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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem for Genealogists, 2 Feb 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930 (Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time) (Paperback)
I bought this book because I have ancestors in The Blean area of Kent. Defined by the author as Boughton-under-Blean, Hernhill and Graveney parishes. I hoped to learn more about what their lives and living conditions were like. I was not disappointed. The information it contains provides an interesting insight into rural England between 1800-1930 and could be of interest to anyone studying their family history, or with an interest in local history. Although it is primarily an academic study, it is an easy and enjoyable read. Yes there are a lot of graphs and tables, but none of them are overly complicated and they can be ignored without detriment to your understanding. I particularly liked the extensive use of quotes from local people and the excellent use of primary sources e.g. records of the Quarter Sessions. A real gem!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Read, 14 Jan 2012
By 
Phillip Ramsey (Warrenton, Virginia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930 (Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time) (Paperback)
The announced purpose of Microhistories: Demography, Society and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930 is that of using a local study to explore some of the more significant societal changes in a wider world. Barry Reay chooses the Blean area of Kent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as his tool of choice to this end. Drawing on a self-admitted, non-exhaustive list of research techniques, including family reconstitution and oral history, Reay demonstrates the utility of such an integrated micro-study by carrying the reader beyond its modest geographical and historical boundaries for reflection in a wider world. Integrating cultural, demographic, economic, and social history, Professor Reay examines a range of topics including marriage and fertility, health and mortality, the work of women and children, and illegitimacy and sexuality. This book demonstrates the potential of the microhistory model for making significant contributions to broader based, mainstream historical questions. However, this is not a book for those new to family and local history; a better resource is `English Local History: An introduction' by Kate Tiller. If this text is an introduction, then Microhistories is an advanced application of the guidance offered by Tiller.
The Microhistories model as presented by Reay is part of a renewed effort during the 1990s to leverage local history into the `mainstream' historiography. Local history sorely needed to lose the antiquarian cloak bequeathed it by more `conventional' historians causing work during the period to often carry faint apologetic undertones. However, Barry Reay makes no apologies, not even faint ones. The creation of a school for local history within the newly founded Kellogg College, Oxford was a major achievement in this process. However, the Microhistories model has been slow to gain traction as evidenced by the number of published works based on the model; a problem is the type of student entering local history programs. One is hard-pressed to uncover young graduates with newly minted BAs applying for an MSc in local history. Only recently, students of economic and social history were reminded once again of the impact and value of local studies on broader issues when Elinor Estrom received the Nobel Prize for her body of work part of which is a series of local studies on common resources management. In my opinion, the best route to local history is through an economic and social history program. However, few students connect and appreciate the value.
The single factor weakening the Microhistories model and local history in general is the lack of a practical, working, definition of `community' able to transcend a range of investigative historical models. The backbone of local studies is people and place; people live, move, and endure their being in communities and yet the best of histories default to deficient definitions, causing distortions and thus disabling `community' as a means of effective historical analysis. Reay speaks of `knowable communities' and speaks as if they were entities. However, community is a relationship and not an entity. It is not a structure, nor even a category; it is something, which in fact happens in human relationships. Relationship is fluid; defying analysis if one attempts to "clip" it from time and space at any given point to analyze its supposed structure. Relationship embodies real people and context. Reay quotes David Sabean, `Once we center our attention on relationships, we are forced into research strategies which favor the local and the particular.' Despite the quote, Reay misses the greater significance of community as a relationship and not an entity. Finally, the process of `reconstituting' families comes dangerously close to community `reconstruction' which assumes communities to be entities and available for quantification. Professor Reay writes, `histories which exclude the "knowable communities" are histories half written.' In continuing to pursue communities as evolving entities complete with structures, these words eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While these criticisms may seem rather serious, the whole of the work is worthy of reading, adaption, and implementation. Even inadequate or deficient models and arguments can figure as crucial in perfectly good historical explanations.
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