Joseph A. Amato proposes a bold and innovative approach to writing local history in this imaginative, wide-ranging, and deeply engaging exploration of the meaning of place and home. Arguing that people of every place and time deserve a history, Amato draws on his background as a European cultural historian and a prolific writer of local history to explore such topics as the history of cleanliness, sound, anger, madness, the clandestine, and the environment in southwestern Minnesota. While dedicated to the unique experiences of a place, his lively work demonstrates that contemporary local history provides a vital link for understanding the relation between immediate experience and the metamorphosis of the world at large. In an era of encompassing forces and global sensibilities, Rethinking Home advocates the power of local history to revivify the individual, the concrete, and the particular. This singular book offers fresh perspectives, themes, and approaches for energizing local history at a time when the very notion of place is in jeopardy.
Amato explains how local historians shape their work around objects we can touch and institutions we have directly experienced. For them, theory always gives way to facts. His vivid portraits of individual people, places, situations, and cases (which include murders, crop scams, and taking custody of the law) are joined to local illustrations of the use of environmental and ecological history. This book also puts local history in the service of contemporary history with the examination of recent demographic, social, and cultural transformations. Critical concluding chapters on politics and literature--especially Sinclair Lewis's Main Street and Longfellow's Hiawatha--show how metaphor and myth invent, distort, and hold captive local towns, peoples, and places.
Introduction. The Concept and the Practitioners of Local History
1. A Place Called Home
2. Grasses, Waters, and Muskrats: A Region's Compasses
3. The Rule of Market and the Law of the Land
4. Writing History through the Senses: Sounds
5. Anger: Mapping the Emotional Landscape
6. The Clandestine
8. Madame Bovary and a Lilac Shirt: Literature and Local History
9. The Red Rock: Inventing Peoples and Towns
10. Business First and Always
Conclusion: The Plight of the Local Historian
Acknowledgments and Sources
Joseph A. Amato is Professor of Rural and Regional Studies at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota, and principal founder of the Society for Local and Regional History. He is the author of Dust: A History of the Small and the Invisible (California, 2000), Bypass: a Memoir (2000), Golf Beats Us All (So We Love It) (1997); The Decline of Rural Minnesota (1993); The Great Jerusalem Artichoke Circus: The Buying and Selling of the American Rural Dream (1993); and Victims and Values: A History and Theory of Suffering (1990), and a forthcoming history of walking.
“Anyone interested in writing local history or who might be inspired by the possibilities of local history - or even those interested in the craft of history itself - should find Rethinking Home a useful springboard for reflection.”—Edwin C. Bridges Alabama Review: A Qtly Journal Of Alabama History
“This is a book that will provide writers of local history, amateurs or professionals, with a lot to think about or rethink. As a bonus, it is devoid of social science jargon and is written in a straightforward manner.”—Don Sofchalk Books For The Western Library
is pioneering scholarship at its best. Amato makes his case for a new local history combining academic sophistication with a deft human touch, that can provide a new perspective on the way in which humans have interacted with their natural and created environments over the past 150 years. Amato’s eloquent plea for scholars to rethink the intricate relationships between home, place, nation, and world is one that cannot be ignored."—Richard O. Davies, University Foundation Professor, University of Nevada
"Local history is the stepchild of our profession. Joseph Amato has emancipated Cinderella. Innovative and engaging, his passion for particulars brings life to people and places whose interest we have underrated far too long; and provides a good read beside."—Eugen Weber Department of History, UCLA
"In the best Thoreauvian sense, Joseph Amato masterfully synthesizes and eloquently presents two decades of practicing and thinking deeply about local history. How pleasantly odd, how wonderful that a book on local history should be so rousing, so encouraging, so redemptive! Rethinking Home
is a veritable call to arms for those of us who care deeply about the special, the distinctive character of our own home places, our own locales."—Bradley P. Dean, Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods