Genuinely Living in the Past

thFaithful readers of this blog will recall that my hobby is Civil War re-enacting. I’ve enjoyed re-enacting for 25 years now, but never pretended that it gave me anything but a sidelong glance into the typical Civil War soldier’s daily life.

Therefore, I was delighted recently to encounter the works of British freelance historian Ruth Goodman (b. 1963). She has been a consultant for the Victoria & Albert Museum and the film Shakespeare in Love. Ruth belongs to the Tudor Group, which brings that historical period to life.

Her volumes How to be a Victorian (2014) and How to be a Tudor (2016) draw readers through the daily activities of Britons of different social classes. Food, clothing, transportation and social customs are just a few of the threads Goodman weaves into authoritative yet accessible and interesting accounts of life in eras before our own.

Ruth Goodman, along with archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, has participated in several entertaining BBC television series that are easily viewed on YouTube. These programs include Victorian Farm (2009), Victorian Pharmacy (2010), Edwardian Farm (2010), Wartime Farm (2012) and Tudor Monastery Farm (2013).

In 2014 Goodman appeared in Secrets of the Castle, which examined the techniques employed to medieval European castles. Finally, in 2016 she again was joined with Ginn and Langlands in Full Steam Ahead – How Railways Made Britain.

The thing I like the most about the projects undertaken by  Ruth Goodman and her colleagues is that they are immersive experiences. They devote a year of their lives to understand all facets of the historical period under study, calling on the expertise of women and men knowledgeable about crafts and folkways that have largely disappeared. The projects invariably involve physical labor and what inhabitants of industrialized 21st Century nations would see as living in discomfort, lacking the technological innovations upon which we rely.

Anyone wishing to learn more about British cultural history owes it to themselves to consult the books and programs of Ruth Goodman!