By Dr. A. P. Nasatir
The study and writing of local history receives attention from three classes of people: students, teachers and adults not connected with educational institutions. Each of these has its own approach. For the first, local history is an excellent, but too little used, introduction to the whole field of history. It affords contact with original, primary sources of information, it calls for exploration and discovery in untrodden areas, and it prevents the misconception that history is merely something already written in books. For teachers it offers the opportunity, also, of putting scientific training to the service of the community and of avoiding the endless repetition of stale information. To men and women not connected professionally with schools, it presents an excellent field for the exercise of a lively intellectual curiosity and provides a safeguard against the leadership of ignorance; it gives the individual, humble or noted, a place in the development of knowledge and wisdom.
Professional historians are critical of the product of nonprofessional study of local history, often justly so. Its defects are, however, due in part to defective training received in schools and, in part, to the failure to grasp the importance of widespread work in local history. But the appearance of guides for amateur local historians, especially the work of local historical societies, and the establishment of higher standards for publication are aiding. We need to emphasize the study of local history. While it cannot be maintained that state, national and general history is the sum of local history, generalizations cannot be made safely without taking local developments into account. There is then a necessity for mass production of historical writing in which the participation of many people everywhere is required.
To say that every man is an historian has become a truism. Whether one is trained in scientific research techniques and earns his livelihood in pursuit of Clio’s craft or lives a life of nonscholarly character, history and historianship are a part of it. When you, as a citizen, pick up your telephone and order a ton of coal for delivery to your home, you set in motion an entire chain of historical events. You go to the office of the coal company to pay your bill. The clerk or owner of the coal firm turns to his ledger, seeks the date of your purchase, date of delivery, and checks the amount to be paid. You pay the bill, and it is receipted. All of this is as much primary research as if the investigation concerned the home life of George Washington or the articles of a peace treaty following a war. You as an individual must work in history every day — and when you begin to reconstruct what occurred in business yesterday you are engaging in historical research, and every one of you must realize that when you arise in the morning and you try to reconstruct some business transactions of yesterday in order to benefit your business negotiation of the oncoming day — and you forget some details which bother you — that is forgetting history. Viewed in this context local history assumes great importance.
Certainly there is validity to James H. Perkins’ assertion in 1839 that “History is but the tale of the world’s doings, and refers no less to those of the hamlet, the workshop, and the meadow, than to those of the capitol, the senate chamber and the field of battle.” But there is validity also, that the locale of history is always local. Local history must be considered in geographical terms. In North America, the History of the United States is local history. In the history of the United States, California is local history. In the history of California, San Diego County is local history. While in San Diego County, a village, a township, a school district or a community is local history. But locale may be determined by other than political considerations — the Great Plains, Greenwich Village, or the Great Northern Railroad, as well as racial or cultural analysis of the Latin, Negro or Jew in Southern California becomes local history.
The fundamental processes which direct social evolution do not necessarily originate in capitols and legislatures. The dynamics of the social process usually center elsewhere. Their nature, operation, and especially their influence can be studied most effectively where they originate, on a level of locale. Therefore the writing of good local history is essential, for without it the primary information which makes possible genuine understanding is unobtainable. A community without a knowledge of its history is like a man who does not understand the reasoning behind his drives.
Properly written local history cannot and should not be disassociated from broader social and political movements. This may require searching far and wide for sources of local history, for in a sense the entire history of the nation is the sum total of its local history which is the basic unit of state and local history. This requires a more searching analysis of the sources of local history. It should not be forgotten that through local history we learn of the experiences of the nonexceptional men and women, and, for this very reason, when local histories are carefully and thoughtfully compiled and written, their value justifies the patience and labor involved.
