Local history in a municipal straitjacket?

A majority of Norwegian municipalities finance local historical research. This explains the large quantity of publications on this field of research. Still, this financing mechanism does not create any enthusiasm among Norwegian historians. A main problem seems to be that the studies are forced into geographical frames identical to the municipalities (or counties). Some historians also argue that this form of commissioned research suffers under undue influence from the municipalities. The historian is normally expected to write for the general public, and some might feel pressure to oversimplify, and even to base the research on local self-concepts and other rooted local ‘truths’. The article does not aim to answer whether the financing mechanism undermines the academic value of such works, but it discusses to what extent local history research could be regarded as a tool in municipal reputation management and place-branding strategies. It also discusses whether this financial source will dry up as a result of a forthcoming reform in the municipal geographical structure. Based on experience, one might expect the opposite: ‘Vanishing’ municipalities would like to document their history, and history will be used as a tool for ‘new’ municipalities in need of defining who they are and creating or strengthening local identity.