Re/membering the Town Body: Methodology and the Work of Local History

Kurtz, Matthew (2002). Re/membering the Town Body: Methodology and the Work of Local History. Journal of Historical Geography, 28(1) pp. 42–62.



This paper seeks to rework connections between material productions of memory and formations of local identity, both theoretically and empirically. A growing literature about sites of memory suggests that social groups continually reconstruct the past for political-economic purposes. Often, this literature does not sufficiently theorize the production of social groups, particularly when these groups are taken to be a priori units of analysis. Identity is thereby presumed while showing that some version of history was invented. I suggest that presumed and contested histories embody the performance of group identifications just as social groups construct the past. Commemorative books from Stockbridge, a small rural New England community with national cultural prestige, are then used to outline a town narrative in «double-time» where history both structures and is structured by performances of identity. The projects of local historians, I argue, performatively reconstitute local identity through ongoing processes of union and differentiation. Yet in the production of literature memorializing a town body called Stockbridge, the projects have presumably drawn from localized resources. Narration in double time thus works methodologically both to erase and to evoke the small community, endeavouring to make it visible as a fundamental yet fictitious social formation.

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