical Society
  • Virginia Commission for the Arts
  • Washington Encyclopedia
  • Washington Humanities Council
  • Washington Historical Highway Markers Program
  • Washington Historical Society
  • Washington Arts Commission

West Virginia 

  • West Virginia Encyclopedia
  • West Virginia Humanities Council
  • West Virginia Highway Historical Marker Program
  • West Virginia Historical Society
  • West Virginia Arts Council
  • Wisconsin Humanities Council
  • Wisconsin Historical Markers Program
  • Wisconsin Historical Society
  • Wisconsin Arts Board
  • Wyoming Encyclopedia
  • Wyoming Humanities Council
  • Wyoming Historical Marker Program
  • Wyoming Historical Society
  • Wyoming Arts Council

A place-responsive approach to teaching U.S. history and culture can bring lessons alive for students and help close gaps that emerge when looking to answer the question of relevancy and application in students's lives. The lesson ideas below blend concepts, content, and skill building for investigating change over time when studying time and place.

Designing Compelling Questions

Inquiry into the local begins with a question. Students can design their own question based on a topic or event of interest or being studied, or they can work with the following: How have events and individuals shaped the history and culture of this place?

Questions for teachers and students to consider when planning:

  • What was the last topic studied that included connections to the local?
  • What individuals, organizations, and other local resources can be included in this investigation?
  • Does this project warrant an oral history component?
  • Whose perspectives will be included when examining local history and culture?
  • What monuments, markers, and other relevant identifiers of local history already exist?
  • What is considered common knowledge and what has been mythologized within local history?
  • Who can be part of an audience for students to present their work to during this project?
  • How has the local changed over time due to innovation, economics, and movement of people?

  • How did the states get their shapes? The above video offers a preview of the the series produced by the History Channel that explored the often quirky reasons for why state borders formed the outlines we know today.

Researching with Local Newspapers

Chronicling America provides access to local and national newspapers dating back to the 17th century. Use the "search by state" feature to find local newspapers that can be used to teach primary source research skills such as gathering and evaluating information, comparative analysis, critical thinking, and the use of archival technology. You will also find collections of newspaper articles related to significant events, people, and eras in U.S. history and can search for newspapers published for and by multiple ethnic groups in the United States.

Sample questions to investigate when using Chronicling America to teach local history:

  • How did the local press report on the happenings of the civil war?
  • How did the press in your state or territory respond to the outbreak of WWI?
  • What did the editorials in your state or territory newspapers have to say about a landmark Supreme Court ruling?
  • What does an analysis of advertisements included in newspapers tell you about culture and consumerism?
  • How have changes in journalism and media affected how news is reported?

Suggestions for incorporating Chronicling America into your research and more activity ideas are available at our Chronicling America Teacher's Guide .

Researching with Digital Maps 

Living New Deal  is a crowdsourcing project launched by the University of California, Berkeley in 2007 to identify, map, and analyze the national effects of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Since its inception, the project has digitally documented over 16,000 New Deal public works and art sites across the U.S. The national map contains plot-points that provide information and photographs about each site, making it possible for students to investigate how New Deal projects transformed their local and state communities. The project also includes maps and guides for prominent New Deal buildings and murals in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco. The crowdsourcing aspect of the project provides students the ability to learn how to research and document historic and cultural sites and their  guide for New Deal sleuths  explains how the public can contribute to the project. This interactive, crowdsourcing project pairs well with EDSITEment’s Landmarks of American History and Culture Teacher’s Guide for research projects on local and state history and culture.  

Digitally Documenting Local History

This  NEH-funded educational website and mobile application guides the public to thousands of historical and cultural sites throughout the United States. Users can contribute to a growing database of projects designed to tell the history of places using photographs, mobile technology, and research on historical sites and events.

Activity ideas for using CLIO

Students tend to observe a lot as they move between school and home, thus making the spaces between those locations educative. Place-based learning can help bridge past and present while also asking students to reflect on their experiences and the relevance of the local to their lives. By using CLIO , students have an opportunity to document the past, analyze change over time, and evaluate the processes and forces at work in relation to place-making and history.

Starting the Inquiry

The following questions are designed to catalyze student research projects on local history and draw upon personal experiences and observations in the places where they live, play, work, and go to school. Students are encouraged to design their own questions as they select topics, eras, events, and places to investigate.

  • What events of significance occurred 10, 100, or even 250 years ago in your area?
  • How has the local environment (natural and physical) changed over time?
  • To what extent are the local developments and events you have highlighted tied to national events?
  • Who are the schools in your area named after and why?
  • Why were monuments or other historical markers erected in your area?
  • What local traditions and events are still practiced by members of the community?

Researching Place and Time

After students have selected a topic (which might be a local place), they will need to conduct research to learn more before the final stage that includes capturing photos and digitally organizing their CLIO project. The following list offers sources of information and methods for collecting information.

Historical Societies and Libraries —State, county, and local historical societies, along with public and university libraries provide free access to historical archives. Working with archivists and librarians, students can ask questions of experts and search through primary sources that tell the story of the topics and places they are researching. If your state or territory is not listed above, you can access a complete list of State Historical and Preservation Organizations to learn more about what is offered in your area.

Oral History —Interviewing people who own or have owned long running businesses, served in public office, run an organization, or lived in your area for a long time is one approach to learning how places have changed over time. Contacting someone to speak with about the topic, drafting questions related to the topic and project, conducting the interview, and transcribing that interview in order to use excerpts in the final product takes students through the inquiry process. Our Oral History Toolkit provides tips, resources, and other information pertinent to conducting oral history projects. 

Historical Newspapers —The Chronicling America database provides access to millions of pages from digitized newspaper dating back to the 17th century. You can search by state and newspaper name to learn if and how what you are researching was covered by the press.

Mapping Place and Time

Using the information collected during the research process, students create a digital map or a hand drawn map of the area they are focusing on. Creating multiple maps, depending on the topic, to illustrate change over time will assist with organizing information and telling the story of the place and events they have chosen to focus on. Students should create a map that can then serve as a guide for the places they will need to go to capture photographs and plot out for the CLIO project they create.

Creating a Digital CLIO

Students may upload photographs taken during their research along with those they capture after they have completed their map(s) in the previous stage of the activity.  Using the models provided at the  CLIO  website, students will upload their photos, curate the collection with information gathered from multiple sources during their research, and provide their own evaluation of why and how the places they live in and interact with have changed over time. Have they uncovered an event, learned about a heretofore forgotten person, or discovered some other information that may warrant public attention?

Digital Mapping

The emergence of digital mapping as an educational tool offers students an engaging, creative, and accessible way to learn about history at a local, state, or national level. Integrating these visual histories provides students with a historical and geographic context for narratives, events, and trends that are being discussed in class. Through  Exploring Local History with Clio , students can learn how to investigate the history of their local community and contribute to the growing database of resources.  

