Just a short one today as I’m in the midst of a massive trawl through several decades’ worth of census enumerators returns. I’m writing this from my local library, from where I can work on their computers (for free) (albeit in Internet Explorer) and use Ancestry.com (for free). I’m very lucky to be funded out of the household budget *ahem* for my studies, and this sort of thing would usually require either a costly subscription, or time-consuming trips to the City Archives. As such it’s a wonderful resource. The library is full of people doing work, quietly doing what they need to do; all the benches around are full too, of people reading and learning. I’m all too aware that today is budget day – I don’t yet know the details of what’s getting cut, but you can be all too sure that libraries, via the hacksaw the Tories are taking to local government, will be in the firing line.
I’ve been recording addresses and their occupants. The first challenge is working out the numbering scheme (it wasn’t always odds and evens…), but a bigger challenge are court houses. A terraced street, back-to-backs etc.: these have pretty obvious entryways and are thus easy enough to number. But when, say, the garden has been built over and filled with crooked, shoddy houses fit only for the desperate, then who’s to bother numbering? It’s a small detail but to me a sad one: those in such places are counted as so many heads of labour in a small space; it seems sufficient to say, I live in court number 5 and that’s that, rather than having the dignity of the individual dwelling that the English apparently so admire. It’s ignominious and brutalising, at least to me, and causes me to admire those enumerators who took the effort to number individually each poor dwelling place.
I’m looking forward to giving my best shot to give these individuals a place in history, a literal space. If in their time they were excluded from, e.g. receiving post (perhaps many of my co-computer users in the library are excluded by cost from owning a computer at home), perhaps I can include them in a narrative in which dignity, or at least the complexity of every human life, is somewhat restored.
On a slightly related note, I wanted to give myself a shameless plug. I’m speaking on my research to date at Wolverhampton Art Gallery on 21st August (2pm-3pm), and at Wolverhampton City Archives on 9th September (5pm-6pm). The talks are of course free!
PS if you’ve been affected by the issues raised in today’s post, or are interested in general in the concepts of history from below, get yourself to the wonderful Many Headed Monster blog who are running an online symposium on the voices of “the people” over the next couple of weeks.