The writing of history “from the bottom up,” then, is the modern process of historical analysis. Because of both the difficulties and ease of acquiring local materials the writing of local history has been quite uneven. Many have been merely antiquarian compilations, but some have demonstrated the possibilities of interpretation in local analysis. Only those who have understood that their writings must reflect and analyze grass roots have been successful. How people have lived, how communities have grown, how life has changed are questions which force careful study of details. Enormous quantities of data must be used to give the valid topical and geographical relationships; compilations of school laws, for example, must be gathered not only for one community but for many and widely scattered communities, before the skillful local historian is ready to detail adequately with and relate properly his unique subject with the general field. In focusing upon one locality, local historians are in a position to make peculiar contributions to American social and cultural history. Such for example was Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantations. Many modern topics in American economic history need more data before genuine generalizations will be validated; problems of the relationship of capital and labor, labor exchanges, local customs and attitudes of working people, as well as the attitudes of management toward populations, nationalities, and social policy. But such work will be impossible without good and utilizable sources — sources which may not be many and varied but may be found many thousands of miles from the subject under consideration. It did not take a twentieth century shrinking world to distribute the history of almost every portion of it in distant lands.
Good local history is history that is based on good sources; and if it is to be good local history it must be made upon the basis of all the sources. Sources for local history are not only many and varied but may be found in places which may force one to extend his search to any, every and all points and to any part of the globe,
That a generation may know the past, the history of the past must be written and taught. It is a striking fact that the leading people of the world, those displaying the most highly developed historical consciousness, possess the largest number of historians, have the greatest output of historical work, and devote the largest amount of teaching of history in the schools. The writing and teaching of history does for the race what living does for the individual; it acquaints it with the experience of the race.
If the knowledge of the past is a necessity, it must be taught in every generation. Before it can be taught, it must be written. This reconstructed experience of the past, if it is to be valuable, must be full, detailed, and above all, exact. Truth is thus the first principle.
This process by which the historical past is reconstructed can be more graphically differentiated from that of the natural sciences. Natural science establishes its generalization on the basis of controlled experimentation and systematic variation. It tends to deal with the individual experiment only as a direct identical representative of a group. It is this consideration which allows the natural scientist to know with certainty and to predict with mathematical precision what the outcome of a given relationship of factors will be. In this certainty the historian can never share. The causes of fire, and the circumstances which create it, can be known by the scientist — on them he can generalize to the extent of stating that such conditions will always produce combustion. But none of the methods of the natural scientist could predict the burning of Moscow in 1812 or Washington in the same decade. For this very reason, even if it were possible, experimentation would be of little utility to the historian. He cannot conjure up the figures of the past and cause them to reproduce for him the famous scenes out of history. History never repeats itself, and it is from the remains of that single act that this act must be reproduced. The scientist may study actual changes taking place before his eyes, may observe them directly, may reproduce them. But the historian sees not the fact, but only the residue of the fact itself. This residue of the historical past we call SOURCES. Without sources no part of the historical past can be reconstructed.
Historical sources are the remains of man’s unique activities as a social being. One large part of them was not originally intended to supply information to the historian, but because of its origin, because it was the product of historical activities, it is fitting to supply information concerning these activities. This group is infinite in number and variety and includes: remains of human body; clothing, food, dwelling, arms, utensils, books, pictures, statuary, language, literature, laws, manners, and customs. These are called remains — these objects can be directly observed and inferences drawn from them touching the manners and customs of the times in which they originated. The other type of sources is tradition. Tradition is a record of impression made upon some human brain by a past event and was intended at the time of its origin to convey information concerning that event. The record of the tradition may be oral, written or pictorial. A large part of our history is necessarily reconstructed from written tradition, containing not the fact itself, but what the witness thought the fact was.
The first step taken by the historian in the attempt to reconstruct man’s unique social past is to bring together ALL the sources that can be discovered on the period under investigation. Once collected, the sources must be submitted to rigorous criticism to determine the value of the affirmations in each tradition and the relation of the affirmations to each other. For historical truth is established by the agreement of the affirmations of well-informed, independent witnesses. After the facts are collected and established, they are grouped to form a complex whole, narrated logically and systematically, and accompanied by notes in proof of the affirmations contained in the text, thus completing the work of the historian. (Unless he has to pay the cost of publication.)
(To summarize the process: the historical event takes place and leaves its deposit of sources behind it, the historian collects the sources, criticizes them, compares the affirmations contained in the traditions, groups the facts and writes his narrative.)
