Minnesota History, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Winter, 1968), pp. 171-177.

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By the late 1960s there is a consciousness of there being a new globalisation. “Think Globally, Act Locally”, was the catch-cry of the environmental and social movements of the left. It is somewhat ironic now, since globalisation has become seen as a conspiracy of right-wing corporations and governments, by a number of social justice organisations. It is also strange because traditionally interest in local history came from conservative forces that sought to emphasis what they saw as parochial values and perspectives. Fridley was one of the earliest historians to link local history to wider social and political challenges, ones of importance to social justice practitioners. For Fridley, the changes in technology are a primary driver, and hence, the reference to Marshall McLuhan. The reader will immediately sense similar conditions for the digital age of the early 21st century. Yet how do we judge Fridley’s conclusion in 1968 for our own local history in 2015: “The moorings of historical study, so long anchored to the written word and printed page, have been irrevocably loosened”? In the 1960s the theme of urbanisation becomes prominent. “Mere existence in many areas of the largest cities is becoming almost unendurable,” said Fridley. That was 47 years ago. Fridley’s challenge to the discipline of local history is that it should not be seen as “the lowest rung on a hierarchical ladder that stretches from the smallest hamlet to the entire world”. Instead, local history is a lens position of a foreground focus on the very same instrument which can slide to the background. Fridley quotes Maurice Mandelbaum in saying: “historians and philosophers would be well served if the theory of historiography were to have a greater variety of concrete problems to discuss than has previously been the case.” From that insight, Fridley reaches a really potent point in the reading:

In an age of specialization, local history provides a feasible vehicle for research. Yet, its closeness to the human situation and manageable area of concentration tends to resist dehumanization – the fault of much specialization.

Fridley goes on to illustrate his thesis with examples in North American local history. The reader is invited to investigate whether Fridley’s model is currently being translated in Brisbane local history, through the professional work of the Brisbane Southside History Network. At the end of the reading Fridley stated that the “study of history too often lacks a sense of evolution”.

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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.