Our Historical Society’s quarterly publication, GLEANINGS, is old enough to have its own history. Back in the 1970s when the Society was organizing, the founders saw a need to have an ongoing mechanism to capture our community’s history and make it widely available. In the past there were several people who functioned as a “City Historian.” These people, such as Harvey Colburn, Foster Fletcher and Doris Milliman, spent hours writing both from personal experience and research. Because of their dedication we have much to draw upon.
The interesting thing about history is that it never ends. With the evolution of GLEANINGS the work of these earlier historians has been expanded. All of the current and former residents of Ypsilanti are potential contributors to the GLEANINGS. The more voices we have telling our stories the richer our publication will
There are some key concepts to keep in mind when writing local history. As a writer, you are either writing a first-hand account or you are using sources. If you are writing a first-hand account, you have been a witness to the main events in your story. If not, you may use interviews and/or research documents from the relevant period. When you use sources it is important that you acknowledge them by name. You want to give credit where credit is due. In addition you are providing the reader with information should they want to further pursue the topic being covered.
A second concept is that as historians we are writing the truth. That is the truth as we have been able to document or in the case of a first-person account, the truth as we perceived it. We are not writing fiction nor are we writing fictionalized history. We may want to illustrate with hypothetical examples such as, “in the 1930s the typical housewife spent x percent of her time on laundry...” We also want to keep fact separate from opinion. Writers sometimes use terminology such as “some people believe...” to delineate between the two.
Most historians will say that the purposes of a written history are to inform and enlighten. Not everything that has happened in the past merits a written record. However, history is not restricted to “significant” events. Sometimes seemingly minor happenings can inform and enlighten the reader. It is the story that determines its place in an historical journal; the author’s insight and understanding interprets the story in a way that makes it meaningful.
GLEANINGS articles focus on local history, what is now Ypsilanti and the surrounding area. In some stories the area may be expanded to include all of Washtenaw County. While there certainly may be links to other cities and even other countries, the event, person, etc. has a significant local connection or meaning and that is central to the story. Because we are a local publication, we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens, either living or deceased. They deserve respect. Two items in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics speak clearly to this: “Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy;” and “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”
In 2010 the GLEANINGS received an award from the Michigan Historical Society for being the best local history newsletter. In addition to direct mail distribution to our members, past issues are available on the Ann Arbor District Library’s website and on the Ypsilanti Historical Society website. Articles from our journal have been posted on the State of Michigan website. Al Rudisill, our GLEANINGS Editor and Society President, estimates a readership of over 1,000 for each issue.