In the thorough search for sources, a serious attempt to bring together ALL the evidence bearing upon the topic is a sina qua non of a piece of investigation that is to have any permanent value. To succeed in a search for unrecorded evidence one must have both ingenuity and patience; ingenuity in forming hypotheses concerning the existence and probable location of evidence and patience in testing these hypotheses.
It is in the nature of historical societies, local and state, to gather, collect, preserve, etc., the materials of history—to aid the student. They should be the repositories of such materials and have as one of their main purposes the finding, preserving, and making available of materials. Like our libraries—our archives and other records of the past are beyond price—once gone they are irreplaceable; they are unique; they have no substitute. Fulfilling this more important function today is even more complex and trying than it has been in the past because of the changes in society and technology. Let me give some illustrations of what I mean. Since neither the man on the throne nor the man in the street is producing traditions—now that they have been replaced by selective groups—collecting evidence is extremely important and difficult. There is also the problem of quality—where and how can all historical sources be housed. This is a persisting problem. It is necessary for the local historical society to keep a file of all newspapers—I mean with relation to, for example, world politics. We now have the A.P., the U.P., and standardized collectors and vendors of news. Yet local items and newspapers must be preserved, culled, clipped, etc. Associated with this selectivity is the rise to a newer activity of greater importance today—namely, oral history—there must be a systematic accumulation of statements, memoirs, etc., of the people still alive. After all, even business records can’t live—we must get hold of them. More than ever and, as I have indicated above in my own personal experiences, lacunae in local history must be filled from archives and archival materials from abroad as well as here in the United States. To complicate the search is the need of telephone communication now lost. A more difficult problem is the changing contours in the topography and physiography—building on tracts, buildings—buildings in town are being torn down to make way for highways, freeways, more modern buildings. There is need to preserve some of the old—which can be done by means of records and/or pictures. State organizations under the Parks system must keep historic sites; as professionals term them exhibits in place. We can’t maintain all sites in the face of advancing civilization. BUT we can keep better records by means of dioramas, photos, and movies. The old-style memoirs now are passé as are many diaries in a time of hurry—the systematic interview or oral history as indicated above must be engaged in and preserved. Historical societies must collect evidence; news. Perhaps in the past, and the past, itself was reliable insofar as collecting materials is concerned, BUT the future is uncertain.
What then are the chief sources of your information for San Diego history? Original sources include all materials that have been preserved—written or printed documents; conversations with participants; physical survivals—such as mounds, buildings, relics. Even with original sources one must sift and weigh. Hence the sources of local history may be summarized in the form of where one can procure or avail himself of them such as:
- library—local public library, local historical society libraries, local private libraries. Here too is your beginning —to gather information on your topic, find leads to materials, etc.
- become acquainted with what your like-minded predecessors have written and published on San Diego—village, town, and city histories of and concerning San Diego city and county and various other subdivisions of and in the county.
Even surrounding town histories may give you information regarding some pioneers in San Diego—maybe that your own ancestors were cranks, gamblers and drunkards, headed straight for perdition (don’t be alarmed because please remember that everything in print is not necessarily true). Here too it is necessary that you consult and become acquainted with various bibliographies and printed catalogues, genealogies and articles on San Diego published in many far off publications which may be found in many bibliographical tools such as writings on American history, historical guides, and bibliographies of publications of historical society publications. (In case you find some not readily available to you here in San Diego, your libraries may be able to borrow them on interlibrary loan, etc.).
County histories, although some are far from reliable, are necessary to your work. Yet newer county histories and newer city histories are becoming far more accurate and useful, and in this connection no amount of praise can exaggerate the great contribution and guide to San Diego history given us in Pourade’s multi-volume History of San Diego which illustrates most of the points I am discussing. Next come local and other genealogies, state and regional histories. There are many good histories of California and regional histories of the Pacific Coast, the Southwest. Closely akin to state and regional histories and equally important are the histories of movements, institutions, and periods. Many such movements, institutions and periods affect greatly the history of San Diego and thus enable you to relate your local history to state and national history. Even though less accurate, yet a valuable method of obtaining the desired background is through reading historical novels which deal with your subject.
