Florence Powell – Researching Writing Lives

Evaluation post

Creating an author blog has allowed me to develop a better understanding of why memoirs are such an essential contribution to public history. Working-class writing has previously been undervalued, and perhaps most importantly, underrepresented. Therefore, my small contribution to telling the story of a working-class individual is a wonderful opportunity to showcase a valuable, yet somewhat forgotten piece of history. As Powell modestly expresses her own surprise in the interest taken in her experiences, I found it particularly enjoyable to help convey her childhood experiences through a series of blog posts. Although blog posts are only a small portion of representing an individual life, I do feel they are a valuable, lasting contribution to public history as online platforms and blogging only continue to evolve.

Not only a remarkably personal account of life during the 1930s, Florence Powell’s memoir in particular sheds light on issues surrounding working-class childhood and orphanages throughout this era. These topics are undeniably sensitive and sometimes difficult to explore. However, in order to reach the most accurate representation of a time period, it is crucial to hear the stories of individuals from a range of backgrounds, no matter how sad they may be. Focusing on an individual life and delving into their memoirs makes researching a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable experience. It provides real insight that simply isn’t available from secondary writing by scholars.

Florence Powell shares the feelings of shame she felt in later life towards her childhood, yet also dwells on some of her most fond memories, including how various adults and members of staff at the orphanage shaped the rest of her life. Her memoir is well-written, deeply sentimental and also unapologetically honest. This makes it a very powerful reflection on her life, but also an impressively informative account of orphanage life. She approaches each topic with a great balance between factual information and her own opinions, allowing readers to develop their own understanding.

Completing the module Prison Voices last year dramatically encouraged my personal interest in blogging, showing me the best ways to create engagement from readers and how to present content well. I now also write blogs as part of my job, which has meant that blogging has become an essential, everyday skill that I am always looking to improve.

The Writing Lives module this year has provided me with the chance to write about a variety of new and interesting topics while skilfully picking out the most relevant information and sections of the memoir for readers. It has also reinforced the other skills that coincide with blogging, such as establishing the most suitable tone of voice and using websites such as WordPress effectively, making full use of tools such as ‘categories’ and ‘tags’, and adding in relevant photos where possible. The social media side of the module similarly reinforces valuable online skills and makes the researching process far more interactive.  I find it particularly intriguing to explore the academic side of popular social platforms such as Twitter. There are an array of great history accounts, informative blogs and relevant hash tags available for inspiration and to bring people who share similar interests in history together.

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