Walter John Eugene Elliott (1890- 1977): Researching Writing Lives

I came to Writing Lives following my year taking part in another module at LJMU, run by Helen Rogers. This other module, Prison Voices, was also constructed of writing weekly blog posts. Blogging is something which I had always considered doing, however, I always felt that I needed a place to start and some direction. Therefore, when I realised there would be an opportunity to carry on blogging in my final year I was eager to take this up and continue writing!

I found taking part in the Writing Lives project to be a very interesting experience. This is because I had never previously considered using autobiographies to access information, that could inform our understanding of history. I also never realised quite how many working-class people had written their own memoirs. History was not something that I have researched and studied often, however, when I did think of ‘history’ I would simply think of the big events and well known people that you usually learn about in school. Through my participation in the project, I have come to understand just how important these working-class accounts of everyday life are. This is because, like Elizabeth Woodcaft commented on my Purpose & Audience post, if we do not look at these working-class accounts all we get is ‘kings and queens – or their middle-class equivalents. And if we’re lucky their descriptions of what we had for our tea or what we spent our money on’. Therefore, I have found it is vital to look at the everyday person to better our understanding of our history and how our lives have progressed.

Being able to come to these realisations whilst taking part in a project like Writing Lives has
been a brilliant experience. This is because the project has enabled me to pass on these realisations to a wider audience. I have also been able to contribute to public history in a way that I did not think I would be doing during my time at university. This is because I have created short, but informative, posts that focus on different themes. The posts can then be used by the public to further their understanding of late 19th and early 20th century rural Britain. More specifically though, I feel these posts, about Walter John Eugene Elliott’s life, have been beneficial to those in the Sussex that were interested in the history of the area. This is because I have reached out to the numerous Facebook pages that have been created in the area, and found many people interested in the discussion of the history of rural Sussex.

As well as learning a lot about the importance of working-class autobiographies, I have learnt about what it takes to be part of a collaborative research project. Over the last four months I have realised how much work, and how much time, goes into a research project like Writing Lives. However, although research is time consuming, I have found that it is a hugely rewarding task. This is because through research, we are continuously expanding our understanding and knowledge of the world around us. Thus, all my time spent reaching out to people in the Sussex area, using Ancestry to piece together Walter’s family history, searching online sources and combing through Walter’s memoir piece by piece has been a worthwhile experience. Alongside this, in the context of the Writing Lives project, I have realised just how important collaborating with other people is in furthering your research. This is because you can find out so much more about your own author and you own research through comparing the experiences of your chosen author with those divulged in other working-class memoirs.

I think the use of blogging about our findings has been extremely effective in highlighting the work we have done, and to make the working-class memoirs more accessible. This is because blogs tend to be condensed, visually interesting and therefore a far more enticing way to discover information. Before my time on this module, I would have never teamed up the idea of blogging with historical research. I think this is because when I would think of history and research I would immediately think of more daunting instruments like academic essays and text books. And when I would think of blogging I would think of teenagers venting their feelings. However, I have been pleasantly surprised in realising how wrong I was. It absolutely makes sense that we should be publishing our research on a platform that is easily accessed and anyone can stumble across it! Writing Lives has therefore expanded my understanding of blogging, and opened my eyes to a whole new section of the great wide web. Not only this though, Writing Lives has enabled me to expand on my writing abilities, as I find so much more enjoyment in writing less formal, condensed, interactive pieces. Furthermore, my
participation on this project has reconnected me with my enjoyment for blogging, causing me to go back and continue work on my personal blogging page. Through this rediscovery, I have had my personal blog featured on the official LJMU English website and I have begun writing blogs for a small lighting company: Liight ltd. Therefore, my participation on the Writing Lives module has had a significant impact on my life in general.

Alongside blogging, the Writing Lives project required us to use social media in new and unfamiliar ways. Before my time of this project I would think of social media as a place simply for the ramblings of young adults, and like the title says, for socialising. However, I have discovered a whole new side of social media. I have learnt that if you use the right search terms or hashtags you can awaken a far more productive side to many social media platforms. For example, on Twitter, if you simply search #twitterstorians you will be introduced to whole new range of people, ideas, and research that you would not normally stumble across. Therefore, social media has been an excellent tool in getting the research I have carried out for Writing Lives to a wider audience.

From this project I will take away the satisfaction of having contributed to a collaborative research project that is widely accessible online. And more selfishly, I will have the satisfaction that my findings, and my work on Walter’s memoir, may one day be used in somebody else’s research. I will also take away the understanding of the importance to not just look at the big events when looking at history. That it is often the seemingly insignificant people that provide the richest sources of information. – And I hope that through my work on Walter’s memoirs I have proved this to be true.

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