Below is a collection of NEH funded digital maps that can be used in the classroom: 

Baltimore Traces

Baltimore Traces  is an interdisciplinary project that uses media to explore the stories of Baltimore residents and neighborhoods. The project’s  digital map  features a collection of sites, events, and work being conducted by students at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. 

Deaf New York City Spaces

The  Deaf New York City Spaces  StoryMap created by students of Gallaudet University identifies historic and contemporary Deaf spaces in New York City. Integrated within the StoryMap are maps that categorize the sites by clubs, schools, places of worship, social spaces, and service facilities. 

The Ethnic Layers of Detroit

The  Ethnic Layers of Detroit  digital humanities project created by Wayne State University uses technology and archival resources to teach students about the cultural, linguistic, and historical background of sites across Detroit. The places included in the  digital map  elucidate the untold history of the mid-west city. 

Mapping the Gay Guides

The  Mapping The Gay Guides  project, led by students at California State University Fullerton, digitized the findings of Bob Damron, a gay man who documented places across the country that served as sites of refuge for other gay men during the 1950s and 60s. He later transformed his lists into a gay travel guide that doubled as survival guides to help gay and queer travelers locate safe places to sleep, eat, and socialize. The  digital map  allows users to choose a state and examine what sites operated in that area. 

The Long Road to Freedom: Biddy Mason's Remarkable Journey

The Long Road to Freedom: Biddy Mason’s Remarkable Journey  project documents the journey of Biddy Mason from enslavement in Georgia to becoming a landowner and community organizer in Los Angeles. Students can use the interactive map to learn about the “Second Middle Passage.” The project also includes a Google map that highlights significant historic and cultural sites associated with Los Angeles’s early African American history. 

Below are some questions to encourage students to engage with the maps:  

  • How can digital maps be used to learn about historical events and trends? 
  • What does the map show you? 
  • How does this map build upon what you are studying in class? 
  • What does the map show you that other secondary sources cannot? 
  • What topics, events, issues, or themes relevant to your local community could you map? 

A map of a collection of deaf spaces in New York City.

One of the maps featured in the Deaf New York City Spaces project.

Mental Mapping

Mental mapping is another effective visual learning tool to help students examine their perceptions of their community. This activity entails asking students to create a mental image of their local community and translating those images into a drawing. Encourage them to think as broadly and creatively as possible. Through this process, students will recognize the differences between their objective knowledge and their subjective opinions about their local community.  

Once students are finished, have them compare their drawings and discuss what the differences inform us about our perceptions of place. The  Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation  conducted a mental mapping project titled  “Where We Are From”  that can serve as a form of inspiration. 

Below are questions for students to discuss after creating their mental maps: 

  • How did your mental map compare with other students? 
  • What memories did you use to help you create your map? 
  • Did mental mapping change how you see your community? 

In this video , Erin Aoyama and Allison Mitchell discuss strategies for connecting the local past to the present and demonstrate the value of using place-based approaches to interpret history. They offer recommendations on locating and engaging primary sources and activities to support place-based learning. Both historians draw upon their own research to illustrate how studying local history can support students in making sense of their communities and contemporary challenges.

Historians Aoyama and Mitchell draw upon their research to offer perspectives on studying local history. Both Aoyama and Mitchell engage place-based approaches in their work. Erin Aoyama’s research examines Japanese incarceration camps in the South during World War II. She considers how Japanese American incarceration, particularly at the Rohwer and Jerome camps established by the federal government in Arkansas, fit into a larger story of the Jim Crow racial order. Allison Mitchell’s research considers the role of Black placemaking in the struggle for voting rights in the South. She looks at the independent Black town of Eatonville, Florida as a key site for understanding the connection between political and community autonomy for Black Southerners. You can learn more about Erin Aoyama’s research on the Rohwer and Jerome camps through our Heart Mountain Why Here? series. You can learn more about Allison’s work and Eatonville through our Zora Neale Hurston and Eatonville Why Here? series. 

Questions for teachers to consider when teaching place and memory

  • How can you explore the connection between history and space in your local community? 
  • What kind of primary sources can we use to support inquiry in local history? How might using poetry, music, and other art as primary sources enrich place-based learning? 
  • Are there people or organizations locally who could offer oral histories or other perspectives on this history?  
  • How might this local history shift how students interpret or respond to contemporary conditions or issues in the community? 
  • What skills can this historical investigation offer students for navigating their present local community?  
  • How might studying local case studies shift students’ perspectives on topics or themes in national American history? 
  • What kind of technical tools and skills can students use or develop to investigate community histories? 

The National Endowment for the Humanities  continues to support high-quality projects and programs in the humanities and makes the humanities available to all Americans. So whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, visiting an area museum, or spending time with friends and family at home, you will find that the NEH is just around the corner (or already in your hands). NEH funded affiliates and collaborators on state and local history and culture projects, and how they connect to the national story of the United States, can be found through the resources below:

NEH Federal/State Partnership Office —The Office of Federal/State Partnership is the liaison between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the nonprofit network of 55 state and jurisdictional humanities councils.

NEH Division of Education Programs Grant for Landmarks of American Culture and History —This program supports a series of one-week workshops for K-12 educators across the nation that enhance and strengthen humanities teaching at the K-12 level.

NEH Division of Public Programs —The Division of Public Programs supports a wide range of public humanities programming that reaches large and diverse public audiences and make use of a variety of formats—interpretation at historic sites, television and radio productions, museum exhibitions, podcasts, short videos, digital games, websites, mobile apps, and other digital media. 

NEH Division of Preservation and Access —A substantial portion of the nation’s cultural heritage and intellectual legacy is held in libraries, archives, and museums. All of the Division of Preservation and Access’s programs focus on ensuring the long-term and wide availability of primary resources in the humanities.

State Humanities Councils —The State Humanities Councils are funded in part by the federal government through NEH's  Federal/State Partnership Office . They also receive funding from private donations, foundations, corporations, and, in some cases, state government.

National Humanities Alliance —The National Humanities Alliance is on top of all  NEH related  events, exhibits, and projects taking place around the country. 

NEH on the Road —Is there a NEH sponsored exhibit near you? Would you like there to be? NEH on the Road provides ready-to-go exhibits for organizations and classrooms. Learn if one is currently available near you and how to set one up on your own.

Related on EDSITEment

Landmarks of american history and culture, exploring local history with clio, doing oral history with vietnam war veterans, chronicling america: history's first draft, american utopia: the architecture and history of the suburb, mapping the past, backstory: saving american history, a landmark lesson: the united states capitol building.

