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anniereborn's avatar

How can I learn about the history of everyday life?

Asked by anniereborn (11127points) August 25th, 2015

I am so interested in how people lived before I was born (1968), for about 100 years back. I just found out the house we rent was built in 1861. I am so curious what everything was like. I know there are TONS of history books about the major things. But what/where can I read about what regular life was like?

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15 Answers

rojo's avatar

The internet is a boon for finding out such information. I have had a blast for the past few years collaborating with my cousin in Australia, 9000 miles away from me, to help rebuild our combined family history in a place 5000 miles from me and over 10,000 miles from her. We have found wonderful, sometimes tragic, newspaper articles, tithing records, property titles, travelogues, etc about people we were not even aware were part of our extended family. There are many sites out there to help and thousands of folks willing to expend the time to help you expand your horizons.

anniereborn's avatar

I’ve done a lot of genealogy. But that mostly just tells me names, birth/death dates, and where they lived.

anniereborn's avatar

@gailcalled Cute dog, but not sure he has the answers I seek :p

rojo's avatar

A lot of the genealogy sites also offer historical perspectives and articles from the past.

If you are looking for an interesting read, check out a book called Strange Red Cow It is history through classified advertisements. I gives you a glimpse into the past and what was important to the people of the times.

Here is an NPR interview with the author who reads several of the ads. One of my favorites is this: ” `Mae Minnie: Farewell, cruel girl. If not drafted, I will go as a substitute. Your scorn is harder and more pitiless to me than any Southern bullet could possibly be. John number one(ph).’ ”

kritiper's avatar

Check the archives of your local newspaper.

jaytkay's avatar

Reading through old magazines really gives you a feeling for the times. The advertisements are as interesting as the articles.

Here’s the Life Magazine archive (1936 through 1972) archive online at Google books

janbb's avatar

There are books of popular or cultural history; you just have to look for them. Ask a reference librarian at your local library. Earlier this year, I read a book called “How to Be a Victorian” which talked about the exact kind of thing you are talking about; what people wore, how often and how they washed, what their days were like . Another good book that I own is “What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew” by Daniel Poole which also covers what daily life was like in Victorian times and what the various customs and conventions you read about in 19th century novels. There is a middle school series on “Everyday Life in…..” (e.g., ancient Greece.)

Visit your local library and ask; make a librarian happy.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

^^ I agree. The first thing I thought of was Hard Times, by Studs Terkel. It’s packed with the personal anecdotes of many people from all walks of life during the Great Depression.

Books by Willa Cather give a good feel of what late 19th century life in the prairie states.

Edith Wharton reports from Paris and just behind the front during WWI are very interesting.

Louisa May Alcott wrote some great non-fiction describing life in the mid-19th century in Hospital Notes, The Good Wives,_ and what life was like for women and children was like on a commune just outside Boston in the 1840’s.

Nelly Bly’s reportage of the late 1800’s through the pre-WWI era are incredible. Much of her work is found in downloadable pdf format on the net.

There is a vast repository of personal stories describing everyday life on the net. The WPA’s Writer’s Project is online and is packed with interviews of people during the depression. The Slave Project, an offshoot of the Writer’s Project, is extremely large compendium of interviews with former slaves, complete with pictures. Someone had the presence of mind to catch these people in the 1930’s before they disappeared off the face of the earth.

The PBS website is packed with historic video reportage of the common man.

Reading old newspapers on disc and microfiche in the archive of any library will give you an excellent feel of life in any era. The opportunities are nearly endless.

Places to look are the Project Gutenberg for texts and the Internet Archive for both film and text.

Strauss's avatar

Storycorps is another great resource for hearing first-hand stories of times gone by. I was fortunate enough to hear stories from my dad’s siblings (born between 1896 and 1921), but no one ever thought to record them.

anniereborn's avatar

These are great!!!!

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

^^ Edit: Slave Narratives, not Slave Project.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Genealogy is cool but, like @anniereborn pointed out, that only gives names, dates, maybe locations, and doesn’t really tell me anything about the people themselves. However, I am rather fortunate in that, as it turns out, several of my ancestors actually have their own Wikipedia entries.

Strauss's avatar

Find some ethnic literature. For example, Sholem Aleichem was a Yiddish author who wrote tales about Jewish life in Tzarist Russia in the 1800’s. His characters were the basis of the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

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