Local history enthusiasts
English county historical societies since the nineteenth century
in People, places and identities
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Alan Kidd explores the cultural sphere of amateur local historians and the associational culture of the local historical societies, from their origins in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries to their evolution in the twentieth. The county historical societies founded in the nineteenth-century were expressions of urban bourgeois culture and their early success owed much to that symbol of modernity, the world’s first national railway network, however, the societies exemplified the persisting social deference of ‘provincial cultural life’ expressed in the very survival of the ancient county identities. The work of nineteenth-century county historical societies contributed to an imagined notion of Englishness whose rural associations was a steadying counterpoint to a rapidly developing urban reality. The shadow of ‘amateurism’ haunted the historical societies as History developed as a university discipline, although a shift in attitudes towards the subject of local history came in the second half of the twentieth-century, chiefly in the form of ‘history from below’, exemplified by the History Workshop movement and the subsequent concepts of community history and public history.

People, places and identities

Themes in British social and cultural history, 1700s–1980s

Editors: Alan Kidd and Melanie Tebbutt
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