Research Methods in Local History

Local history, like public history, is peculiar among other fields of historical inquiry in that its central focus is not topical. After all, one could do local labor history, local women’s history, local business history, and, as we will, local religious history. Rather, what sets local history apart from other parts of the historical profession is a set of professional and ethical concerns. Who is local history for? And where does one go to find it? How does a historian work with the community they study when members of that community may be a neighbor as much as objects of study? What can local history do? And how can historians build the kind of relationships that not only yield obscure or overlooked sources, but also ensures their work has impact? We will try and work through all of these questions throughout the course of this semester. Rather than consider local history from a conceptual standpoint, we will actually do the work of local history by launching a new project focused on the history of Milwaukee’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other houses of worship. Throughout this semester, each of you will work with a religious community in Milwaukee to write its history. The process will involve archival research, one-on-one interviews, and ethnographic analysis. These histories will then be published online to create a living resource of Milwaukee’s religious diversity.

This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

Christopher D. Cantwell Author

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Institution

Public College or University Institution Type

Syllabus Resource Type

Graduate Course Class Type

2019 Date Published

Anthropology, Area Studies, History, Other Discipline

General Comparative Traditions Religous Tradition

Pluralism/Secularism/Culture Wars Topics

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History resources.

  • For students
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  • American history

Local history research, step by step

Not sure where to start, secondary sources, primary sources, local records, state records, resources for genealogists, finding photographs, city directories, new jersey history.

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  • British history
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  • World history
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  • Ancient, medieval and early modern history
  • General resources
  • Cliodynamics

Starting a research project on US local history? Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is there any scholarly work -- by historians or by researchers in other fields -- on the time and place you want to study? Is there a magazine or journal that covers the history of your place? Search America: History and Life and PAIS
  • What newspapers were published in that time and place? How can you access them? What about radio or TV broadcasts?
  • Are there local government documents that are relevant to your research? How can you access them?
  • Are there photographs of that time and place? Maps?
  • Are there personal memoirs, business records, or other types of primary sources available to you?

If you can't find useful material by googling, try any or all of these tools. 



Ar chive Finder

Use search strategies like "newark new jersey zoning" or "pittsburgh municipal records"

Encyclopedia of local history. Edited by Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2012 History Reference (SH): E180 .K25 2012

Historical gazetteer of the United States . Paul T. Hellmann. New York : Routledge, 2005. Trustee Reading Room Reference (DR): E154 .H45 2005

  • America: History and Life with Full Text This link opens in a new window Indexes books and journal articles on the history of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present. 1954+ more... less... Print predecessor Writings on American History covering 1904-1954 is in Firestone's General & Humanities Reference (DR) Z1236.L331.
  • PAIS: Public Affairs Information Service This link opens in a new window Citations to articles, books, reports, and select government documents on U.S. and international public policy issue. Generally considered to be a comprehensive index to policy literature. 1915+ more... less... 1968-1971 of the foreign language component is only available in print. (Trustees Reading Room) Z7164.A2P8
  • Princeton Library catalog Choose "New Catalog" tab. In the search box, type the place name + "history"
  • Directory of Open Access Book Offers thousands of online books on various topics
  • Images of America: a history of American life in images and texts Contains thousands of volumes of local history, with text and photos, detailing life in towns, cities, neighborhoods, and rural areas of the United States
  • American County Histories
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers check the title page for coverage by city and dates
  • America's Historical Newspapers see the database for coverage by city and dates
  • Chronicling America Digitized newspapers hosted by Library of Congress. Also includes a directory of all newspapers published in the U.S.; from that directory, used Princeton catalog or WorldCat to identify holdings in microfilm
  • Current newspapers at Princeton
  • Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources, 1620-1970 This link opens in a new window Contains digitized and searchable copies of over 300 years of legal primary sources, such as early U.S. state codes, city charters, constitutional conventions and compilations, and other documents.
  • Google Books may have local history materials before 1925
  • HathiTrust This link opens in a new window Digital repository of materials from member libraries. more... less... From the Public Collections or My Collections tabs, login using your Princeton ID to see public PDFs.
  • Princeton Library catalog find primary sources by entering your place name, plus "history" and "sources"


You may use secondary sources and examine their notes to see which archives other authors have used.

In addition, consult local public and academic libraries, as well as historical societies, to see what collections they hold.

Finally, these two databases may also point toward archives of interest.

  • Archive Finder This link opens in a new window Contains the entire holdings in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Current directory of thousands of repositories and over 220,000 collections of primary source materials across the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland. 1959+
  • ArchiveGrid This link opens in a new window Index to finding aids and other descriptive information about the holdings of manuscript and archival collections in libraries and research institutions throughout the world.
  • American County Histories Searchable collection of histories of individual American counties, that contain chapters with detailed coverage of local history, geology, geography, weather, transportation, lists of all local participants in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, government, the medical and legal professions, churches and ministers, industry and manufacturing, banking and insurance, schools and teachers, noted celebrations, fire departments and associations, cemeteries, family histories, health and vital statistics, roads and bridges, public officials and legislators, and many additional subject areas

In general, the primary sources for local history can be seen only in the place that they document. Municipal archives, public libraries, and local historical societies all may have material of interest. While local newspapers may be available online or in microform, the records of local government are unlikely to have been published and are unlikely to have been digitized. That said, for recent material, try:

Index to Current Urban Documents  (1989+) Note: Documents issued prior to August 2000 are available on microfiche in the Social Science Reference Center. As of August 2000, documents are available full text online. For 1972-1988 indexing, use the paper index (DR) Z7165.U5 I654. Access to full text PDF reports and documents generated by local government agencies, civic organizations, academic and research organizations, public libraries, and metropolitan and regional planning agencies in approximately 500 selected cities in the United States and Canada. Earlier documents are available on microfiche.

Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources, 1620-1970 Contains digitized and searchable copies of over 300 years of legal primary sources, such as early U.S. state codes, city charters, constitutional conventions and compilations, and other documents.

Gateway to North America: People, Places, and Organizations of 19th-Century New York Digital collection of directories, member lists, advertisements, travel guides and other sources, chronicling the people and organizations of New York City from the late 18th through the early 20th century.

Records of the States of the United States of America 1066.752 1824 reels Printed guide: Firestone Microforms Z1223.A1U47 This very large collection is the result of the 1940's State Records Microfilm Project, which located and reproduced state records from libraries, archives, and private collections. Includes legislative proceedings, statutory laws, constitutional records, administrative records, executive records, court records, and some local records. There is also material on Native American nations. The collection is arranged by state and covers the 18th and 19th centuries, plus parts of the 20th.

Territorial papers of the United States 1066.922 reels Printed guide: Firestone Microforms CD3026.A52 Material from the National Archives, Record Group 59.4.3 Territorial papers . Includes "correspondence, reports, and copies of journals of proceedings of legislative assemblies." We have Utah 1850-1902 (6 reels); Montana 1867-1889 (2 reels); Wyoming 1870-1890 (6 reels); Idaho, Montana, Wyoming 1789-1873 (1 reel); and Wyoming 1868-1873 (1 reel).

