Ideas for starting a local history habit?
November 30, 2012 6:12 AM   Subscribe

I work downtown, and recently on my lunch, I happened upon a local history archive in the library branch near my work. I'd like suggestions for fun tasks that I can accomplish there on my short lunch break.

I love old things, and the atmosphere there makes me happy. The last couple of days, I just poked around the archive just to find stuff I liked to look at, which was fun, but I'd like to start going there with a purpose so I don't get tired of it. I'm not really talking about taking on an academic project like an essay. I'm imagining doing something artistic (but not capital A art) or just something very focused (like hunting for things in a particular context). There are many old atlases of the region, photograph negatives from events, people, and buildings, I think there are also old postcards, and of course books. I have access to my camera, a photocopier, and a light table. Some examples of the type of thing I'm thinking of would be photocopying maps to colour in with watercolour pencils, or photographing negatives and reversing them later in Photoshop. What other activities could I do to engage with the material in a short time? I'd also welcome ideas that are less "hands-on" than my examples.
Thank you!
posted by to recite so charmingly to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Pick an address, research the history, and use current photographs taken by yourself and historical photographs you find doing your research to maintain a "then and now" website about what existed at that address over time?
posted by COD at 6:19 AM on November 30, 2012

How about volunteering there instead? If you're good at photography you could offer to make digital copies of those maps so that a wider audience can (eventually) enjoy them. Places like the one you describe are often grossly underfunded.
posted by mareli at 6:19 AM on November 30, 2012

Try a genealogical study of a random family or two, and see how far you get. Or figure out the social network of a particular period of time.
posted by knile at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2012

I love these little history rooms! I am often a big fan of freeing up historical stuff that has been locked up in non-digitized format. So, scanning or taking some photos of local postcards and putting them online with decent metadata (information about the postcards) so that they are findable by other people. If you're from the area you may want to do some personal genealogy or if not you may want to look into the history of a business or a location. I think specifically taking negatives and making positives out of them and either making prints or putting them on a blog [or talking to the local or neighborhood newspaper] would be a cool idea.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 AM on November 30, 2012

Talk to the archivist/librarian about some of your ideas. Some may not fly, archives generally have restrictions on what you can and cannot do with their materials. They may think others of your ideas may have merit for promoting the archive.

If some creative work might lead to a revenue source for them and fulfill your creative needs then it should be a win/win. You may want to start off with that proposal to be taken serious. Considering that revenue sources for these types of institutions are being squeezed, any potential for more revenue would be greeted with happiness but it means that you will have have a solid proposal that will not require library money to fund supplies. Tell them you will create artworks that they can sell as long as you get reimbursed from those sales for your materials.
posted by JJ86 at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing that talking to the archivist or librarian would probably be a great way to start. There may also be a historical society for certain neighborhoods or buildings who would be really happy to have you do specific research, or compile specific information, or even just write about what kinds of resources pertaining to their area of research are available.
posted by itsamermaid at 10:54 AM on November 30, 2012

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