Local histories as storytelling: the genre and its community

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Publication details

Smith, RJ 2011, 'Local histories as storytelling: the genre and its community', paper presented to Storytelling in literature, language and culture: 36th Congress of AULLA, Auckland University, Auckland, New Zealand, 7-9 February.


Most written histories can be seen as a version of storytelling, yet such a view encounters problems in locating the particular audience, purpose and appropriate voice and structure. Local histories, by their comparative closeness to their known audience, and in a shared space, can be more readily examined for their storytelling role. While few local histories explicitly address such matters, all can be seen to negotiate the role of storyteller, dealing with the expectations of their audience as well as anticipating their responses. Alan Atkinson’s concept of a “Commonwealth of speech” in histories in Australia (which he briefly applied to local histories) will be used to examine a fuller range of issues and features of the genre of local histories. Professionalism versus amateurism, theme-based narrative against detail based narrative, myths of origins, significant characters and periodicity—can all be clarified by attention to “orality”, and such clarity can be empowering for the practitioners. Beyond this, new technologies are on the verge of giving ready access to resources of oral material—both as source material from the past as well as contemporary methods of recording one’s story.