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18 September 2014
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City Local History: Top Tips

By Dr Charles Insley
Getting started

Image of a local studies centre
A local studies centre in Darlington, Co Durham 
You need to have a sense of the aims and expected outcomes of your project from the outset. It is very easy for local history simply to become the collection and collation of material, which, while important in itself, does not necessarily tell us anything about the history of the places around us. Start your project with some questions and you are much more likely to find answers.

'Your first port of call should be the local studies section of the central library ...'

You might be itching to get into your local record office to look at census returns, or hearth tax returns, but the first step for most local historians would be to find out what had already been written on your town or subject. Your first port of call should be the local studies section of the central library of your chosen town or city, followed by reading books on the sort of subjects that interest you.

There are general books on industrial history and education as well as specific themes in urban history such as the growth of the suburbs, urban identities or the role of transport.

Most towns and cities have something written about them. Some have very good published histories, some less so, but it is important to read everything you can so that you get some idea of the aspects of your town or city's history which have been covered and make an informed choice of topic. Looking at published histories of your town or city should also provide you with the starting place for the primary evidence you need to look at.

Published: 2005-03-07

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