State legislatures: a bibliography . Robert U. Goehlert, Frederick W. Musto. Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-Clio Information Services, c1985. Firestone Z7164.R4 G574 1985

State Statutes: A Historical Archive (Hein Online) This collection includes more than 1,600 volumes and nearly 2,000,000 pages of historical superseded state statutes.

We also have microform for material that is not included in the Hein online collections. Search the library catalog for "Heins superseded state statutes" to see if we have the set for your state.

Starting in the 1930's, the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administation compiled a series of guides to states and important cities in the U.S. They are known as the "American Guides Series" or as the "WPA guides." There is a complete list in Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Guide_Series ). Many if not all have been digitized and can be found at http://archive.org/details/federal_writers_project

For more information see also http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/WPAStateGuides.pdf and

The WPA guides: mapping America. Christine Bold. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, c1999. Firestone E175.4 .B65 1999

The dividing line between local history and genealogy can be very thin, and the local historian may find resources created for genealogists useful:

Ancestry Library Has approximately 4,000 databases including key collections such as U.S. Federal Census images & indexes from 1790 to 1930; the Map Center containing more than 1,000 historical maps; American Genealogical Biographical Index; Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage; The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1630; Social Security Death Index; WWI Draft Registration Cards; Federal Slave Narratives; and a strong Civil War collection.

HeritageQuest Online Includes all of the images, & extensive indexing, from the 1790 - 1930 U.S. federal censuses. Offers more than 20,000 book titles, including nearly 8,000 family histories & over 12,000 local histories. Additionally, there are more than 250 primary-source documents such as tax lists, city directories, probate records, and more.

Fold3 Online access to material from the National Archives documenting a wide range of topics in American history. Also includes genealogical material and a collection of small town newspapers. Formerly known as footnote.com

For access to U.S. census returns, see also: Historical U.S. census

Arcadia Press specializes in slim books of images with local interest. The series is called "Images of America" and their catalog can be searched by state. Princeton University Library does not hold many of them, but they are widely available through Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan.

  • R.C. Maxwell Company Collection A uniquely comprehensive record of regional outdoor advertising over a period of nearly 80 years.
  • Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection 12,000 photographs depicting African American life from as early as the 1840s through the 1970s
  • National African American Photographic Archive

Digital Sanborn Maps  (1867-1970) Sanborn fire insurance maps contain detailed information on urban structures, property boundaries, and streets. Provides historical information on the history, growth, and development of American cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Historic Map Works Digitized maps and atlases, plus associated illustrations and city directories. Includes cadastral maps of the U.S. Covers the world from the 15th-20th centuries.

Historical Topographic Maps

To find maps in the library catalog, use "maps" as a keyword, e.g. princeton new jersey maps

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

The Rand McNally Commercial Atlas series and the  Rand McNally Road Atlas series begin in soon after 1900, continue until the late 20th century, and are very useful for looking at regional change over time.

Mapping Inequality

Digitized maps of the Home Owners Loan Corporation made between 1935 and 1940, showing "redlining" practices used to perpetuate segregation in housing.

Old Maps Online

Historical maps, including Geological Survey maps

  • Fire Insurance Maps Online Complete collection of high-definition, full-color fire insurance maps from Sanborn and other publishers, real estate atlases, plat books, and other historical maps showing building structures, building construction details, property ownership, property uses, and other useful information.

City directories of the United States through 1860; a collection on microfiche Microfiche 70 6295 microfiches Printed guide: Firestone Microforms Z5771.S7 Reproduces city directories from the collections of the American Antiquarian Society and elsewhere.

United States city directories, 1861-1881 [microform] United States city directories, 1882-1901 [microform] Microfilm S00559 Microfilm S00560 372 and 746 reels Printed guide: Firestone Microforms Z5771.2 .C58 1984 See above.

In Archives Unbound

  • Discover New Jersey History Links to electronic resources on New Jersey history
  • New Jersey Digital Highway Primary sources keyed to curriculum materials
  • Princeton and Slavery
  • The Trenton Project Documentaries on 20th century life in Trenton, made by Princeton University students
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  • Last Updated: Feb 19, 2024 3:30 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.princeton.edu/history

Resources for Researching Local History

The Genealogy of Your Town

  • Genealogy Fun
  • Vital Records Around the World
  • American History
  • African American History
  • African History
  • Ancient History and Culture
  • Asian History
  • European History
  • Latin American History
  • Medieval & Renaissance History
  • Military History
  • The 20th Century
  • Women's History
  • Certificate in Genealogical Research, Boston University
  • B.A., Carnegie Mellon University

Each town, whether in America, England, Canada or China, has its own story to tell. Sometimes the great events of history will have affected the community, while other times the community will have generated its own fascinating dramas. Researching the local history of the town, village, or city where your ancestors lived is a big step toward understanding what their life was like and the people, places, and events that impacted the course of their own personal history.

Read Published Local Histories

Local histories, especially county and town histories, are full of genealogical information collected over a long period of time. Often, they profile every family who lived in the town, providing as complete a family structure as the early records (often including family Bibles) permit. Even when your ancestor's name does not appear in the index, browsing through or reading a published local history can be a great way to start understanding the community in which they lived.

Map Out the Town

Historical maps of a city, town, or village may provide details on the town's original layout and buildings, as well as the names and locations of many of the town residents. Tithe maps, for example, were produced for about 75 percent of the parishes and towns in England and Wales during the 1840s to document the land subject to tithe (local payments due to the parish for the upkeep of local church and clergy), along with the names of the property owners. Many types of historical maps can be useful for locality research, including city and county atlases, plat maps, and fire insurance maps. 

Look at the Library

Libraries are often rich repositories of local history information, including published local histories, directories, and collections of local records that may not be available elsewhere. Begin by investigating the website of the local library, looking for sections titled "local history" or "genealogy," as well as searching the online catalog, if available. State and University libraries should also not be overlooked, as they are often the repositories of manuscript and newspaper collections that may not be available elsewhere. Any locality-based research should always include the catalog of the Family History Library , repository of the world's largest collection of genealogy research and records.

Dig Into Court Records

Minutes of local court proceedings are another rich source of local history, including property disputes, the layout out of roads, deed and will entries, and civil complaints. Estate inventories — even if not the estates of your ancestors — are a rich source for learning about the types of items a typical family might own in that time and place, along with their relative worth. In New Zealand, the minutes of the Maori Land Court are especially rich with whakapapa (Maori genealogies), as well as place names and burial ground locations.

