Andrew Witmer grew up in the northern Maine town of Monson. His parents are still active in the town, where they founded an evangelical study center. Now an associate professor of history at James Madison University in Virginia, Witmer specializes in 19th century America and has a particular interest in local histories. So, it is not surprising that his first book should explore what one might call the rise and fall of the town of Monson.

“Exploring the history of this obscure rural place (and others like it) offers an opportunity to view major changes from novel perspectives, accounting more fully for the agency of rural people and working across spatial scales that are too often studied separately.” This is a dense tome.

In a nutshell, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in 1807, granted half of township T9R8 to Monson Academy in Monson, Massachusetts. (The other half went to Hebron Academy.) This became the town of Monson, Maine shortly after Maine became a state. Originally a farming community, its heyday was the result of the discovery of a seam of exceptionally fine slate, which after the Civil War became its major industry. Ironically, at the same time as the quarries were being exploited, the town enjoyed a brief reputation as a destination for vacationers seeking respite from the crowded cities to the south. When the slate market collapsed after the First World War, Monson went into a slump. Today its future fortunes are linked to an ambitious plan to revitalize it as an arts center.

Witmer’s research is formidable. I very much doubt that there is a recorded event or person in Monson’s 200-year history that he has not discovered and incorporated into “Here & Everywhere Else.” The lists and statistics are prodigious. He is also prolific with the insights of historians and social scientists. All this results in 41 pages of end notes, and it often tests the reader’s stamina.

The book’s overall thesis is the importance of a small town’s connections to the outside world in shaping it and its residents. “For well over two centuries, national and global developments have played essential roles in the production of locality,” he writes. A good example was the influx of Welsh miners who brought their skills to the slate quarries. These also benefited from Swedish immigrants, overflowing from the town of New Sweden. Witmer shows how this diversity created a generally more liberal mindset than the nativism of some neighboring towns.

The uniqueness he cites in some connections is sometimes hard to grasp, and sometimes something of a stretch. The title of the last chapter, “Silicon Valley and Small-Town Maine,” refers to the fact that the funds with which Betty Noyce set up the Libra Foundation, which has invested in the town’s revitalization, came from her divorce from the inventor of the microchip. Oddly, he does not credit the event on the other side of the world that bedeviled Monson farmers in 1816: the volcanic eruption in Indonesia that produced the Year Without a Summer, perhaps the epitome of global cause and local effect.

Witmer is at his best when he describes some of the enterprising people who have come from or to Monson and made impressive contributions. Attorney John Francis Sprague, originally from Sangerville, spent most of his career advancing ways to improve the town. The artist Carl Sprinchorn came to visit Swedish friends and left inspired by the Maine woods. Harry Davis, who manufactured and sold over 240,000 packets of spruce gum during the first two decades of the last century, was also a fire warden who helped Myron Avery develop local stretches of the Appalachian Trail. After a hardscrabble childhood in the town, Alan Bray has become one of Maine’s leading contemporary artists. Witmer puts it nicely. “Monson was fading in real life even as Alan Bray preserved it” on canvas. During a spell in Florence, Bray infused his pictures of home with the Renaissance art in which he was immersed, which fits in with Witmer’s local-global theme. A beautiful example is on the book’s cover.

Summing up his work, the author makes a plea for greater integration between “academic history and the ongoing rural tradition of locally authored local history by advancing a richer account of locality, one that conceived of the local in relationship to rather than isolation from larger scales of activity and identification.” “Here & Everywhere Else” is a good example of the advantages, the pitfalls and above all the challenges of making such an approach work.

Thomas Urquhart is the author of “Up for Grabs, Timber Pirates, Lumber Barons and the Battles Over Maine’s Public Lands.”

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