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Research Methods in Local History

Local history, like public history, is peculiar among other fields of historical inquiry in that its central focus is not topical. After all, one could do local labor history, local women’s history, local business history, and, as we will, local religious history. Rather, what sets local history apart from other parts of the historical profession is a set of professional and ethical concerns. Who is local history for? And where does one go to find it? How does a historian work with the community they study when members of that community may be a neighbor as much as objects of study? What can local history do? And how can historians build the kind of relationships that not only yield obscure or overlooked sources, but also ensures their work has impact? We will try and work through all of these questions throughout the course of this semester. Rather than consider local history from a conceptual standpoint, we will actually do the work of local history by launching a new project focused on the history of Milwaukee’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other houses of worship. Throughout this semester, each of you will work with a religious community in Milwaukee to write its history. The process will involve archival research, one-on-one interviews, and ethnographic analysis. These histories will then be published online to create a living resource of Milwaukee’s religious diversity.


This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

Christopher D. Cantwell

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Public College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Graduate Course
Class Type

Date Published

Anthropology, Area Studies, History, Other

General Comparative Traditions
Religous Tradition

Pluralism/Secularism/Culture Wars

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