This is a subject close to my heart. I spent 30 years teaching history and writing about San Francisco history in publications like the California Historical Society’s Journal, California History, and The American West. As you may imagine, traditional historians approach their research and publication very differently than individuals doing a family history book.
Yet memoirs and family history books are a treasure trove of “social history” – the cumulative story of how people have actually lived. These will become invaluable “primary sources” for future historians. After all, history is far more than wars, names, and dates.
I’m excited about the current flurry of efforts to preserve the stories of average Americans. Projects like the Story Corps, This I Believe, and The Veteran’s History Project are all working as partners of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Social history is being gathered at an amazing rate, and ordinary people have an opportunity to contribute their experiences to be preserved for future historians.
As you know, we help people to create memoirs and family histories. Most of our authors are motivated by the value of the book to their immediate family and friends. It’s easy and pleasurable to imagine the benefits of handing that book down to a grandchild, and then imagine it being passed on to a great-great grandchild.
But what about a larger social contribution? How about contributing to unknown future historians? Here’s a way to make a difference. Even if you aren’t involved with an organized historical effort, you can “act locally”, simply by gifting a copy of your book to your local library.