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A New Vision of Local History Narrative: Writing History in Cummington, Massachusetts

Scholars who have written about local history hold no consensus on the purpose, value, and even definition of local history narrative. This thesis seeks to move the discussion away from territorial definitions of the term local history narrative and provide a framework for thinking about the field. It argues for a broad interpretation of United States local history narrative and proposes the field of local history be integrated into the academic history curriculum. Drawing on a variety of local history scholarship, the thesis first delineates the development of local history writing from the early colonial narratives, through the nineteenth-century heyday of amateur history writing, across the complicated relationship between amateur and professional history during the twentieth century, to the current spectrum of writings that include those which defy the traditional distinction between amateur and professional history. Turning next to the reflective scholarship of local history, the essay discusses issues that arise in the practice of local history such as community pressure to censor work and the challenges of sharing authority. Finally, this thesis provides a working draft of public local history narrative in a chapter investigating a suffrage convention attended by Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe held in 1881 in Cummington, Massachusetts, a small remote hilltown in the foothills of the Berkshires. Seeking to provide a history that engages a nonacademic local audience while exploring historical questions, this story of Henrietta S. Nahmer and the suffrage movement in Cummington demonstrates the challenges and opportunities of contemporary local history narrative.
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