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Manitoba History: Reviews: Exploring Local History in Saskatchewan & Proceedings of the Local Archives and History Conference, 1979

by Elizabeth Blight
Archives of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 5, Spring 1983

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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As the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s presence in the West approaches, we will undoubtedly witness an epidemic of centennial celebrations. Within the next twenty years, most communities in southern Saskatchewan will be marking the 100th anniversary of their founding. Many communities may wish to publish a history of their locality to commemorate this event. The Saskatchewan Archives Board has been instrumental in encouraging and supporting communities in their efforts to document their past. These two publications are tangible evidence of the Board’s efforts.

In November 1979, to provide a focus for International Archives Week activities in the province, the Saskatchewan Archives Board (SAB) organized a Local Archives and History Conference. Proceedings of the Local Archives and History Conference, 1979 is a compendium of several of the formal papers presented at the conference. It is the more theoretical of the two volumes.

In their papers, Dr. Norman Ward, Vice Chairman of the SAB, and Ian Wilson, Provincial Archivist, discuss the general importance and value of archives to our heritage: “In reality, they bridge generations, making past and present intelligible to the future.” Dr. Ward also details the development and achievements of the Archives Board and its staff.

Dr. John Archer’s presentation provides a bridge between the two themes of the conference. He discusses the role of archivists who gather and preserve the documentation, and historians who study, interpret, and explain it. Dr. Archer speaks at length about the nature of Saskatchewan and its people—the people who he says on an individual level are the men and women of the local history. Yet he stresses that “a good local history is more than the compiling of a series of names, dates and decisions.”

This latter point is also emphasized in Mildred A. Rose’s paper: “Some Suggestions To Those Who Want To Write A Local History.” Ms Rose has evaluated many of the manuscripts submitted to the Saskatchewan Department of Culture and Youth under the Local Histories programme. Her talk centres on the strengths and weaknesses of these manuscripts. She underlines the need for the use of fact, objectivity, and simplicity on the part of the author.

The SAB has also initiated, through the community college system, a series of three-day work-shops on writing local history. Exploring Local History in Saskatchewan is a direct result of these lectures. Although several other methods of presenting local history are discussed, this volume is primarily a practical handbook on the writing of local history. It takes the would-be author through all the stages—from the initial planning through sources, note taking, writing and publishing, and on to the book-launching party. Particularly valuable to the new author are the sections on “suggested themes” and “publishing and printing.” “Suggested Themes for Local History Projects”—with its list of twenty-three possible topics—is well designed to help the author unfamiliar with historical methodology develop themes to avoid the trap of simply compiling a series of names, dates, and decisions. All members of local history committees will benefit from the clear and forthright discussion on how to get a book published, printed, and sold. Frequent users of local histories will hope that all authors follow the advice of this handbook by including an index.

Although these two volumes are aimed at a Saskatchewan audience, anyone contemplating the compilation of a local history will find them to be most useful resource tools.

Page revised: 27 October 2012

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