Because the local historian is interested in changes as well as in recreating his own town as it used to be—changes in persons, people, new people, new industries, changes in development with respect to surrounding towns and villages, sociological texts may be of use; especially can one get from them a few hints and many illustrations of the sociological methods which will aid him in analyzing the influences, forces and processes which contributed to the development of the community.
- family histories and genealogies—which contain much information of all sorts and degrees of accuracy—many having been produced because of family pride without regard for accuracy. Not all family genealogies or histories are published. Many families may be found to have statements about births, marriages, deaths, residence, occupation; some just bare facts; some may have handwritten accounts of their outstanding member.
- military records—many published in public records, publications of DAR, SAR, war records of more recent wars.
- directories of all sorts: state, county, city, commercial, fraternal or telephone.
- maps, atlases and gazetteers.
- accounts of travellers; descriptions. There are many of these in the case of the long history of San Diego—its geographical importance. Many foreign visitors have left published accounts and descriptions (in fact one volume in Pourade’s History is largely made up of accounts of foreign visitors. There are also many bibliographies of travelers and their public accounts.)
- anniversary addresses and sermons; photographs and pictures by ministers, lawyers, officials and distinguished citizens. (A few are found in newspapers but many exist perhaps still in manuscript form.) Search for pictures in attics, in old books, pictures of persons, buildings, churches, schools—early fire engines, etc.)
- a very good source and a necessary one is to go out and talk with old residents—not only to get them to talk about the folklore of their grandfathers, father’s stories but their own memories. This is tricky business but its importance is becoming of great importance recently in the beginning of “oral history.” Our own San Diego History Center has had such a project for a few years. After all, tradition is a part of history—which does not necessarily have to be accepted literally. The older generation did after all spend their evenings and amusements swapping tales, stories and reminiscences. While in pursuit of such old settlers, have your eye open to get them to search their attics, old trunks, for manuscript letters, dairies, letters and heirlooms. I, for one, think this is the most important job for us here in San Diego. So many other collecting agencies and libraries have been doing this for years that much of our historical materials in San Diego have long ago left the area and forces us local historians to go elsewhere to find materials for our history which rightfully should be located right here in San Diego. I urge all of you to do this. After all, the old resident is not only a source of history and tradition, but also an almost inexhaustible source of local folklore. And nearly every community (and I am sure San Diego has) has its ghost houses, secret rooms and closets, hidden stairways and false walls; its cranks, spies and murderers; its railroads that went the wrong way and prevented a growth of metropolitan proportions, inventors whose machines wouldn’t work, and new mineral deposits which didn’t pan out. Such stories have a way of seldom being recorded, but the old resident is likely to know them. So long as they are labeled as folklore, no harm can be done in repeating them, and much interest will be added to the lighter side of local history.
Local place names, their origins, and explanations are of importance.
I need not dwell on the importance of private letters and diaries and account books. But this leads me to divert for a moment and make an observation: It is imperative that you who are interested in the history of San Diego make a careful effort to see to it that the records of every group, social, fraternal, religious, business, even college fraternity, etc., are preserved. Too many of us members of organizations pay no attention to the records, correspondence, bills, programs, etc., and let them be destroyed. We must make a systematic effort to make the institutions conscious of the importance of preserving their records and depositing them in central depositories such as SD Historical Society or the SD public library. These are the essential materials for the history of San Diego.
- Of greatest importance in the history of San Diego are the newspapers and periodicals. The historian, Goss, has stated the truism that “The chief mine of information for writing local history is the files of old newspapers.” They not only mirror the daily life of the people of the community but they are rich in the accounts of travel, adventure, expansion and festivity as well as in discussions of national and local politics and in abstracts of speeches on all the great issues of the day; they are a primary source for a study of the evolution of economic and political opinion; a record of industrial and business history, etc. Newspapers are useful for the contemporary picture they present. Periodicals are useful not only for contemporary life they mirror but also for the historical and genealogical articles you may find in them about life in an earlier period.
