Finding Herstory

Finding Herstory is a contents of our longer articles. These will concentrate on the stories of herstory and theirstory AND the ways we researched them. We think how you approach history is as important and interesting as the ‘facts’ of the past.

We both love social history and how history is personal, so expect to read a lot about everyday lives of the past and our everyday lives. We hope to launch projects on ‘Finding Women in Public Space’ and an oral history project on daughters and  mothers (when we have the time).

Natalie wrote this piece about her Nanoo which we think illustrates the approach of our blog:

My Nanoo and herstory

My Nanoo is a woman who completed an Open University course in her 70s, encouraged me and my sisters to attend university, an experience earlier denied to her due her gender and class, and always brought me gingerbread. My Nanoo researched our family history; she even began to write a book about it and created the reason for a family trip to Jarrow, the birthplace of my Grandad. My Nanoo’s health and memory have recently changed for the worse. These aspects may all seem unrelated parts of my Nanoo but they illustrate the radical potential of family history.

Family history is often (and sometimes rightly) painted as a conservative hetero-patriarchal racist way to explore the past as it uses the concept of ‘family’- mainly taken to mean nuclear family following the male line through surnames- as a prism into history. Yet, family history often explores groups “hidden from history” and does so without the pretense of an unearthing an objective factual account of the past, but from the very beginning is an emotional subjective endeavor with the historian at the heart of the research. Andrea Stuart’s Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire account of her family history of slavery, ancestors both slaves and slave-owners, illustrates this. It is an understudied subject through the perspective of a woman of colour. The research caused Stuart “heartache” from “happy surprises” to “unpleasant shocks”, at times simultaneously like when she found a record of her ancestor on a slave register; he was listed like a commodity but Stuart felt complex gratitude from finding a record of him.

My Nanoo’s stories were my window into twentieth-century Britain, telling me about her childhood from being in a welsh hospital to day trips to the seaside, not a narrative of rich white men’s lives.The way she told me the stories of scandals about affairs and ‘love children’, told history as something ongoing and relevant today; always finishing her accounts with “don’t tell your grandad, he wants me to stop digging up ghosts of the past”. It also meant these histories were told in a medium often feared by men and done by women; gossip. My Nanoo’s resistance to telling the story the ‘respectable’ way by mentioning the scandals, keeps the history alive the way it has likely been past down through generations of women, through gossip. I was not original always interested much in my Nanoo’s passion for family history, I would listen to her tipsy stories with laughter but did not take family history that seriously. But when she was diagnosed with parkinson’s and began to have short term memory issues alot of things changed in my family and how I viewed my family history. The change in my Nanoo’s health means she no longer is working on her book and her short term memory is unpredictable. I had originally been impressed with my Nanoo’s determination to write a book but had not thought much of the content but when I learnt she was no longer going to write it, I realised it meant the gossipy nature of the family history of scandals and everyday details would not be completed. Her oral accounts of family history spoke of generational change and her generational position looking back and forwards.

I hope to continue this short piece to continue my Nanoo’s project and herstory