Rescued from Oblivion

Historical Cultures in the Early United States

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Alea Henle

In 1791, a group of elite Bostonian men established the first historical society in the nation. Within sixty years, the number of local history organizations had increased exponentially, with states and territories from Maine to Louisiana and Georgia to Minnesota boasting collections of their own.

With in-depth research and an expansive scope, Rescued from Oblivion offers a vital account of the formation of historical culture and consciousness in the early United States, re-centering in the record groups long marginalized from the national memory. As Alea Henle demonstrates, these societies laid the groundwork for professional practices that are still embraced today: collection policies, distinctions between preservation of textual and nontextual artifacts, publication programs, historical rituals and commemorations, reconciliation of scholarly and popular approaches, and more. At the same time, officers of these early societies faced challenges to their historical authority from communities interested in preserving a broader range of materials and documenting more inclusive histories, including fellow members, popular historians, white women, and peoples of color.

Cover design by Frank Gutbrod
Cover photo: Woman’s Shoes, originally owned by Mary Ledyard, made by Jonathan Hose and Son, about 1750–60, handstitched leather, silk brocade, and linen, with silk-covered wooden heel; gift of Dr. John L. Comstock, 1840.3.2ab, The Connecticut Historical Society




Chapter One
“The Lumber Yard of History”
The Organization, Progress, Successes, and Failures of Historical Societies

Chapter Two
“So Divided and Subdivided”
Preserving Local Histories and Government Records

Chapter Three
“Providing Materials for History”
Historical Collection Priorities

Chapter Four
“Disjointed Fragments”
Materials as History versus Materials for History

Chapter Five
“Less Repulsive to the General Reader”
Popular History and Historical Societies

Chapter Six
“An Oblivious Society”
Inclusion, Exclusion, and Omission in Historical Collections


Appendix One
Historical and Related Societies Established in the United States, 1791–1850

Appendix Two
Mediating the Connecticut Historical Society Visitor Logs