- Public records are a great source of local history. Census reports are a revealing source of information on many aspects of local community life. Not only federal censuses but also voting registers —abstracts of title and title deeds; surveyor’s notes; public school records; public archives of the county including probate records, recorder of deeds, public administrator courts and judicial personnel records and trial records, assessors’ records, and many other departments of County government.
State public records—land grants, surveys, militia lists, pension bureaus. Business records—records of factories, railroads, mills, general stores, sales agencies, shipping lines, canneries, cooperatives—concerns of every description.
Church records and cemetery inscriptions.
And in the case of the history of San Diego, the local historian must go beyond all these because of its special history as a Spanish province, a Mexican province, and an American possession. The international rivalry over California makes it imperative that the records for the history of San Diego be sought after in fields far beyond the confines of its local limits. First and foremost are the archives of Mexico—the Archivo General y Publico in Mexico City is a veritable paradise for students of the Spanish and Mexican periods in California —therein are contained the many records which above I have described for local history—the census reports, the mission records, the local government records, the military records. And even beyond that, access must be had to the Archivo General de Indias in Seville wherein the records of the early explorers and the policies of the Spanish crown involving San Diego are buried. Much help in this work is provided by the excellent guides made and published such as H. E. Bolton’s Guide to Materials for American History in the principal archives of Mexico and Charles F. Chapman’s Catalogue for California materials in the Archivo General de Indias. To aid us in this matter, the University of California’s Bancroft Library has a great mass of material copied and micro-filmed from the Mexican and Spanish archives and very recently a small selection of those materials relating more specifically to San Diego was obtained by the San Diego History Center. But the Bancroft Library contains much of the local materials also that relate to San Diego History and several collections of documents relating to San Diegans including two or more histories dictated to Bancroft’s scribes by original participants in the History.
Beyond this stands also the National Archives in Washington whose vast archival collections have hardly been scratched with respect to California. Guides in a general way have been published and several more specific lists have been published. Finally to round out this talk, I should not fail even to mention a small part of my own work, namely the number of references to San Diego in the French archives which I have calendared and some of which I have published and a very few mentions in the archives of Chile upon which I am now spending some of my time, as well as the British Public Office.
Thus one sees that the opportunities for research in San Diego History are almost limitless. Pourade has been the latest to give us an accurate outline. Using his five volumes thus far published my colleague Professor Lionel U. Ridout and myself collaborated and drew up a list, a hasty list, of topics for study in San Diego history. This long list of possible topics for research is not exhausting and in fact many of the topics can be subdivided. Neither have we had in mind that none of these topics have been investigated. In fact many of them have already had volumes published on them, articles published on them. But for the purpose of interesting students, teachers, laymen old and young, resident and non—resident, in the vast opportunities of engaging in the history of San Diego, I can only say that the field is wide open — it beckons you.
As I concluded a number of years ago, let me repeat:
Laymen and educators are generally agreed that knowledge of our own history is essential in the making of Americans. History makes loyal citizens; history makes intelligent voters; history makes good neighbors; history makes stable, well-rounded individuals of us. We are all historians — we are forced to use our knowledge of the past in every act of daily life — we must draw upon our past experience; learn from our experience. Men who cannot remember their own personal history are feeble-minded or afflicted, men who cannot learn from their own experience are failures. History is only a guide, not a dictator; it can suggest but cannot command. I recommend it to you.
Below are some proposed topics in San Diego History which merit research and investigation. This is not a complete list, nor is it intended to be anything but a tentative list. It was compiled by Professors A. P. Nasatir and Lionel U. Ridout.
