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.