A theoretical survival guide for the local non-profit historical society

I’m told that the number of “historical societies” in the United States is uncertain. American Historical Association (AHA) (founded 1884) estimates place the number around 10,000.

That number is from a 2012 article (“The Future of Local Historical Societies”) The article also postulates that many (most?) of these local historical societies are underfunded and understaffed – i.e. the future of the average “local non-profit historical society” is questionable.

As a “student of history” with a “tech background” and an MBA I have given this subject a little thought – and come up with some suggestions.



Interest/who is the customer?

When starting a new business the first question asked is often “who is the customer?” Are there people that actually want/need the product/service we are considering? Are there enough of those people to constitute a “viable market?”

If the market is small and extremely competitive – then your product needs to be something special with a high value “unique selling proposition” – otherwise you are probably better off pursuing another venture.

The AHA article claims:


“These early societies were commonly formed by elites whose main interest was the history of people like themselves, leaders in business, commerce, and government. Their mission was to preserve the legacy of their ancestors, to commemorate local heroes, and to preserve historic architecture.”

THE FUTURE OF LOCAL HISTORICAL SOCIETIES

Debbie Ann Doyle | Dec 1, 2012

Out imaginary “local historical society” (l.h.s. from here on) is faced with a small market BUT they (probably) have the advantage of being the only game in town. They may be small, underfunded, under staffed – but they are the only group doing what they do.

If “local history” is the product then the “customer” is the local community.

Products/Customers – What it is REALLY about

The problem facing our l.h.s. (small market size – lack of interest) becomes an advantage when we shift the focus from “selling local history to the local community” to “building the community with an appreciation of its history.”

To remain relevant the l.h.s. has to educate the local community about the COMMUNITY’S history. This education process will strengthen/build the local community and become a “positive feedback” – e.g. education about the community creates a stronger community with interest in its history.

Of course no community exists in a vacuum completely separate from anything else. Part of the responsibility of a l.h.s. is putting that history in perspective – the idea of “Veteran’s Parades” illustrates my point – but again, the primary focus of the l.h.s. is LOCAL.

Tourism AND Community building

The focus on local history doesn’t mean the l.h.s. can’t attract “tourism” – but it probably isn’t going to be a large source of revenue. Again the idea is that the l.h.s. is engaging in “community building” to a certain degree – so the “tourists” are the local community.

The Suggestions:
  1. website – of course your l.h.s. has a website. However, if it is a static website that someone put together in 1995 – you PROBABLY want to consider upgrading.

    The information/content on your “static site” is probably fine – but the “look and feel” of the site may not be what users expect/want in 2021

    e.g. This site (cameroncomputers.com) is running on WordPress – which takes care of a lot of the heavy lifting. “Mobile first” is important – “search engine optimization” is always nice, but not as important if your focus is “local community”
  2. Membership form – forcing people to print out a form and mail in payment to join/contribute to the l.h.s. limits membership. Paypal has been around long enough to become a verb – but there are other options.

    The l.h.s. can easily setup a “donation” and/or “membership” page. Make it easy (and secure) for people to join and then you will need to worry about having multiple people with access to the accounting system because you are bringing in so much $$ in membership dues (wouldn’t that be nice)
  3. email newsletter – a free email newsletter can be the “gateway to membership.” Educating about local history covers a wide range of topics – finding someone to create the content is (obviously) the first step. Then sending out a weekly email to a list of subscribers isn’t much harder than using “word processor” software.

    Sending lower volumes of email will be free – if the subscription list grows it can become its own source of revenue. Substack is nice, but many option are available.
  4. other content – if the “email newsletter” is the bread and butter fueling l.h.s. membership then video content might be the “meat and potatoes.” The resources required to produce video content is low. Some technical skills are required to get “good video and sound” – also a little bit of video editing will (probably) be required.

    SO maybe this becomes the differentiator between the “well organized” l.h.s. and the “not so well organized” l.h.s. – if you are underfunded and understaffed, then keeping that YouTube channel updated might be something to put aside until you get the email list build up.
  5. the “archives” – if your l.h.s. has boxes of pictures/newspapers sitting in storage, “digitizing” that content is probably the most valuable thing you can do for “local history.”

    This is the “high cost to setup” and “time intensive” suggestion – but again, also the one with the most “historic value.” This time around some “tech skills” are required (not a lot, but some) – computers setup, scanners attached, software configured – but the end result will be an easily searchable database of local history.
Happy to help

In an “ideal” world – humans would expand their world as they “grow up” – e.g. go from “family member” to “local community member” to “national member” to “responsible productive member of humanity.”

I will argue that the “loss of a sense of community” is one of the “big problems” with the United States in 2021. The problem isn’t that society is fragmented so much as “broken” – i.e. a lot of folks don’t feel like they belong “anywhere” and that is a breeding ground for all kinds of bad stuff.

So helping to build/preserve the “local history society” really becomes much more than just saving local history …

If you want to contact me – email les@clancameron.us – or find me on LinkedIn (mention “l.h.s.” or “local history” and I’ll gladly add you as a “connection”).

I’m available for “paid consultation” if you need something more than an email response. Thanks for reading this far 😉

Junior Classics

“The purpose of The Junior Classics is to provide, in ten volumes containing about five thousand pages, a classified collection of tales, stories, and poems, both ancient and modern, suitable for boys and girls of from six to sixteen years of age”

The book series is in the public domain – which means there are lower cost and “free” versions available. I’ve made the effort to do some slight editing – e.g. using a large “readable font” and a “functional” Table of Contents – which greatly improves the reading experience over a simple text file.

B&N publishes the “dead tree book” – again the difference with my version is that the page count is higher (due to the larger, more readable font), so the price might be a little higher (B&N gets most of the money)

If you don’t own a “Nook” tablet there are applications in the App store that will let you use your Android tablet or Apple device ….

Volume 1 – Fairy and Wonder Tales

Volume 2 – Folk Tales and Myths

Volume 3 – Tales From Greece and Rome

Volume 3 – Tales From Greece and Rome (paperback)

Volume 4 – Heroes and Heroines of Chivalry

Volume 5 – Stories That Never Grow Old

A favorite poem

Ulysses 
BY Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

         This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

         There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Just playing with the WordPress blocks –