Living in the Past: Ruth Goodman Shows Us How It’s Done

What was it like to live in the Tudor age or the 1940s? Would you rather “watch” the answer or “read” it? Well, you can do both with these popular BBC historical documentary series and their companion books.

ruth-goodmanRuth Goodman is known to BBC watchers as the woman who brings history to life in several documentary series. They’re all re-creations of rural life in a certain time period: the Tudor era, Victorian era, Edwardian era (which many of us know better as the Downton Abbey era) and even World War II. All of the series have episodes you can watch on YouTube for free. A couple of them also have companion books that give you the nitty-gritty–sometimes literally–in print.

Time for a little binge-watching (or reading!)! Below, you will find a sample episode from each series, along with the companion book and a link to watch more episodes on YouTube.

Tudor Monastery Farm

Tudor Monastery Farm is the official companion volume to the series. You’ll follow Ruth and her co-stars “as they discover how to build a pigsty, brew their own ale, forge their own machinery, and keep a Tudor household. Scrupulously researched, totally authentic, and with its own contemporary narrative playing out within an accurate reconstruction of Tudor England, this is a fantastic glimpse into history, as it was lived.”

Ruth’s more scholarly How to Be a Tudor riveted me–and I didn’t expect it to. My historical imagination doesn’t generally extend that far back in time. Ruth captured the little things that are so big like what it’s like not to bathe, how the food tastes, and how itchy the clothes are. When she waxed rapturous about studying a suit of clothing that was several hundred years old and falling apart in an archive, I felt an almost primal connection. I get that way about old documents. I’m just saying.

Watch more Tudor Monastery Farm here.

Victorian Farm

How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life is another critically-acclaimed “manual for the insatiably curious” by the “historian who believes in getting her hands dirty.” This time she reveals Victorian life (the mid and late 1800s) from daybreak to bedtime. Again, the devil and the delightful are in the details: how they got dressed, how and when and what they ate, and what work they did. I’m guessing nobody skips the chapters on the trip to the privy or “behind the bedroom door.”

Watch more Victorian Farm here.

Edwardian Farm

“If variety is the spice of life, then Edwardian rural life has proved to be one heck of a curry.” -Ruth Goodman

In this series and the Edwardian Farm book, Ruth and her intrepid co-time-travelers live in England’s West Country as if it’s the turn of the twentieth century. At the time this was “a commercially prosperous region—a stunning rural landscape encompassing rolling farmland, wild moorland, tidal river, coast, and forest, which supported a vibrant and diverse economy.” The hosts spend a year “restoring boats, buildings, and equipment; cultivating crops; fishing; rearing animals; and rediscovering the lost heritage of this fascinating era as well as facing the challenges of increasingly commercial farming practices, fishing, and community events.”

Watch more Edwardian Farm here.

Wartime Farm

During World War II, Britain couldn’t import much produce or other foodstuff as they were accustomed, so residents had to grow it themselves or go without. The series and the book Wartime Farm reveal “how our predecessors lived and thrived in difficult conditions with extreme frugality and ingenuity. From growing your own vegetables and keeping chickens in the back yard, to having to ‘make do and mend’, many of the challenges faced by wartime Britons have resonance today.”

Watch more Wartime Farm here.

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

This post was inspired by our current Genealogy Gems Book Club author, Sarah Chrisman. She, too, is an expert on living in the past. The difference is that her Victorian lifestyle isn’t just a year-long experiment but her chosen way of life. Lisa Louise Cooke interviewed her recently about Victorian holiday traditions in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 198. In the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 142, which requires a Genealogy Gems Premium membership to access, Sarah talks about her memoirs, This Victorian Life and Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present and Myself.

genealogy book club family history readingClick here to see what other gems the Genealogy Gems Book Club has to recommend!

How to Make a Daguerreotype

We live in the era of digital photography–far from the time of the daguerreotype.  But that didn’t stop Seattle-based photographer Dan Carrillo from falling in love with daguerreotypes and bringing this art form back to life.

Daguerreotype“There’s something about a daguerreotype that is unlike any other type of photograph, in my opinion the most beautiful form of photography ever invented,” Dan says in a fantastic, four-minute documentary video you can watch below. He learned the craft of daguerreotyping at an Eastman House workshop, then spent a year gathering and building his own equipment. Today he creates photographs he calls “shiny little jewels” using the same laborious process and dangerous chemicals as early photographers.

He likes the idea that the images he creates will outlive him. “It’s so easy to take a picture and forget about it,” he says. “I’m trying to make something that will be a cherished object from generation to generation.” Family historians certainly can appreciate that line of thinking!

Dan Carrillo: Daclotype from Patrick Richardson Wright on Vimeo.

The process of creating a daguerreotype was so laborious that those who used it were constantly tweaking it. According to one site that explains the process in more detail, inventors were able to eventually drop the exposure time from a daunting 15 minutes to less than one minute (who can sit totally still for 15 minutes?). I think it’s interesting that there are more than 480 daguerreotype-related patents at Google Patents. This makes me think differently about those “shiny little jewels” we may come across in our own family photo collections. Daguerreotypes of our ancestors are themselves painstakingly-crafted “genealogy gems!”

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