In the past, even recent, the trade of history writing was done by people who accessed old records and writings and then presented their findings in varying ways.
There were those who stuck to what was there in the documents some trying to allow for faults and any unreliability. There were those who used this information for analysis on a limited scale. The there were those who had grand theories and ideas about the sweep of history.
One reason we had to rely on them was the sheer time, effort and trouble that goes into the research. This could be immense if trying to disentangle scattered papers or if it meant long and worrying trawls through piles of it.
With increasing digitisation of records it is now possible to do some things very quickly and at the touch of a keyboard. One area that I find fascinating is in the digitised newspapers where with a little skill you can call up vast amounts of reports very easily.
Chasing events and names not just through a limited number of London based national papers but around what comes up from local sources is proving fascinating. The perspective of major events seen through local eyes is one aspect but the coverage of local interests takes us into the detail of a world that has gone.
Looking for a name from the past revealed surprises. The assumption was that he was someone of minor interest. To find him alongside the great and the good and part of his local elite, aristocrats and all. But one way to look at what was going on is to go down the lists of names to see who was where doing what.
A choice example was the Salisbury Infirmary or Hospital. Established and based on entirely voluntary contributions its local board attempted to provide medical services in a district that was thought to be of too small a population to support such a facility. The board and associated committees were not simply local businessmen or such. Those involved included British aristocrats, gentry, local businessmen and the branches of many mutual organisations for the working class.
In the late 1930's it was clear that the need to expand was there but against this was an increasing and worrying deficit. So in came one of the Royal Family, Princess Alice of Gloucester, wife of Prince Henry, third son of King George V, for a state visit in 1937.
There was a huge turnout of everybody who was anything with public and major ceremonial, crowds lining the streets, troops on parade and the whole bang shoot. A nice touch was when posies where given to the Princess on behalf of the mutual societies they were presented all by girls named Alice.
Following through into 1939 what was striking were the many reports of activity and preparation for war at local level in several ways early in the year. Whatever was going on at national level the local authorities were doing a great deal to be ready and on their own initiative.
Near 80 years on this kind of melding of national figures, local figures and the people across the country is not just unthinkable today but impossible. The dead hand of centralisation and big government allied to big media has crushed the life and meaning of local affairs and government.
It is only by seeing directly into the past that we understand how much has been lost never to be regained.