Posted by: Natalie | September 8, 2010

Historical Advice

Tonight, Plinky asks which historical person I would ask for advice. Well, with my current devotion to writing within the seventeenth century, it would have to be Samuel Pepys.

Seventeenth Century British history is an era I didn’t come to study until the final year of my degree. Of course I had always been fascinated with the civil war epoch what with the Parliamentarian connections to my Grandad’s farm, but I had never been given opportunity to enter into its study until my 20’s. The vast majority of historical focus in ‘lower education’, is either twentieth century dictators or the Tudors. According to our education system, there isn’t anything else in between! Undoubtedly these two topics are incredibly interesting, but there is such a rich depth to be discovered in our lesser known pockets of life.

I simply don’t understand how the seventeenth century isn’t taught to more children or used in more cross-curricular resources; it is absolutely ideal – the bloodiest war on our lands, the most Englishmen killed in one war, the fabulous weapons and armour, the Protectorate where all kinds of fun were banned, no Christmas, the Merry Monarch, invention of games and certain theatre, cities destroyed by fire, the plague, incredible fashions and fads . . . just so much detail, beauty and death. But, if you are anything like me, you find gleaning this information from actual history texts, quite onerous.

Yes I did a History degree, but it doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading the books involved (The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, On The Origin of The Species were just two that nearly killed me by coma). In fact, the vast majority were a little like trying to eat card board, washed down with saw dust. I have no doubt those who write these books know their stuff, but many forget how to make the information actually accessible. Most of the knowledge firmly wedged in my head has come from those rare, enjoyable history books (maybe a lot of Horrible Histories in there!) but mainly from lectures and programmes where the author can engage the reader ‘interactively’.

This is why I need to meet Mr Pepys. I have never read his diaries, but I know that he is the fountain of knowledge on seventeenth century society. It would be amazing to sit before a open fire in two dark red leather chairs, simply listening to the great man rattle away about ‘the old days’. To listen to all the gossip and intrigue as well as his ingenious plans to bury his cheese (For anyone who doesn’t know, during the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys buried his cheese so that it would not get destroyed. Parmesan I believe). I would love to quiz him first hand on his observations of society during the 1660’s and his reflections on England’s difficult past. I have this impression upon me that it would be like chatting with Stephen Fry, warm and friendly and eternally interesting.

Of course, I cannot be so sure and I will only have this experience in my wildest dreams, but I can get close. I was recently recommended an apparently excellent biography of the man by Claire Tomalin. The Unequalled Self was the 2002 Whitbread book of the year, and as luck would have it, I managed to pick up from the charity shop for a mere £1. I do plan to read this book and hopefully enjoy it – from the brief skims so far I do not worry about needing medical help to stay awake, but of course, when I get around to it I shall let you know.

It is a while since I read a non-fiction book and I am really looking forward to it. Just need to get this routine sorted to allow me to read for eight hours a day and life will be happy again! Could be a while in coming!

Click HERE for day by day entries from Samuel Pepys’ Diaries.

Powered by Plinky



  1. I’ve never ever been a history buff but the way you write about the 17th Century I might just like to sit by the fire when you are sharing a yarn with Mr Pepys.

    My Australian school history education focused on Indigenous Australian history (but not with any depth, detail or sincerity) and the Convicts and Explorers (Australian, Columbus and Magellan). Then we touched briefly on WWI and that’s it. And it was taught in a dull factual way – there were no colourful stories to illustrate the facts.

    We didn’t learn anything in primary school or high school about the Tudors, the American Independence wars or the Chinese Empire. It was quite appalling. I wonder whether that’s why I now tune out when I hear the words history book.

    So, when Mr Pepys rematerialises in front of your fire, can you please give me 36 hours to get on a plane and fly over from Oz?

    • I will indeed!!

      I completely agree with you about switching off. Very little of my love for history actually came through from school. I was lucky enough to have one exceptional teacher when I was about 14 but other than that its bits I’ve picked up from the family (my Aunty knows all the kings and queens in order forward and back!). Actually, I am not sure how I have stuck with it for so long with the type of text I have been affronted with!

      I have to say I know nothing of Australian History, most of my world history in fact is pretty atrocious. It is just so poorly taught everywhere and it shouldn’t be – it should be fun and interactive and entertaining. I once taught about Henry VIII’s wives by getting the children to produce a ‘Jerry Springer’ show for their parents.

      Do you have the Terry Deary books over in Oz (Horrible Histories)? I know I write about them a lot, but they are perfect even for adults to get an ‘easy in’ to a period. Exceptionally well put together and great fun! Must remember to recommend Universities add them to their core reading lists!

      Hope you are well,

      Natalie x

  2. Well, you’ve done it Natalie… I’ve broken down the wall between myself and joining the world wide web a little deeper– I’ve joined Plinky!!! Reading your words about getting advice, prompted me to see what Plinky’s all about. We’ll see, though, how resigned I am to following their prompts, but for now… this is a good thing!

    For added commentary… I, like herby, lose all interest when “history” is mentioned, as this was one subject that subjected me to Pain! Yes, I said, Pain. It pained me to read such droll language and those Dates… for children to remember, by rote, the dates of when someone did something to cause someone else to do something… oh, I tried!

    There was some good to come of it, though — as I got older and found interests in things like Victorian Advertising Trade Cards, I found that I was learning the history behind those cards, which led to learning about the history of the people to whom they were advertising for. I need to have something concrete to base the history on, otherwise I doodle, nap or walk away. You see… I am not walking away now!

    This IS a good thing, a very good thing and I hope you get questions answered when you delve into Mr. Samuel Pepys’ writing!

    • Oh I am useless at dates!! I think that might have been why I struggled at times! I remember my Russian History final and I wrote about a certain revolutionary group, but I used the dates and names from another group!! I only realised about an hour after the exam finished! Still, I really enjoyed the course.

      I much prefer all the intriguing and ‘suspicious’ parts of history, along with lots of the gruesome – but educational systems seem to think these areas irrelevant. Surely, start with the fun bits and children/adults will almost naturally work backwards because they WANT to know more. But who are we to suggest these things?!

      Plinky is quite useful at times when you have brain ache or the muse has completely abandoned you! I don’t actually use it all that often, but will take a quick look through the prompts every now and again just out if interest. I think you can ‘follow’ one another on there, but not too sure. I may find you one day and add you to my incredibly short list!

      Hope you are keeping well, and have fun with Plinky,

      Natalie x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: