About the Blog:
History typically gets associated with the actions of the big names, your Washingtons, Roosevelts, Beyonces, or with the movements of nations, multinational corporations, and ideas. Scholarly history, for all its merits, is rarely interested in the actions and lives of all but the most exceptional individuals. Even social histories of everyday people are often driven by the need to draw conclusions about broader historical events. Popular histories are likewise frequently concerned with similar characters and events. Biographies of presidents, musicians, and vivid accounts of warfare consistently find their way on to the shelves of your local bookstore. You don’t need a degree in history to notice that the volume of selections on “War” and “Biography” generally tend to outweigh other historical topics at a Barnes and Noble.
I should mention that this is by no means a condemnation of such histories or those who read them, if those topics are of interest to you that is fine! This blog isn’t in the business of rendering judgement on personal tastes, rather it is simply a platform for a different variety of history. Its core argument is that, beyond the realm of professional scholarship and best-seller lists, family histories and personal stories matter. Your story matters, and it is neither a pointless or vainglorious effort to write it down. It also aims to address what, in my opinion, is sorely lacking in existing sites that target aspiring family historians: to provide a more personal window into the process of researching and writing such a history, and to do so without trying to sell you a DNA testing kit for $200.
Now at this point you may be asking yourself “who is this jabroni and who does he think he is pointing out something as obvious as ‘your story matters’?”
Starting with the first question: my name is Sean O’Malley and I am a graduate student studying Public History. Though you cannot see me through your computer screen I can assure you that, through the technowizardry of a spotty 3-bar WiFi connection, I write to you (wherever you may be) from the distant and mysterious land of Maryland. I’ll save you my usual schpiel about my hobbies and personal interests and get down to the brass tax: why I wanted to start this blog and why, even though it may seem self-evident, I think it is important to tell people that their stories matter.
My family, like many others, is a family of storytellers. Holidays, birthdays, casual dinners, you name a type of event and I can guarantee you at some point someone will either request that a particular story be told, or will endeavor to tell it on their own. These tend towards the humorous in most cases, especially if they revolve around the misadventures of my father and late-uncle. There are however times when our stories take on a more serious, or at least less jocular quality. My grandmother’s stories of a childhood spent on Naval bases, my grandfather’s tales of life as a kid growing up poor in Philadelphia during the Second World War, or my great-uncle’s account of his time as a boiler-maker and later draftee in the Vietnam War. These stories have always been a part of my life, but as a young student of history who, like many others before me, was enamored with the “bigger-picture,” these stories gradually receded into a realm somehow detached from “History.” Everyone’s family had a history, what could learning mine tell me about anything when compared to the actions of nations or the abstract forces of economics and culture? In other words, my family’s stories were quaint, they were fun to tell and to hear, but they weren’t “History” with a capital “H.” They were not worth the effort of recording and contextualizing.
Bogus, right? I’ve come to realize that, I don’t particularly care if family history, easily one of the most micro- varieties of microhistory, does not provide me with earth-shattering insights into past. I don’t care if my family’s story ever ends up in an academic journal or as a popular publication. Now it is easily possible that you have beaten me to this realization, in which case I hope that my blog can in some way provide you with some assistance with things like posing a research question, learning how to use recording equipment, or finding new resources to use in your quest. But if you, like me, have struggled to justify an interest in where you came from with the broader narratives of what does and does not constitute “History” with a capital “H,” I encourage you all the more to join me in this endeavor. You probably already know deep down that your story matters, that it is valid even if the audience is solely yourself and your family, so let this be the push you need to tell the world and anyone who would seek to render your and your family’s experiences inconsequential to politely “shove it.”