B is for Books for Historians

Even in today’s digital age the diligent historian needs books. I have several different historical ‘hats’ and I thought I would mention just some of the books that have caught my attention whilst working in my various fields.

Hannah Wolley facsimilieAs regards my life in the seventeenth century, what better than a book written at the time. There are a number of these, many illuminating the lives of women. For today, I am choosing Hannah Wolley’s The Compleat Servant-maid: or, the young maiden’s and family’s daily companion. She has written others but this, first written in 1677 and available in facsimile, is full of recipes and household hints so that we can build a picture of the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors. More suggestions of contemporary books can be found in the bibliographies to the chapters of my Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors.

My latest project, regarding the period 1946-1969, has led me to two excellent books. Firstly Jean Baggott’s The Girl on the Wall, that I have mentioned in a previous blog. If you need something to inspire you to write your memories this is it. Secondly Kate Adie’s Corsets to Camouflage, a story of women in war over the centuries.

I am of course a family historian and there are numerous books I could recommend to help researchers hone their craft. I could even mention one that I have recently written myself! Instead I am going to suggest that family historians do seek out information, either in written or digital form, that helps them to understand the sources that they are using. I have been a family historian since B.C. (before computers). Whilst I applaud modern technologies that allow us to see digital images of records from the comfort of our own homes, it has also bred a generation of ‘push-button’ genealogists who do not understand the records that the computer is searching on their behalf. Please, before you ask one of the leading subscription websites to interrogate a data set, read the background information that will explain why that class of record was created, what information it is and is not, going to provide and any gaps that there may be in its coverage.

Families do not come alone and I spend much of my time looking at the communities in which they lived. Do look for books about your own community or the communities of your ancestors. More on this topic tomorrow but for now I will recommend the sadly out of print Sources and Methods for Family and Community History: a handbook (Cambridge University Press 1994) by Michael Drake and Ruth Finnegan, with yours truly as a critical reader.

Finally a few more favourites that can help with many branches of history:-
Caroline Davidson’s A Woman’s Work is Never Done: a history of housework in the British Isles 1650-1950 (Chatto and Windus 1986)
Michael Wood’s The Story of England (Viking 2010)
Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England (Piatkus 1954)

So books are important to historians, read them, write them, let others know about your favourites, even if we access them online do not let books become a thing of the past.


3 comments on “B is for Books for Historians

  1. Prem Rao says:

    Interesting posts. Thanks to the A to Z Challenge I have had the opportunity to come across many blogs, including yours.

  2. Very interesting read! I like your blog.

  3. kristin says:

    “The Girl On the Wall” sounds like a very interesting book. Reading about life in the period makes the records much more meaningful and interesting. I find hard to get a feel for someone’s life without digging deeper.

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