Interview the Residents

Talking to people who actually live in your town of interest can often turn up interesting nuggets of information you'll find nowhere else. Of course, nothing beats an onsite visit and first-hand interviews, but the internet and email also make it easy to interview people who live halfway around the world. The local historical society — if one exists — may be able to point you to likely candidates. Or just try googling for local residents who appear to show an interest in local history — perhaps those researching their family genealogy. Even if their family history interest is elsewhere, they may be willing to help you locate historical information about the place they call home.

Google for the Goods

The internet is quickly becoming one of the richest sources for local history research. Many libraries and historical societies are putting their special collections of local historical materials into digital form and making them available online. The Summit Memory Project is just one such example, a collaborative county-wide effort administered by the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Ohio. Local history blogs such as the Ann Arbor Local History Blog and Epsom, NH History Blog , message boards, mailing lists, and personal and town websites are all potential sources of local history. Do a search on the name of the town or village along with search terms such as history , church , cemetery , battle , or migration , depending upon your particular focus. A Google Images search can be helpful for turning up photos as well.

Read All About It (Historical Newspapers)

Obituaries, death notices, marriage announcements and society columns capsule the lives of the local residents. Public announcements and advertisements show what residents found important, and provide interesting insight into a town, from what residents ate and wore, to the social customs that governed their day-to-day life. Newspapers are also rich sources of information on local events, town news, school activities, court cases, etc.

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  • Historic Land Ownership Maps and Atlases Online
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  • U.S. State Archives Online
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  • Tracing the History and Genealogy of Your Home
  • Irish Catholic Parish Registers Online


Local History Is Our Heritage

Guide to Doing Local History

Best practices, conventions, and policies.

This developing guide presents a compendium of best practices, policy suggestions, and practical advice for local history organizations, public historians, and amateur history enthusiasts who want to capture, preserve, and share artifacts, research, and historical news about their communities.

Local historians promote all aspects of history.  Not only are local historians subject-matter experts who educate the public, but they are also community leaders whose passion and enthusiasm for history should inspire others to critically think about and appreciate the past.  

Local historians function as public educators.  Their work should educate, entertain, and inspire us to value and appreciate not only historical artifacts but also the people, events, and socio-cultural, political, and economic processes that shape history.  The most important question local historians should address is, “So what?” they can do this by helping the public better understand history through key concepts: 

historical significance 

primary source evidence and documentation

causes and consequences

continuity and change

interpretation through multiple perspectives

Local historians maintain high standards.  Historians are guided by codes of ethics and best practices established by professional organizations such as the National Council on Public History (NCPH), American Historical Association (AHA), or the Oral History Association (OHA). For example, the AHA publishes a “Statement on Standards and Professional Conduct” defining the ideals of the history profession, shared values of historians, rigors of scholarship, plagiarism, ethics in teaching, and the important value history to the public.  Historians at all levels–from research scholars at universities to small town historical society volunteers should be aware of and practice doing history ethically.  


When a local history museum or heritage society is an official 501(c)(3) charitable incorporation, governance of the organization typically rests with a Board of Directors.  Some charitable nonprofits choose to have an executive director to manage day-to-day operations, lead fundraising efforts, and act as a spokesperson for the organization. 

When it comes to understanding who owns a charitable nonprofit, legal experts say that no single person or group of people (including the Board of Directors) can actually own the organization.  Nonprofits cannot offer stock, dividends, or equity to anyone.  

So what does a Board of Directors do?  According to the National Council of Nonprofits :

Board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.


NCN further states that Boards are guided by three fundamental duties:

Duty of Care

Take care of the nonprofit by ensuring prudent use of all assets, including facility, people, and good will.

Duty of Loyalty

Ensure that the nonprofit’s activities and transactions are, first and foremost, advancing its mission; recognize and disclose conflicts of interest; make decisions that are in the best interest of the nonprofit corporation, not in the best interest of the individual board member (or any other individual or for-profit entity).

Duty of Obligation

Ensure that the nonprofit obeys applicable laws and regulations; follows its own bylaws; and that the nonprofit adheres to its stated corporate purposes/mission.

Local history museums and historical societies have to think about support and sustainability.  Here are some proven ways to involve the community so that local historians can “keep the lights on:”  


Become a museum member and help support our community-wide effort to capture, preserve, and share our local history. Most history museums are tax exempt, charitable 501(c)3 organizations. Membership contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. 

Cash and in-kind donations are always beneficial helpful, and they maybe tax deductible. 

Most local history museums are all-volunteer organizations that depend on community volunteers to keep things functioning by doing a wide range of things: 

  • Be a docent:  Be an ambassador for the museum and provide tours and presentations during our many events throughout the year.
  • Be a curator. Help design, build, and maintain displays of local interest. Research and catalog donated artifacts.
  • Be a fundraiser. Help find resources and develop local support for the museum. Search for available grants, underwriters, and advertisers.
  • Be a communicator. Create articles and news stories for our website and social media. Be part of our podcast team.

Local history museums should offer sponsorships to help support their mission and programming.


Museums can also offer advertising at events, throughout the museum, and within digital media such as videos and podcasts.  As with sponsorships, advertising is a great way for an  organization to show its commitment to local history. 

The American Alliance of Museums encourages organizations to develop the following five core documents that are “fundamental for professional museum operations and embody core museum values and practices. They codify and guide decisions and actions that promote institutional stability and viability, which in turn allows a museum to fulfill its educational role, preserve collections and stories for future generations, and be an enduring part of its community.”

Mission Statement

  • Asserts the museum’s public service role
  • States why the museum exists and who benefits as a result of its efforts
  • Bears date approved by the governing authority

Institutional Code of Ethics

  • Aligns with the museum’s governance structure and discipline
  • States that the general ethical principles apply to the governing authority, staff, and volunteers and addresses issues specific to each group
  • Addresses both the institution’s basic ethical responsibilities as a public trust and the conduct of individuals associated with the institution
  • Is a single document tailored to the museum

Strategic Institutional Plan

  • Current and multi-year
  • Aligned with current mission
  • Articulates a strategic vision and goals as well as actions steps to achieve them
  • Covers all relevant areas of museum operations
  • Identifies the human and financial resources required to carry out the plan
  • Assigns responsibility for completion of action steps
  • Includes information about how success will be measured and evaluated

Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Plan

  • Includes preparedness and response plans for all relevant emergencies and threats (natural, mechanical, biological, and human)
  • Addresses the needs of staff, visitors, structures, and collections
  • Specifies how to protect, evacuate, and recover collections in the event of a disaster
  • Assigns individual responsibilities for implementation during emergencies
  • Lists contact information for relevant emergency and recovery services
  • Bears date of last revision

Collections Management Policy

  • Defines scope and categories of collections
  • Acquisitions and accessioning (including criteria and decision-making authority)
  • Deaccessioning and disposal (including criteria and decision-making authority)
  • Loans, incoming and outgoing (if the museum does not lend or borrow, it should state this)
  • Collections documentation and records, including inventory
  • Collections care and conservation
  • Access and use of collections
  • Responsibility and authority for collections-related decisions
  • Statement on the use of funds from deaccessioning


In most situations, formal writing and speaking standards should apply whenever local historians are communicating with the public, fellow historians, and professionals on behalf of their museums.  Hallmarks of effective communication typically include language use that is clear, concise, and accurate. But effective communication is also appropriate for the context or situation.  For example, in public settings and on the internet, it’s best to assume that communications should be formal. This means paying attention to grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice, sentence structure, paragraph organization, and tone.       

