Edward S. Humphries b.1889: Researching Writing Lives

I had originally chosen the Writing Lives module based purely on the fact that I had so much fun on the Prison Voices module last year, which was also ran by Helen. The module had always enticed me as it is a step away from the formality and essay writing of the traditional English modules. The blogging aspect of Writing Lives has proved incredibly useful in developing my writing style to suit a specific audience, whilst steadily increasing my skill at research. This has proved invaluable when applied to other aspects of the English course, as I strongly believe there to be no better module for developing a reliable online research talent.

At the beginning of the module I had the choice of what author I would study. This initial choice was difficult in that there were so many interesting people to choose from. I quickly began to research each one of them, as to get a head start on their lives, and eventually found Humphries. What attracted me to his memoir was that it had the promise of something more and exciting. When conducting my initial research on Humphries I discovered that he had not just written one memoir. He had in fact written three memoirs, the two late ones being combined to form his ‘On My Own’. This intrigued me so I quickly snatched him up. It was not until half way through the module that I had found the location of his final memoir.

With much research and dedication I had discovered that Humphries’ memoir ‘On My Own’ was housed in the Special Collections of the University of Leeds library. So naturally I booked in and went for a visit. I spent nine hours in the library that day. When I arrived I was informed that there were four enormous boxes containing everything from photographs of Humphries’ dog (right) to his war medals (below). This is where it all began to come to life. Up until this point I had not seen a picture of Humphries and all I had in my possession was his memoir ‘Childhood’. I had hit the gold mine. I had never travelled to another university’s library before that day and it was Writing Lives that inspired me with the confidence to do so. The module guided me out of my comfort zone and showed me that the rewards of research are fruitful when done right.

The only real issue I have faced on this module is attempting to draw parallels between my work and other members of the course. This has been difficult due to Humphries solidly focusing his involvement in Mesopotamia for the majority of his last memoir. However I have had many conversations with fellow students about Humphries’ childhood and how it is similar to that of their authors. The work produced on the module by all fellow students has proved to be excellent reading as the posts are never to long and can be read quickly when several spare minutes are available. This is another aspect that I have thoroughly enjoyed about the module: peer reviewed work. Taking feedback from your peers and putting it into action has proved very helpful in my writing.

Social media has proved extremely helpful in engaging with an audience for my blogging. I have had numerous retweets and likes simply by using appropriate hashtags. I have also sent specific tweets to users who share a common passion for the topic of each post. This has helped to boost interaction with both my author blog and Writing lives as a whole. The use of social media within the module has allowed all students to effortlessly connect with each others’ work. To read my peers’ work I simply scroll my twitter feed and find their latest posts. This allows me to give feedback and share their work with my followers which in turn builds Writing Lives’ readership. The hashtag #twitterstorians was very helpful in finding many historians on twitter that related to the time that I was researching.

A constant thought that followed me throughout the entire module was how happy Humphries would be that his memoirs were finally being written about. Humphries had always wished for both of his memoirs to be published so that they would reach a wide range of people. I have discussed this in my post on the purpose and audience of his memoirs. I am safe in the knowledge that if Humphries were alive today to see what wonderful work the Writing Lives project is doing he would be overjoyed.

The Writing Lives project has given me the confidence to follow research leads to the very last note. I have developed my research skills and tailored my writing to suit a specific audience. But most of all, I feel that I illuminated a life that otherwise would have been left in boxes on a library shelf. The Writing Lives project is crucial to the discovery and biography of working class lives.



361 HUMPHRIES Edward S., ‘Childhood. An Autobiography of a Boy from 1889-1906’, TS, pp.63 (c.35,000 words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Useful Toil. Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s (AlIen Lane, London, 1974), pp.209-14. Brunel University Library.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.