You Could Become an Amateur Historian

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The division of intellectual labor has been expanded by the Internet more than ever in the past. This is just getting started. You could make a significant contribution. All it takes is time and practice.

The Web makes possible the exploration of history on a scale undreamed of in 1994. Millions of people who cannot afford the plane fare and lodging expenses to access collections of materials can gain access to them at home.

The cost of doing serious, significant historical research has fallen. There will therefore be a growing supply.

You could be part of that supply.

You have to start somewhere. Start with something easy and non-controversial. Then branch out.

In every community, there are local records that no one ever sees. There are county historical societies. Hardly anyone knows about them. The people who are local experts are usually old. They are not skilled at Web publishing.

You could take a once-famous event, such as a local disaster.

You could start with an interesting period, such as World War II. In some regions, you could start with the Civil War. How did these events affect life in your county? Can you locate diaries and letters? Can you get permission to scan them and post them?

If I were a high school history teacher, I would encourage brighter students to get involved. I would create a site where their findings could be posted, signed. My legacy to the community would be a permanent site on local history.

Or maybe you belong to a local civic organization. Is there a history of the local branch? If not, why not create a site devoted to this?

You may think: “Who cares?” Maybe no one. Yet. But you can get the skills it takes for serious historical research by doing a project that is not controversial.

You may want to gain influence in your organization. People in high positions will give you time if you have begun to create an on-line history of the organization. If someone is the head of an organization, he wants recognition. Having his name and accomplishments on-line is something he would like. So, he wants to have such a site on-line.

What about your company? Is there an official history? Probably not. If there is, it’s probably not on-line.

Want to get to know the president or the CEO? Write a history of the organization. Post it piece by piece, beginning at the beginning. At some point in the project, you will have a reason to interview the senior executives. Work for a year or two on the project on your own time. Post what you find: old ads, old newspaper clippings.

Create a timeline. Interview retired workers. Page by page, build the site. At some point, word will get out about the site.

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March 7, 2011

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2011 Gary North