Local history museums and historical societies should prioritize public outreach and heavily promote and market their organization and programming (e.g., events, activities, exhibits). Museums can and should use every possible communication channel to promote themselves: newsletters, membership mailings, brochures, articles in local newspapers, history talks, museum tours, and by using the internet for social media and a website. 


The internet is a powerful and cost effective way of communicating not only with our local communities but with the entire world. Some would argue that in these times the internet is an essential communication tool.  Digital media such as photographs, maps, manuscripts, etc. are convenient alternative forms of capturing, preserving, and sharing historical artifacts and assets. In fact, creating digitized historical artifacts is the only way some history can be preserved.  


Local historians have discovered the power of social media platforms to improve outreach in their communities and to share history in digital form.  Photographs are especially popular items on social media platforms such as Facebook pages.  Self-created videos about local history are very popular as well, cost effective to produce, and easily shared with others.  Perhaps social media’s most powerful feature is that it is interactive, giving the community an opportunity to share information and opinions with local historians.  

Respect and Collegiality

A note of caution about discourse on social media:  History posts can be wonderful opportunities for historians and the public to discuss information and ideas, including alternative historical perspectives and competing points-of-view.  In a public forum, this should be done respectfully and collegially.  Personal attacks are never warranted, and offensive or rude behavior should not be tolerated.

Social media posts are the property of their creators; generally, they are not free speech zones; people do not have a right to say anything they like unless permitted by the owners of the sites in accordance with the rules of the social media platforms.  In most cases, local historians have the power and right to moderate their content on social media and uphold a higher standard of communication. 

However, for anyone who wants to filter their posts and control who sees and comments on them, they should create their own social media pages and moderate content as they see fit.  Moreover, if anyone takes issue with free and open discourse, especially regarding local history, they might consider not posting to social media groups and pages that permit members and/or the public to comment on posts in accordance with group rules and community codes of conduct. 

A basic plan of action for any artifact is to fully  document its existence. This can be as detailed as desired, but some basic information is essential.  For example, with photographs historians want to know title, name of photographer, place, persons in the photo, date taken, manner and purpose of the photograph, pre-existing collection, name of donor, etc.  For other items, it’s important to note manufacturer name and location, date, material, description of usage, and name of donor. 


It is essential that museums have some way of organizing curation data and storing artifacts so that items can be systematically searched and located. 


Nothing lasts forever, so it is important that museums store and handle artifacts in such as way that minimizes wear and tear, as well as degradation caused by the elements. 

When it comes to artifacts such as old photographs, audio recordings, film, and documents, one of the biggest misconceptions is that everything old is in the “public domain” and therefore does not have a copyright owner. In other words, it is free to copy, manipulate, and use by anyone. 

Another misconception is that artifacts found on the internet are also free to cut/copy/paste by anyone. If an image belongs to someone else, such as a museum, it doesn’t matter if the form is paper or digital, the artifact is legally owned by the museum. 

Asserting copyright control and ownership over artifacts in their legal possession is one way in which local historians can safeguard the integrity and use of the artifact. Stipulations of use and other terms  can be asserted by museums to protect their artifacts.   

When historians share artifacts with the public, it is best practice to include as much explanatory information as possible.  For example, photographs should always be accompanied by basic curation info (e.g., date of image, photographer, location, identification of persons and activities).

Local historians have an obligation to ensure that professional best practices are followed regarding the proper documentation and citation of artifacts, especially on the internet and social media sites where amateur history enthusiast too often share artifacts such as photographs with little to no identifying documentation.  This mishandling of historical information (although not intentionally malicious) undermines the significant time and effort by historians who understand the need to properly document the historical record for other scholars, researchers, and the public. 

  • Inventory 101: What is inventorying and why does it matter to museums?
  • Museum Inventory (Wiki)
  • National Park Service Museum Handbook  
  • Library of Congress Preservation Resources
  • National Archives: Archival Formats – practical advice on preserving a variety of materials: photographs, negatives, and film; paper and parchment; books and scrapbooks, digital and electronic media; and audio and video tapes and motion pictures.
  • Historical Society of Pa Resources for Small Archives –  information and resources for small repositories about managing archival collections as developed by the staff of the HCI-PSAR project. 


Local history works best when everyone in the community contributes and takes responsibility for capturing, preserving, and sharing our heritage.  However, not everything that is old has historical value or significance.  But, before disposing of anything you suspect might be of interest to LBHS, please contact the museum.

Items that might have historical significance include:  

  • Personal diaries, letters, scrapbooks, postcards, or other such non-commercial documents, especially if they relate to major historical events such as the world wars, the Great Depression, etc.
  • Documents of local businesses or organizations such as ledgers, membership rosters, oaths, inventory, price lists, etc.
  • Old photographs, slides, film reels, and audio recordings of significant events, notable people, or even everyday life if the artifact is exceptionally  representational.
  • Physical items such as household goods and appliances, industrial tools, political  memorabilia, etc.  

As a practical matter, museums can’t possibly take in every old item, so historians will have to review and evaluate each item to determine whether it should be discarded or taken in by the museum.  It is extremely helpful if owners can provide complete documentation or descriptive information about items.  


Local history museums typically offer a wide range of exhibits and events throughout the year.  The challenging role of local historians is to create programming that entertains, educates, and inspires the public to think more critically about history and to better appreciate its impact on us today.  Perhaps the greatest challenge for historians is to shape history into a thoughtful, compelling, and meaningful narrative story. As Rudyard Kipling said, if history were taught in the form of stories it would never be forgotten.


A widely held point of resistance to digital media in local history is that it should never replace physical artifacts, live docents, and tactile experiences found in “brick and mortal” museums.  This is true, but the inclusion of digital media into museum programming is never at the expense of physical artifacts. Instead, digital media is complementary, supportive, and value-added programming.  Local historians can and should use digital media as a creative and strategic tool to help tell history’s story in new and exciting ways.

Furthermore, digital media has practical benefits such as providing access to museums around- the-clock and with world-wide reach. Through the internet, local history programming is available to all–at home, on the go through mobile devices, in classrooms, and to researchers and scholars.

Recommended Resource: Cohen, Dan, and Rosenzweig, Roy. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web

Social Media

Local historians have discovered a popular and significant internet side-channel for programming through social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  In most cases, the use of these platforms is free, but subject to their advertising, rules about content/expression, codes of community standards, and operational algorithms.

