Wednesday, February 05, 2014

New England writers and writing - the local historians

In aggregate, the local historians probably form the largest group of New England writers, especially if combined with the overlapping group of family historians whose writing often extends beyond the immediate family into broader topics such as station histories.

The first local historical writing seems to have been associated with civic events such as anniversaries. Here local newspaper editors such as E C Sommerlad in Glen Innes seem to have played lead roles. They were used to writing, were committed to their communities and also controlled the printing presses. They also wrote and published on a range of other topics through their papers, pamphlets and books, adding substantially to the total body of New England writing.  

In 1928, the Armidale Teachers' College College was established, followed by the New England University College in 1938. They brought the first trained historians to the North, while the students they educated generally came from the North and were interested in local and regional topics. This combined with a rising interest in local history. leading to the formation of local historical societies. The Richmond River Historical  Society was founded in 1936. Within twenty years, most Northern centres had their own historical societies. These not only provided local historical forums, but also began to collect records and memorabilia and to establish museums and displays.

Even in the 1950s, there were still very full local histories. This was not dissimilar to the position in Australian historical writing in general. An explosion took place over the next thirty years. By the end of the eighties there were hundreds of titles, most with very small print runs. General interest in Australian history was growing, but beyond that the existence of the Teacher's College and University in Armidale had a huge direct and indirect impact at every level in the process.

Not all the local histories were well written. Some were mere compilations of newspaper stories, catalogues of things considered to be locally important written in isolation from broader events. They provide a useful resource, but are boring to read unless you know and are interested in the area in question.  Others, however, are very good indeed. This includes both those books written by professional historians such as John Ferry's Colonial Armidale and those written by amateurs, if often amateurs with some form of study at the University of New England,

Note to readers:  This piece is a work in progress, the start of my attempt to define and describe the various threads in New England writing over time. I have over four hundred separate New England titles on my shelves, and i know that I have barely scratched to surface!                


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim, the late Beverley Harper wrote several good books about her experiences growing up in Africa. I think her husband may still be in town if you want the titles. Jack Arnold

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi jack. That would be good!

Anonymous said...

I am a new Australian who likes to learn about the country so the subject is personally very interesting to me. Australian history has this advantage over, say European, that one can relate it to the current days more easily than current Europe to BC times. Of course there is the part of Australian history, concerning Aboriginal history, which is even more ancient and in this case my imagination will have a problem, I think. Bur reading about ladies of Saumarez I could easily relate to their joys and problems. Such history has life and by that is interesting.