Being part of the Writing Lives Collaborative Research Project has been an interesting and unique experience. I saw this an opportunity to bring together skills and an interest in nineteenth century history that I have gained from doing a Joint Honours degree in History and English. I was apprehensive about doing this module at first as it involved putting our work out into the public. However, I saw this as a way to challenge myself as I could improve many skills such as writing, researching and also the use of social media. When I chose my author, May Jones, I never expected to become so invested in her life. Transcribing her memoir was a difficult task as her handwriting was hard to read but by doing this I was able to get to know May better. I was determined to do her justice in blogging about her life.
Having never blogged before I found it difficult to get started. I have never had to use this style of writing, being used to writing essays, but soon found it much easier. It was a quicker way to show my research and tell people about May’s life. Creating my Author Blog was an interesting process as it was a long struggle using family history websites to find out specific details about May’s life. When I finally found her in census records I had a new burst of inspiration as I could find more about her childhood, her family and where she grew up. Finding out where she lived meant that I could locate the events and places that she described in her memoir. Then I could relate her life to the lives of other working-class people during that era. Through finding out that she lived near Macclesfield I could find similar experiences to hers in the local area. For example, what she called “the Sermons” was a similar experience to Whit Walks that took place in other places near her like Manchester. I was able to piece together a better view of May’s life as well as working-class life in that area in general. I really enjoyed researching May as I got to utilize skills I use in my history modules. This project was a great way of pulling together skills I have learnt on both the English and History sides of my degree.
Through writing this blog I feel that I have contributed to an important project that helps to discover more information about working-class history. I believe that this is important as it is helps to build a greater knowledge of people’s lives that have not been researched as much as others. Working on one author meant that one person’s unique experiences are brought to life and you can know their thoughts and feelings as well as things that they describe. This project also makes history more personal as you can invest yourself in a person’s life and connect yourself to the past through their experiences. This project also contributes to public history as it is online for anyone to read and enjoy. Anyone can read about May’s life and discover interesting stories from the life of a real person born over a hundred years ago and learn more about working-class history.
I have learnt lots of new research skills while completing my work for Writing Lives. My research skills have improved immensely, particularly when searching census records. When I was looking for May on websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past I could not find her at all. With such a common name as May Jones I believed that I would never find her. Luckily I did find her, with a little help from Helen Rogers our module leader, and it turns out she was wrongly recorded as Mary in the census records. Because of this I have learnt a lot about how to research, particularly how to search for specific things and use clues that people give to be able to trace them in historical records. I know that this will be a vital skill for various careers I may wish to pursue and for when I go on to study for my master’s degree.
I am surprised by the amount of things that I have learnt on this module as it has opened my eyes to many new things like blogging and being active on social media. My apprehension to both of these things that I had at the beginning of the module has gone and I have enjoyed sharing my work publicly. I have many forms of social media that are hardly used but I found that using Twitter was a great way to bring people with similar interests together and to share work, as people are supportive in retweeting others’ work.
Writing Lives has been a wonderful opportunity as I have learnt so many new skills and improved on previous ones. I have become more confident with using social media and using it to share my work and research process. I have also enjoyed reading about aspects of the nineteenth century that I have learned about through the eyes of a person who lived through it. Most importantly I have enjoyed researching the life of May Jones, a woman who had a modest life growing up in a small village but had a range of fascinating anecdotes and stories to tell. I will finish telling May’s story by sharing a quote of hers that I connected to and shows her imagination as a child:
“I had always loved reading, fairy stories were my first love, as a very small child I believed in fairies and was always searching for the little people, sometimes I thought I heard a laugh like the tinkle of a little bell and then I should see a pretty spot of light climb into a flower but when I got close it had vanished.” (Jones, 42).
‘May Jones’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:401