The history of ordinary people is vital to understand because the vast majority of us have ‘ordinary’ ancestors! But this doesn’t make them dull or boring. There is so much to discover about these unsung heroes and heroines of the ‘everyday’.
When the vast majority of working class people did not leave behind diaries or letters, finding the voices and the history of ordinary people can be difficult. Luckily there are a wealth of fantastic charities, organisations and projects that can help you to learn about our precious ordinary ancestors.
So here are 10 websites vital to helping you to find out about the history of ordinary, working class men and women.
1. The British Library Oral History Collection
The Oral History division of the British Library not only has literal audio recordings of our ancestors but a wealth of material on life in the past.
Enjoy listening to voices from the past commenting on ‘current events’, talking about their every day lives or reflecting on their memories. This website really allows you to immerse yourself in the history of ordinary people.
2. Working Class History
Not confined to the UK, this website takes a global look at history of ordinary people, in particular working class history. It focuses on the struggle for better rights and often features articles on revolt, revolution, protest etc. The website boasts both articles and a podcast.
3. Working Class Movement Library
This charitable organisation focuses on the struggle for working class people to be heard. With collections dating back to the 1760s, the library goes beyond it’s physical location in Manchester to offer a range of online articles and resources and providing readers with an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of ordinary people.
4. History Workshop Org
The HWO is a digital magazine which advocates for ‘history from below’ and seeks to explore history from the perspective of ‘ordinary lives’. Articles range from Roman Ghettos to Queer Education. The site offers a holistic and global look at the history of ordinary people.
5. British Agricultural History Society
Many of our ‘ordinary’ ancestors harked from rural beginnings. Especially post-industrialisation. BAHS hosts a free online library of digitalised historic periodicals. These are fully searchable and over 850 items have been added to the library, making it one of the biggest resources for the history of ordinary people.
6. Living With Machines
This project looks at the impacts of machinery upon the lives of ordinary people during the Industrial Revolution. Drill down into it’s various articles via the About page to learn more about this ambitious project.
7. Women's History Network
A national association and charity the WHN regularly host events and share blog articles exploring the lives of women – both ‘ordinary’ and ‘extra-ordinary’. When we delve into the history of ordinary people we should make sure we don’t forget our female ancestors.
8. Writing Lives
This project is full of blog posts written by people clearly passionate about uncovering the past. The project uses real memoirs left by working class people to explore ordinary lives in the past.
9. Chartist Ancestors
The Chartists fought to try and obtain the vote for all men – and more. Your ancestor might not have been active within the Chartist movement but there’s a good chance they signed one of their 3 petitions. Indeed, Chartism should be seen as an important part of the history of ordinary people. You can find out more at the Chartist Ancestor website AND by watching my interview with Chartist expert Mark Crail.
OK not a website but newspapers are such a vital resource for learning about the history of ordinary people through a primary source! It would be remiss of me to not include them on this list. Here’s some of my articles about using this precious resource.
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