Friday, September 12, 2014

Common-place: A Source for Historians
Although we have been asked to favor paper-based resources for our reviews, I would like to present the online history journal/magazine, Common-place.  According to the description, “a bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks--and listens--to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900.”  It goes on to say that, rather than focusing on “great men and great events, Common-place embraces the commonplace, or ordinary, in American life.”  It is this that makes Common-place a unique and worthy resource.

Each issue of Common-place includes book reviews, a letter from the editor (called Publick Occurrences), and a column called “Just Teach One,” in which a relatively obscure text is featured as an educational material.  “Object Lessons” describe the history behind an object, including provenance, and the “Web Library” feature is an annotated bibliography of web resources relating to varying topics.  Users can utilize a search box to perform keyword searches, as well, using Boolean operators to narrow returns.

Each issue also features relatively brief articles on different topics in history, sometimes organized around a particular theme or event, and other times simply relating to the period highlighted by the magazine’s area of focus.  Past themes have included early American cities, Pacific routes, 19th-centurygraphics, and one issue entitled  A Cabinet of Curiosities,” in which articles focused on unusual items and, yes, curiosity.

Articles can be contributed by any researchers, although the vast majority of those who are published are post-secondary educators.  History majors will recognize many names, including Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Mary Beth Norton (both of whom appear multiple times), as being reputable and authoritative in their fields of study.  Published pieces are immensely readable and include references, both paper- and web-based, for further research.

As an undergraduate student in history at OSU, I frequently turned to Common-place for research ideas as well as materials to support my own theses.  Later, post-graduation, I continued to turn to Common-place for my reading enjoyment.  I imagine it to be the type of work that scholars do for fun: research and writing in their preferred field without the pressure of peer review.  The quality is high, as would be expected, but the writing is friendly and fascinating.  For those who do not appreciate history, Common-place is a possible antidote.  For those who love history (and I count myself among this group), Common-place is fun, fascinating, and extremely valuable.

1 comment:

  1. I've always appreciated resources that attempt to shed more light on the everyday life aspects of history. It is so easy to get tied up in the major trends and events of the past that you sometimes lose sight of the fact that most people in history were just average, everyday people like ourselves. Often I feel as though the past gets sensationalized because our focus lies on major leaders or events; it is nice to have sources such as this one to help illuminate what else was happening at the time. I recently started reading a book called "Invisible Romans" which attempts to do the same; it foregoes descriptions of emperors and philosophers and instead focuses on everyday people: soldiers, housewives, slaves, etc. It is really quite fascinating.