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  • Writer's pictureLyle

How did you become a historian?

It was an accident. I always loved maps. So when a course was advertised at the local Senior Center about "Scituate in Maps" I signed up. I thought it was a course about maps. It did cover maps, but with a lot of history. And history abounds in Scituate, settled by Englishmen in the 1630s.

Soaking up the history in the classes, and living in this historic town, had an effect.

Next thing you know, I discovered an important historic figure who had retired to Scituate. Just a few miles from my house. So the discovery led to a presentation in class, then a website, then a draft biography. I started in 2016. I taught myself what historians do. I talked with historians. I dug into primary sources. To understand my historic figure, I learned about the Civil War and the events leading up to it. I bought and read a huge history of the Whig Party, and lots of other books. I visited the State Library's Special Collections Department, in the basement of the State House. I wrote this up, footnoting like crazy, almost a footnote for every sentence. (Where did that come from? I used to do that back in Law Review days, but not after.)

The biography is unfinished. It is now 150 pages, single-spaced, with 47,000 words and 625 footnotes. It is about George Lunt, a lawyer, legislator, poet, and publisher in Boston who was against the abolition of slavery, even during the Civil-war era. He was a friend of the South.

In my research, I visited the site in Scituate where Lunt stayed. The historic building is gone, replaced by a senior living center. But fragments of the old building are still incorporated there. Carol Miles took me there, and introduced me as a "historian." It was the first time I was called that, and I will never forget it. It made me believe or realize that that's what I had become.

I wanted the biography published. I was thinking Harvard University Press, etc. But I figured no publisher would want to publish this biography from an unknown and unpublished author, no matter how good it was. I needed credibility ("street cred"). So why not write a short article on another topic and get it published in a scholarly journal? A 10-page "Note" in the Massachusetts Historical Review, or maybe a short article in the New England Quarterly?

So I began researching and writing a short article about my historical neighborhood at the southern end of Third Cliff in Scituate. This is about when I found that my writing, at least the footnotes, needed to follow the Chicago Manual of Style. I knew about style manuals. At the Law Review we had to follow the "Blue Book." But that has since grown from a handbook that could fit in your pocket to a lengthy bound book. And the CMS was different, and also lengthy. And I learned that authors would usually footnote every paragraph, not every sentence. And they would be endnotes, not footnotes. So, it was a lot to learn and digest.

The "short" article hit 10 pages and kept on going. I went beyond "Note" territory into "article" territory and kept going. My little neighborhood needed historical context, so I covered all of Third Cliff. And since the beginning of geographical time, when Third Cliff was physically connected to Ireland. (Yes, I dig deep.)

Even that wasn't enough. Things needed context. So I examined the development of Scituate (including Third Cliff) as a summer destination in the 1800s and 1900s. The development was mostly along the seacoast. This was a topic that few others had even touched on. For me to write about this topic, the coast was pretty clear. (Pun intended.)

Where I am now is a draft close to 400 pages, 1000 footnotes. I think it is two books. One on Third Cliff. One on seacoast Scituate. Stop me if I reach Cohasset. Or, God forbid, Boston (although I have been dabbling in that). I am now chopping my draft in half.

Oh yeah. In the middle of 2019, I realized I had material on a cadre of suffragists who spent summers in Scituate. I thought there would be a book in that material, maybe ready for the start of 2020 when we would celebrate 100 years since the adoption of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote. It took a lot longer than I thought. But the book came out just at the anniversary. Summer Suffragists, my creation including publishing. It has lots of footnotes citing primary sources and other sources. They follow the Chicago Manual of Style, as far as I can tell.

So this is how I have become, or rather backed into being, a historian.

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