TOPICAL HISTORY OF SAN DIEGO
Alcaldes of San Diego
Baja California explorations, 17th-18th centuries
Balboa Park, controversies
Balboa Park, exposition
Banking in San Diego County
Board of Health, San Diego County
Bridges in San Diego County
Cabrillo National Monument
California Development Company
California Southern Railroad
Chamber of Commerce
Chinese in San Diego
Churches in San Diego
City Charter, San Diego
City government, before 1900
City government, after 1900
Colleges and universities
Dams in San Diego County
El Camino Real
Expositions in San Diego
Forts in San Diego County
Fredericka Home for the Aged
Golden Era Magazine
Government during Mexican regime
Government during Spanish regime
Hardy, R.W.H., travels of
Hatfield, C.M., Rainmaker
Highways, problems of
Hospitals and sanitariums
Hotel del Coronado
Hotels in San Diego
Immigration, overland routes
Independence, War of
Japanese in San Diego
Latin American trade
Law enforcement agencies
Medicines, medical societies
Mexican capitol of California
Mexican War, to 1850
Mission Bay, development of
Mission San Diego
Missions and missionaries, Baja California
Mission San Luis Rey
Museums in San Diego
Fine Arts Gallery
Junipero Serra Museum
Natural History Museum
San Diego Museum of Man
San Diego Zoo
Nolen Plan, The (City Plan for San Diego)
Old Town (Pueblo Viejo)
Overland mail service
Palomar, development of
Point Loma, development of
Point Loma Lighthouse (Old)
Politics, to 1900
Population and censuses during Spanish regime
Port District, development of
Presidio, San Diego
Ranching in San Diego County
Rosicrucians, The, in San Diego
Routes to San Diego
San Blas Supply Base
San Diego Bay
San Diego Bulletin (Daily World)
San Diego County Medical Society
San Diego County Ordinances
San Diego Gas and Electric Company
San Diego Herald
San Diego Land and Town Company
San Diego Sun
San Diego Tribune
San Diego Union
San Diego Zoo
Savings and Loan corporations
Seaweed products (agar)
Secularization of missions
South Bay area
Southern California Mountain Water Company
Tent City, Coronado
Union Title Insurance Company
World War I
World War II
Alvarado, Francisco Maria
Alvarado, Juan Bautista, Governor
Alvarado, Juan Ygnacio and Belisarda
Ames, John Judson
Anza, Juan Bautista de
Argüello, Santiago Luis
Babcock, E. W.
Belcher, F. J.
Benbough, Percy J. and family
Black, Samuel T.
Bouchard, Hippolyte de
Bucareli y Ursua, Don Antonio Maria, Viceroy
Carrillo, Jose Antonio and family
Coffroth, James W.
Collier, D. C.
Davidson, G. Aubrey
Davis, W. H.
Echeandia, Jose Maria, Governor
Ferry, John Howard
Fitch, Henry Delano
Forward, John F. Sr.
Forward, John F. Jr.
Fuster, Father Vicente
Garcia y Moreno, Diego, First Bishop
Hardy, R. W. H.
Hatfield, C. M. (Rainmaker)
Hayes, Judge Benjamin
Herrera, Jose Maria
Jayme, Father Luis
Kendall, Edgar 1.
Kettner, William (Bill), Senator
Kino, Father Eusebio Francisco
Kirby, Lewis R.
Luce, M. A.
Marina, Father Juan
Marron, Juan Maria
Morse, E. W.
Neve, Felipe de
Osborn, John B.
Osuna, Juan Maria, First Alcalde
Pattie, James O.
Peyri, Father Antonio
Remondino, P. C.
Requa, Richard S.
Rivera y Moncado, Captain Fernando
Sefton, J. W. and family
Sehon, John L.
Serra, Father Junipero
Sloane, Judge William A.
Smythe, W. E.
Sola, Pablo Vicente de
Spreckels, J. D.
Tingley, Madame Katherine
Torrant, Father Hilario
Ubach, Father Antonio
Wilde, Louis, Mayor
Wright, Harold Bell
Zuniga, Don Joseph
Dr. Nasatir presented the foregoing paper at the Second Annual Convention of San Diego County Historical Society, Hotel Del Coronado, January 15, 1966. Because of the many requests for copies, permission was requested by the San Diego History Center to publish the paper in this issue of the Journal of San Diego History. Dr. Nasatir and Dr. Lionel U. Ridout then compiled the above tentative list of Topical History and Biographical subjects available to researchers.