In my school days we learned about history by reciting a seemingly endless list of dates and events.
“Chartism, The Corn Laws, Peterloo and World War 2,” chanted me and my friends as we held our history homework in our hands, waiting to enter the musty-dusty, dated classrooms.
By the time I took A level classical history things had got better.
Plays written by ancient voices made us gasp and laugh and we imagined living in the ancient ruins we visited. Descriptions of the lives of the average Joe or Joan were more interesting than reciting lists of kings and queens and prime ministers and acts of Parliament.
Classics made history better – it wasn’t necessary to ‘do lists’ to learn any longer.
What made the difference was the people’s voices that spoke out from the pages of history. Despite being over a thousand years past, it was fresh and said more about the time than any encyclopedia or text book. Voices and experiences and arts and culture made history come alive.
Researching the House Of Mirelle started with the modern equivalent. The research into the background of the fashion house means doing a lot of reading, then a lot of questioning about what I find, then even more reading and fine-sifting of information I’ve discovered.
That research has to happen before getting to the next bit – asking people about what they remember of the fashion house in real life. Like ancient history, this part makes the black and white information from the pages of materials I’m reading leap into life.
The House Of Mirelle did the same. It started with an interview:
The person said: “my aunt remembers it, she said it was ‘posh.’ She never went there….she thinks they made clothes for the Royal Family.”
I sat there listening to her, thinking of the pages of the text books, fashion books and magazines, the pages of information about the history of Hull, the lists of questions in my note books and drafts of the first chapters.
I listened to her voice some more and the House Of Mirelle became real again, so many years after closing it’s doors and the last item was bought, her voice and her memory was bringing history alive.
© Carrie Henderson 2015