Fermin Rocker (b.1907) Researching Writing Lives.

In creating an author blog for the artist Fermin Rocker, I have gained insight in to aspects many individuals faced preceding and during the beginning of the First World War. Choosing Rocker as my author, came from the discovery that his working- class family were anarchists and activists. In the current period I understand the importance of socialist values to many working -class families, so I was fascinated to find out how prominent they were in Edwardian East End London. Furthermore, finding out about Fermin’s unusual upbringing in a time in history I have wrongly considered to be conservative has enlightened me. As Fermin himself describes in his 1998 memoir ‘The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood’ his early years were happy and many forget this period of history before the horrors of war began. In addition to discovering the prominence of socialist values in the Jewish East End, I also found the fact that Fermin’s childhood was transformed so quickly due to the tragic circumstances of war as deeply moving and a lesson to be learnt in recent unprecedented times.

In terms of public history, I think I have shone light on events many did not know about in war time Britain. Personally, I was unaware about the treatment of many Jewish migrants from Austria and Germany in the beginning of the First World War. The term ‘enemy alien’ was not one I was familiar with, furthermore I did not know that freedom of opinion was disallowed in terms of the war efforts. This was reflected as Fermin’s mother Milly was arrested for campaigning against forced conscription. This part of the First World War remains hidden from the public eye. Britain was also guilty of prejudice against individuals and their beliefs and nationality. In my research, I had to study outside of the memoir in order to get a better understanding of the writing itself and the historical context. The collaborative part of the project also helped with my research. Working within a group and copy-writing each-others work, I was able to make links to my own especially through Annie Taylor’s blog about Norah Fearon Knight. Norah was born in the same decade as Fermin and also shared similar experiences being a child in the beginnings of war, this gave me a better understanding of a universal experience of this era.

I have had various blogs before, both for other modules in university as well as for my personal interests. This research blog was very different to what I have done beforehand. The major difference in this style of blogging was the amount of research in to the writing of memoirs and specific themes relating to the author. There was a large part of historical research I had to put in to this author blog. Moreover, the importance of social media to help gain support from my fellow students and to reciprocate this, was something I found extremely useful. Having a group chat in which myself, Annie Taylor, Natalia Williams and Natalie Dally shared drafts and resources was also a massive support. I feel as though my posts were of a better quality after they were peer reviewed and I received feedback.

Taking part in the writing lives project has given me numerous skills including a new form of research including historical and political subjects, writing concisely, promoting my research online and focusing on a non-fictional topic. Writing about a real working-class individual’s life has been refreshing and challenging as there is only so much information you are given by the authors themselves. I had to do a lot of background research in to the Edwardian era preceding the First World War and especially East End London and its social and political history. Social media and its academic side is something I will take away from the Writing Lives project, I was able to engage with other accounts and hashtags relating to the Edwardian period, Jewish Anarchists and the East End of London at this time.

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