When you study at the University of Plymouth you are immersed in a rich culture of academia. Although we each study our own preferred degrees, there is always the chance to experience other subject areas. I may have chosen to study Marine Biology, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying learning about other subjects, such as history.
This week I was lucky enough to be free to attend a public lecture from Professor James Daybell about ‘The Private Lives of Tudor Women.’ Which is the first in a public lecture series about Women in History.
James was a wonderful speaker and really brought his stories to life. The passion and enthusiasm with which he spoke was almost infectious. He truly loves his work and he was able to share that with the audience, and made sure that his talk was accessible for us non historians.
We often view ourselves today as being a lot looser with our morals than our ancestors, but in actual fact some of them were just as bad. As James said, they could have starred on the Jeremy Kyle show. Through small pieces of historical remains we can piece together these ladies lives’, and understand the hardships they faced. From the victims: married at 14 to evil husbands who threatened them and separated them from their children, all the way to those who were just as cunning and cruel: turning on their mother-in-law once their fortunes had turned. Listening to these stories it becomes easy to believe that everyone of that time were breaking the social rules, but James pointed out something very important that I hadn’t really thought about before.
In science you learn tricks to look out for when planning an experiment. Things like ‘correlation doesn’t prove causation’, and to always try to identify and test all of the possible factors that could be the cause. Well with history it seems you need the same little tricks as well. Most of what historians have to piece together women’s private lives comes from letters and diaries, and these sources were only produced by educated women at this time. Church court depositions are another source that have survived over time, but there only recorded the problems and the scandals, not everyday life.
Historians almost have to act like scientists, piecing together snippets of information to try and work out what happened. As scientists, we can test our ideas through experiments, but historians can only keep searching for more clues in the artefacts that have survived.
Attending talks by academics from outside your field can help you build an appreciation for them, and help you to understand how they work. You should try it sometime, you never know you might pick up some tips that you can apply to your own work!