Historians present content (e.g., photographs) via social media posts to share information, encourage discussions, and to enhance outreach with their communities and members. Social media posts are to be considered as interactive digital exhibits.  The comments that go along with social media posts are very important as a valuable opportunity for crowd-sourcing information that can add to the historic record.  As with any exhibit, these posts should include descriptions, supporting documentation, and source citations.  For instance, photographs should be identified as to date taken, photographer, persons and activities in the image, and source or collection in which the image can be found.

Furthermore, under certain circumstances, history organizations retain some level of copyright control over the content they present via their posts. Exhibits (i.e., the arrangement and presentation of information and artifacts, even content in the public domain) are protected by copyright. In other words, if an organization or historian creates a unique image gallery, digital document, or collection of artifacts, these exhibits themselves are owned by the creator, although some of the individual items used to create the exhibit may not be (e.g., items in the public domain).   Local history organizations should place a disclaimer on their site and posts as to the permission(s) they grant regarding the copy and use of their posted content by 3 rd parties. See: How Copyright Works with Social Media

Suggestion for Creating Effective Social Media Posts

  • Posts should be creative, educational, and entertaining.  They should have a purpose that fits into the mission and scope of the museum.
  • Avoid pointless artifact dumping or meaningless trivia. Answer the question: Why is this object, person, or event historically significant?
  • Don’t post content without descriptions and citations as to source archive, owner, dates, explanatory narratives, etc.
  • Post should adhere to standards of professional writing, including appropriate grammar, punctuation, and coherent sentence and paragraph structure.
  • When posting multiple items to a post (e.g., photographs), attach identifying information to each photo, not just the main post.    
  • Mark the content with copyright status (e.g., Source: LBHS Image Archive, Townsend Collection.  All rights reserved.).
  • Don’t plagiarize or pirate content.  It’s ok to share others’ social media posts (as they’ve written them), but don’t steal images or text from them. In other words, do not cut and paste photographs or other media directly from another organizations’ social media posts for use in creating your own post.
  • Historians should moderate their posts to maintain a high standard of ethical communication.

Examples of Effective History Posts

Below are examples of very high quality, effective social media posts by the Heinz History Center (Facebook, January 8, 2022) and the Crawford County Historical Society (Facebook, January 9, 2022). Each is sufficiently documented and thoroughly explained, well written, yet succinct. Note how the photographs and text mutually support of the topic.  In addition to being factually informative, these posts provide insight as to why their subjects are historically significant–an essential goal of public history.

example of a research on local history

Beaver County Local History Directory

  • National Council on Public History
  • Oral History Association
  • American Historical Association
  • The American Association for State and Local History
  • The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC)
  • Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Preservation Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO)
  • Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
  • Pa Statute Title 37:Historical and Museums
  • National Museum of Industrial History

Understanding Historical Significance

Understanding local history.

What is local history?

Understanding Public History

Understanding oral history.

  • University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Research Guides
  • Introduction to Historical Research

Introduction to Historical Research : Home

  • Archival sources
  • Multimedia sources
  • Newspapers and other periodicals
  • Biographical Information
  • Government documents

Subject-Specialist Librarians

There are librarians on campus that can help you with your specific area of research.

Subject Librarian Directory Subject-specialist/ liaison librarians are willing to help you with anything from coming up with research strategies to locating sources.

Ask a Librarian

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This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research.  It covers both primary sources (such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, government documents and first-hand accounts) and secondary materials (such as books and articles written by historians and devoted to the analysis and interpretation of historical events and evidence).

"Research in history involves developing an understanding of the past through the examination and interpretation of evidence. Evidence may exist in the form of texts, physical remains of historic sites, recorded data, pictures, maps, artifacts, and so on. The historian’s job is to find evidence, analyze its content and biases, corroborate it with further evidence, and use that evidence to develop an interpretation of past events that holds some significance for the present.

Historians use libraries to

  • locate primary sources (first-hand information such as diaries, letters, and original documents) for evidence
  • find secondary sources (historians’ interpretations and analyses of historical evidence)
  • verify factual material as inconsistencies arise"

( Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age, Fifth Edition, by Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister, Bedford/St. Martin, 2010)

This guide is meant to help you work through these steps.

Other helpful guides

This is a list of other historical research guides you may find helpful:

  • Learning Historical Research Learning to Do Historical Research: A Primer for Environmental Historians and Others by William Cronon and his students, University of Wisconsin A website designed as a basic introduction to historical research for anyone and everyone who is interested in exploring the past.
  • Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students by Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College Guide to all aspects of historical scholarship—from reading a history book to doing primary source research to writing a history paper.
  • Writing Historical Essays: A Guide for Undergraduates Rutgers History Department guide to writing historical essays
  • History Study Guides History study guides created by the Carleton College History Department

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  • URL: https://researchguides.library.wisc.edu/introhist

Ohio Local History Alliance

What is Local History?

Local history attempts to reconstruct the history of a place to understand how the way people lived connects to the community’s present and future.

–What isn’t local history?

The study of local history is not dominated by out-of-date antiquarians throwing together physical remains from the past without any focus on using their collections to bring change for the future. This form of superficial history allows historians to develop a pattern of conclusions without deeper engagement with local history in a comparative context. Worse, this stereotype of history does nothing to help us understand the dynamics of a place. These historians can take so narrow a view that they miss the insights history provides about our futures. By missing the opportunity to examine and interpret conclusions from historical evidence, historians are missing out on what local history does best.

–Why are so many people dedicated to studying local history?

Local history reflects the reality that our lives are shaped by particular places and that our physical place in the world is a major determinant to how our lives are lived. Local history is the study of the everyday struggles and triumphs of ordinary people. The study of local topics allows for in-depth research to connect the past with the present, which is done more simply and with more meaning than studying the national, faceless masses. It allows for greater depth in studying the history of our communities and the relations to the people within them.

–Why is this important?

History is typically taught with a focus on national and international events, but ignores the places students (of all ages) engage with most, their neighborhoods. Involving students in local history helps them to learn to analyze their place in larger events. By understanding their part in history, people become directly involved in their studies of the past. By focusing on local history, students will learn to question history as it has been taught and history as it is being made around them.

— How can I study my own local history?

Asking and answering questions about the history of a place helps us learn what questions to ask about our present and future. A starting point for studying your own local history can be asking:

  • Did the feeling of “community” exist? In what terms?
  • What impact did human activity have on the landscape?
  • How did they govern themselves?
  • What work did men, women and children do and how much choice did they have in this type of work?
  • What were their attitudes and relationships like towards outsiders?
  • How much did the physical setting determine opportunities for people?
  • How were the people educated?

Comment below to let us know why you study local history.

