The real versus the imagined


A colleague who is familiar with our project recommended a blog today that he thought would be of interest – Socks for the Boys! By Alison Twells records the World War II diary of her great aunt Norah Hodgkinson. I was surprised when I reviewed my research that only 4 out of my 18 stories relate to either of the two world wars, certainly when making site visits, the war memorial along with the church and church yard was a key focus, and the discovery of so many airbases in Northamptonshire has meant that we could perhaps have produced an entire publication based solely on military inhabitants. I will be interested to compare T’s final tally of war related stories with my own. I was also disappointed to discover that only 6 out of my 18 individuals are women, I was hoping for a more balanced representation; but it does mean that we were correct to reject one of our initial ideas, which was to produce a woman-only based publication!

Socks for the Boys! is rich with Norah’s wartime memories, and alongside the actual diary entries there is often an imagined story that relates to specific facts – in one of her posts Twells does start to question this particular aspect of the writing:

The issue of how far we use our imaginations in writing history is very topical in the history blog world at the moment. Helen Rogers and Matt Houlbrooke have both written recently about their own use of styles of writing more commonly associated with fiction than academic history. So I want to explore here not only why I feel compelled to ‘fictionalise’ at times, but also to explore what ‘to fictionalise’ really means?
Read the full post at :

In addition to the diary there are also references to related works, and whilst I have only got part way through the entries, there is another key reference to a book by anthropologist Daniel Miller – The Comfort of Things – the book examines a London street and 30 of its households, it records the things and objects that are important to the inhabitants and their relationship with specific objects.

Reading a review of the book I was interested to see that someone had referred to the book as a series of ‘portraits’ – I like the use of this term and think it applicable to what we are doing – I have been referring to our research as ‘stories’ but I don’t think this is really appropriate – as it could be misconstrued as something ‘imagined’ – which they are not.

This thread of the ‘imagined’ is interesting – I feel somewhat contradictory in wanting our ‘portraits’ to be highlighted as real-life, when the visual language I have been exploring utilises found photographic imagery to represent specific individuals. The dilemma is that in a few instances I have found actual photographs of the named individual to use, so will a mix of the two sit comfortably together – or should they all be ‘imagined visual portraits’? (above: is the imagined Lady Villiers and the real Thomas Cook).




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