BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 September 2014
Accessibility help
Local History

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

City Local History: Top Tips

By Dr Charles Insley
Image of medieval houses on Spon Street, Coventry
Medieval houses on Spon Street, Coventry 

Find out how to approach reseaching the history of your town and pick up tips to get off to the best possible start.

Urban history
  • Discover how to interpret architectural clues
  • Get ideas of where to look for recent source material
  • Find out where you can go to get help

On one level, urban history is simply a form of local history and much of the advice given about local history is true for urban history. Nevertheless, there are things worth bearing in mind that are perhaps particularly true for this type of research.

'... be realistic and selective about what you wish to look at.'

As anyone who has tried to write the history of a village will know, it is a massive undertaking. So, attempting to write the history of a small town, let alone a large town or city, is simply an unrealistic aim for most part-time researchers. Not only are towns and cities simply more complex entities than a village, the quantity of sources to be looked at is far, far greater, and the researcher is in danger of drowning in them.

The first step, then, is to be realistic and selective about what you wish to look at. Think about the context in which you want to put your work. Think about the context in which your town or city exists. There are a number of ways in which you can do this, and it is up to you to choose the best one for the job in hand.

For example, rather than looking at an entire town or city in a particular period, you might want to look at a particular place - perhaps the area in which you or your family live. This again narrows down the project to a manageable size. Another alternative is to look at a specific theme or topic.

You might want to look at a particular industry within your chosen place, its schools or its hospitals, the development of its suburbs or its shops. Again, the key here is to try and choose something manageable. But perhaps the most common approach is to choose a particular date as a focus for your research.

Published: 2005-03-07

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy