By Jeff Burns
be willing to bet that for most people history connections are made through the
little things, the ordinary things of everyday life. We connect family histories to objects passed
down through generations. Seeing objects
in an antique store or museum display often triggers memories of similar
objects in a family home long ago. The
same is true of my students. Many have
stories or relate the objects they see
in class to something in their own family, and they are full of questions about
how people – the famous and non-famous alike – actually lived on a day to day
basis. There are several fascinating
books that illuminate that history.
Charles Panati’s Extraordinary
Origins of Everyday Things is encyclopedic in scope, the origins of more
than 500 everyday items,
expressions, and customs--from Kleenex to steak sauce, Barbie Dolls to
If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley is organized so that the reader goes from room to
room learning about the evolution of objects from medieval times to the
present. The book is entertaining
popular history, designed to accompany a British television series, not meant
to be a scholarly work, and it shows.
There are lots of stories about the intimacies of the family home- the things
that people are most likely to be interested in.
Bill Bryson wrote a similar book called At Home: A Short History of Private
Life. It’s also organized by rooms,
but the difference between it and Worsley’s book is that he was inspired by his
own family’s Victorian home and decided to write “a history of the world
without leaving home.” His rooms each
start him off on journeys that cover 10,000 years of human civilization in his
trademark insightful and humorous style.
Step back to
Victorian England again with Daniel Pool’s book, What Jane Austen Ate and
Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in
Nineteenth-Century England. As the title implies, this book is designed for literature
lovers as well as history buffs. Fans of works by Dickens, Austen, and the
Bronte sisters, just to name a few, often come across words and scenes that
leave them confused. Pool tells the
story of those words and activities and truly describes the world that the
authors were part of and wrote about.
Check out one or more of these books and answer those
questions about everyday life that you didn’t even know you had.