horizontal rule

"County Histories"

Annals of Iowa

(July 1899)

Excerpts from the Digital Text found though the Hanover College library catalog.

This unsigned article is part of the "Editorial Department" of the journal.

horizontal rule
County Histories

Every state at some period has been afflicted with "County Histories" of a quite peculiar type. Very few of our Iowa counties have escaped "a run" of this sort of thing. They seem incidental to certain stages of human development -- like stone axes or rail fences. A typical one is before us at the present writing, and is fairly representative of a large class of these works. About one half of the volume, of something over 600 pages, purports to be a "History of the Northwest Territory," and of the State of Iowa. This, considered as a mere outline, may suffice for people who have little time to read or search for historical facts. But on the part of the editors and publishers it became a sort of labor-saving affair, for the same matter, printed from the same plates, was used in many counties. It also helped swell the volumes to quite respectable proportions. The other half of the book was mostly devoted to the county upon which the publisher determined to carry out his designs -- though portions of the matter were so prepared as to be available in almost any county. Then followed a brief "Biographical Directory," in which each of the inhabitants was mentioned -- if they were subscribers to the high-priced work. If they paid something more their portraits appear -- usually poor lithographs, at very high figures. Unless the publisher or his canvassing agent was paid or profited in some way the names of but comparatively few citizens of the county were even mentioned. For the most part the men employed to "work up" a county possessed little education or fitness for literary employment. It was jocosely remarked of some of them that they had the biographical sketches stereotyped, so that they could easily take out the name of "Jones" and insert that of "Smith'' or "Brown." These books were seldom if ever indexed, and while it seems necessary to have them in all our State Historical Collections, it is by careful search only that one can find the data he may require, if indeed it happens to be there. As histories they are very crude and ill-digested affairs. But we are happily passing out of the period in which such enterprises naturally flourish, and better things may be looked for in this direction. Indeed, we now have a few county histories of decided merit. Earnest, painstaking workers have also arisen in several of our counties, who are gathering up the facts of local history and printing them in attractive, readable shape, either in the newspapers or in book form. Among these we take pleasure in mentioning Harvey Ingham of Kossuth county, R. E. Flickinger of Pocahontas, R. A. Smith of Dickinson, J. W. Ellis of Jackson, and Will Porter of Polk, who are collecting everything that can be learned of the early history of their localities. These are encouraging indications, and there are abundant reasons to believe that the county histories of the future will be a great advance upon the most that have gone before.

horizontal rule

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Hanover College Department of History
Hanover College Visitor's Page

Please send comments to: historians@hanover.edu

horizontal rule