Katherine Buckingham served as 2013 summer intern for the Ohio Local History Alliance.


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  1. Research Guides: U.S. Local History: A Resource Guide: Introduction

    They shed light on labor history and forms and cultures of work such as farming, mining, railroads, meatpacking, canneries, fishing, weaving, and more. They offer crucial insight on patterns of economic development. Local histories show how nationwide events, such as wars or economic downturns, were experienced differently in different places.

  2. Research Guides

    Library of Congress curators and specialists have created research guides that highlight diverse aspects of local history. Most of these fall into a few broad categories. In addition to listing general Library of Congress states and territory guides, we also list some specific examples of other topical guides that can be useful in doing local ...

  3. PDF Researching Writing Local History

    This paper will cover both the tools and source materials for doing historical research, issues with using the materials and creating the final document based on the materials. 2. Why Write about Local History and What to Write About Most people research local history because they want to know more. They want to know more about who, what, and when.

  4. Local History and Genealogy Research Guides

    The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library. Local History & Genealogy Reference Services. Submit a question through our Ask a Librarian service, call us at (202) 707-3399, or visit us in person in Room LJ-100 (Main Reading Room) of the Thomas Jefferson building in Washington, D.C ...

  5. PDF What Is Local History?

    CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Local history is about a place. All historical writing involves places, but they generally serve as a backdrop or setting that is incidental to accounts that focus on a particular process, event, group or individual. By contrast, a place is at the center of local history. A place is more than simply a geographic area defined by ...

  6. Local History Today: Current Themes and Problems for the Local History

    Abstract. This paper analyses first of all some of the ways in which the subject-matter of local history has developed since 1945. Secondly, there is an account of some of the sources now being used by local historians and the techniques developed to exploit them. Thirdly, some of the problems these developments present to the local history ...

  7. Investigating Local History

    Starting the Inquiry. The following questions are designed to catalyze student research projects on local history and draw upon personal experiences and observations in the places where they live, play, work, and go to school. Students are encouraged to design their own questions as they select topics, eras, events, and places to investigate.

  8. Research Methods in Local History

    Research Methods in Local History Local history, like public history, is peculiar among other fields of historical inquiry in that its central focus is not topical. After all, one could do local labor history, local women's history, local business history, and, as we will, local religious history.

  9. PDF HIST715: Research Methods in Local History

    The Department of History offers BA, MA, and PhD degrees, while a Religious Studies Program, which is not a department, offers a BA degree. Of UWM's approximately 27,500 students, 72% identify as white, 13% as multi-ethnic, 7% as African American, 5% as Asian American, and 3% as Hispanic. Almost 40% of UWM's students are first generation ...

  10. Research Guides: History resources: Local history (U.S.)

    Provides historical information on the history, growth, and development of American cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Historic Map Works. Digitized maps and atlases, plus associated illustrations and city directories. Includes cadastral maps of the U.S. Covers the world from the 15th-20th centuries.

  11. How to Research Your Local History

    Learn how to use local history research to uncover the story of the people, places and events that impacted your ancestors daily lives. ... Tithe maps, for example, were produced for about 75 percent of the parishes and towns in England and Wales during the 1840s to document the land subject to tithe (local payments due to the parish for the ...

  12. Guide to Doing Local History

    This developing guide presents a compendium of best practices, policy suggestions, and practical advice for local history organizations, public historians, and amateur history enthusiasts who want to capture, preserve, and share artifacts, research, and historical news about their communities. Local historians promote all aspects of history.

  13. Introduction to Historical Research : Home

    Overview. This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research. It covers both primary sources (such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, photographs, government documents and first-hand accounts) and secondary materials (such as books and articles written by historians and devoted to the analysis and ...

  14. Exploring Community Through Local History: Oral Stories, Landmarks and

    Jump to: Preparation Procedure Evaluation Students explore the local history of the community in which they live through written and spoken stories; through landmarks such as buildings, parks, restaurants, or businesses; and through traditions such as food, festivals and other events of the community or of individual families. Students learn the value of local culture and traditions as primary ...

  15. Local history

    Exhibition hall displaying local history displays and objects. Local history is the study of history in a geographically local context, often concentrating on a relatively small local community.It incorporates cultural and social aspects of history. Local history is not merely national history writ small but a study of past events in a given geographical area which is based on a wide variety ...

  16. Digital Collections

    The Library of Congress's free database of digitized historical U.S. newspapers, 1789 to 1963. Produced by the Japanese-Americans interned at assembly centers and relocation centers around the country during World War II. They include articles written in English and Japanese, typed, handwritten and drawn.

  17. PDF Local History

    Practise inclusiveness with regard to race, gender, religion, age, socio-economic status, and other such categories. In local history, for example, avoid the common tendency of including Indigenous Australians as the subject of the fi rst chapter and ignoring them in subsequent chapters.

  18. What is Local History?

    Local history is the study of the everyday struggles and triumphs of ordinary people. The study of local topics allows for in-depth research to connect the past with the present, which is done more simply and with more meaning than studying the national, faceless masses. It allows for greater depth in studying the history of our communities and ...

  19. The Place of 'The Local' in History Workshop's Local History

    It reflects on the articulation between local history and social history, which collectively defined much of the HW's theory and practice. The proliferation in local histories was associated in the 1980s with the mounting anti-apartheid movement, especially in black working-class localities, which augmented the emancipatory impulses in the ...

  20. Local history research

    Local history research - Download as a PDF or view online for free. Local history research - Download as a PDF or view online for free ... Recently historical bodies have engaged in oral history The best example was created by Dr. MarcelinoForonda of De la Salle University who organized students to conduct interviews of important personalities ...

  21. Local studies centers: Transforming history, culture and heritage in

    Mariel R. Templanza graduated from the School of Library and Information Studies of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP Diliman) (Quezon City, Philippines) with a Latin Honors. With the course Bachelor of Library and Information Science, she took up subjects on the archive track and finished her thesis with focus on the local studies centers and cultural heritage of Mangyans and the ...

  22. Print Resources

    The Library of Congress holds one of the largest collections available anywhere of books about local history. Historian David J. Russo wrote one of the founding texts in local history, titled, Families and Communities: A New View of American History, published in 1974.As part of his research, he spent a year reading hundreds of books in the Library of Congress Local History collection.

  23. The Place of Local History in Philippine Historiography

    The Community Development Research Council at the University of the Philippines alone has been sponsoring around forty major research projects on local problems; one of the most useful of those already completed is Hollnsteiner, Mary, The Dynamics of Power in a Philippine Municipality, Quezon City 1963 Google Scholar.

  24. Local Research

    Setting-specific research has a long and honored tradition in the natural sciences. The value of this approach for action research in social psychology is discussed. Key concepts include local variation, seeing the general in the specific, connectedness as the fundamental law of ecology, and the value of field stations for community research.