I initially chose my author, Richard W. Morris, because he was a coal miner from County Durham. It resonated with me on a personal level as my own grandfather and great-grandfather were coal miners. I was intrigued to research someone who I thought might have had similar experiences to those talked about by my grandfather when I was young. Though I found, in many cases, that Richard’s experience reflected many experiences by miners, like pit injuries and fatalities, I soon realised that many of his experiences were very different. It became clear very early on that similar experiences became very different based on perspective, like memories and opinions surrounding the General Strike of 1926 (for more on this see here).
There were other students whose authors had been coal miners or had come from adjacent areas to Richard. It was nice to be able to discuss our own authors, their similarities and differences. By researching Richard’s life and the history of the time, I have gained a much wider understanding and appreciation of working-class life. I thought I had a good understanding of the historical issues to begin with, due to my interest in history and a previous project on coal mining, but I had not anticipated how much I would learn from approaching history through one person’s life.
Delving into Richard’s memoir has been a privilege. To explore the working condiions of the mines and his more private memories of home and family has been a humbling journey. It has allowed me to expand on my knowledge of history, particularly from a more personal perspective. I have researched aspects of history that I might not have done before, for example Richard’s experience of the W.E.A, which I had not heard of before the blog. It was also a pleasure to travel with Richard through his memories, going down the pits with him, and to America after WW1.
I feel that I have contributed to public history by helping Richard share his recollections. His intention in writing his memoir, in 1972, was to create a lasting record of the coal mines and miners from his area. I hope and believe that I have helped him, in a small way, to achieve his goal.
I could not help wondering when I started the blog how Richard would feel, knowing his memories (although intended to be shared) were being set free into an electronic world. I could not help but wonder what he would think knowing his thoughts and memories were, in some cases, being read in America and Canada. Due to this, I became even more aware of how important the work I was doing actually was. Though I had some limited blogging experience prior to Writing Lives, I was conscious of my responsibility, not just for my voice, but for Richard’s too. I wanted to do a good job for myself and for the project, but most importantly I wanted to make sure Richard’s voice was heard.
As a mature student I found myself a little behind in the social media aspect of 21st Century life. Contributing to Writing Lives pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me numerous new skills. I have thoroughly enjoyed using social media, particularly Twitter, to publicise my blog and other students’ blogs via this medium. It is wonderful to receive feedback from people all over the world. I have grown in confidence and skill just by taking part and making the most of my opportunity. Blogging enabled me to use different writing styles and techniques. After spending years trying to write in a particularly academic way, blogging allowed me more freedom. Though I strived to maintain a professional tone, I realised that I could use a more relaxed style to keep people engaged.
The main thing, and I believe the most important thing, that I will take away from my small part on the Writing Lives project, is the ability to give a voice to someone who does not have one. I have tried to focus, throughout my blog, on Richard’s voice, on his experience and the wider implications of his thoughts and feelings. I hope that I did his memoir justice, and I hope that I have helped him to tell his story.
MORRIS, R. W., ‘Autobiography of R. W. Morris’, TS, c.350pp. (c.140,000 words). Extracts published as ‘A Boy goes down the pit’, Bulletin of the Durham County Local History Society, No. 20, Oct 1977, pp. 4-12 (edited by G. Patterson). BruneI University Library.
‘R.W.Morris’ 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): 1:520.
Featured Image: Pelton Fell Railway – Durhamintime.org
Dropbox Screenshot of Richard’s memoir and my own notes.