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From Croft To Clearing is the McCowan Society journal for the social and economic history of the ordinary Scot and the ordinary Scottish Canadian.


History and Socio-Economic Planning
By D. B. McCowan

Genealogists, family historians, local historians and professional historians all have a role to play in shaping our socio-economic and political future.

All of us are well-equipped to observe, analyze and interpret the historical data that we encounter in the course of our family history research. Genealogical research is perhaps the most prominent arena for the interplay of the non-professional historian and historic data. Every genealogist, from beginner to professional, can contribute to our understanding of society and the economy, and, hence, can help plan our future.

For example, genealogists who concentrate on compiling vital statistics (births, deaths and marriages) and places of residence can contribute greatly to the study of demography. The statistical data that is amassed by genealogists is very useful to social historians who are studying the movement of people and workforce trends.

The more energetic genealogists (say, "family historians") delve deeper into the activities of their forebears and uncover personal papers, wills, diaries, account books and the like. Genealogical societies have been marvelously fulfilling a great need -- analyses of such family archival material have been published by these societies and have thus been made available to professional and other historians.

One of the first historians to take advantage of the wealth of material assembled and published by genealogists is the "local historian". The local historian prepares detailed accounts of events and successions of events within well-defined and relatively narrow terms of reference. Patterns emerging from the local data are uncovered and interpreted in the local context -- and sometimes, hopefully, against the regional and national background. Other historians use this "local" material in their promotion of more "general" social, political and economic trends. So, hence, the professional historian can draw conclusions relating to Ontario and even Canada. Sociologists, economists and political scientists then take up the torch with a view to ultimately modify our laws for the betterment of society.

In general, in our family history research, we should attempt to reach beyond the fact-finding level of investigation. We should explore the concepts and relationships that developed in the days of our forefathers. By immersing ourselves in our subject matter, we should examine the human values that then prevailed. Finally, we should relate yesterday's patterns, concepts, relationships and values to society today -- and to our vision of society tomorrow.

Our future is uncertain and the risks for society great. Where there is uncertainty in an engineering design problem, the engineer secures and analyzes more data. We are the engineers of our future: we must all submit data -- and interpretations of that data -- to our decision makers so that they may favourably chart our course through time.

The next article is a brief overview of an incredibly significant change in the relationship between people and the land. As you read "The Agricultural Revolution In Lowland Scotland", please reflect on recent changes in our socio-economic values with respect to people and their means of subsistence.

From Croft to Clearing, V1 #2
The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #12