NPR interview with author Lucy Worsley:
NPR recently interviewed Lucy Worsley, author of If Walls could Talk, a history of the home. In it, she describes the various traditions, habits, and practices in homes. This reveals many of the social mores of the eras she encounters.
And, what a useful way to delve into other historical eras! Via her research on homes–something we all have in one way or another, accepting that home may be less stable or geographically specific for some. A home, or our ideas of home, often share many things in common culturally, or sub-culturally. A rural American idea may differ substantially from urban America, but even so many things will be in common.
I think it is also a great lead-in read for initiating a history of one’s own home. Even in the case of a recently built house, there is plenty history attached to that plot of ground. Houses come built in certain styles; different families have observed history from the front porch or living room; various improvements reflect changes in wealth and technology; the land on which the plot was shaped was something else before it was your front yard; all of which can be traced and brought to life through research.
Such searches can be enriching in local history and bring to life elements that were once unknown or relegated to lore. It trains one in the basics of historical research and often introduces one to unsuspected links in history.
The Smithsonian Museum of American History has an exhibit dedicated to just this inquiry. An old colonial house in Massachusetts, has been rebuilt in the exhibit space and the different families that lived there over time have links to the Revolution and the Underground Railroad. It’s a great family activity and voyage of discovery.
Teachers or other educators doing local history or state history programs can make this a longterm project for their classes, enlisting the help of the local historical society, library, preservation groups, and local records officials. At the end of the project, a public museum / exhibit could be constructed featuring students’ homes and projects.
But, before then, you may want to learn about other features of the home. Lucy Worsley can even give you the background on flushing toilets!