The relationship between how we think and feel about the past and how we think and feel about our own homes is central to the Living with the Past at Home research project. This is not a project about doing house histories ourselves, but about charting the relatively recent development of house history research and thinking about what is means for the ways people think about the past and their homes. We will do this by talking with people who have done, are doing or hoping to research the history of their home, or for whom the the past feels present in their homes in everyday, or fleeting ways – things that were left behind by former residents some long ago and some recent, like names and dates left in plaster found beneath wall paper, things left behind, a child’s height chart on a kitchen wall.
The project is really about how we might in some sense and in different ways share the most personal space of our lives – our homes – with those who have lived there before, former residents who, slept, gave birth, were born, or died in our bedrooms; of what we share and don’t share with them in terms of the circumstances and conditions of our lives, as well as what has changed and not changed in the local area. We are interested in what house history is like is practice, what makes people do it, what it means for people. How does it make us feel about the past and our homes?
So the project has been addressing questions of:
- How is the meaning of domestic space and the experience of domestic dwelling shaped by contemporary residents’ awareness that their home is a site of prior occupation or prehabitation?
- What forms of historical knowledge and historical practice are prompted and informed by and result from this awareness? And more specifically:
- What are the range of ways in which prehabitation is experienced, recognised, responded to and negotiated and how does this shape people’s senses of ownership, belonging and experience of domestic space? How do the objects, physical fabric, material form and décor, or stories left behind by previous inhabitants, shape people’s attitudes and decision making in the practice of home-making?
- What are the motivations, imaginations and values that underpin the emergence of the house biography as a mode of historical investigation? What is the nature of this form of historical practice and knowledge and how does it shape inhabitants’ relationships with their homes, sense of the past and local history?
The Research Project Advisory Board includes Eleanor John, Head of Curatorial Services, Geffrye Museum, London, and Dr Hilda Kean, honorary research fellow and previously co-ordinator of the MA Public History at Ruskin College, Oxford.