Thursday, April 28, 2016

How We Present the Past

One of the things that was discussed and studied in my archaeology lectures is the very real problem of how historical and archaeological sites are presented to the general public. 

My mother and sister first toured England and Scotland thirty years ago, and in many ways I envy them their trip, as it bore more resemblance to HV Morton, travelling through Britain in his bull-nosed Morris in the 1920s and '30s than visiting castles and sites today. No information plaques, no attached gift-shops. In a way there is an attraction to just experiencing a place without any help. 

One of my professors, Jeremy Huggett, admitted this when he showed us an Iron Age broch that was literally in the middle of nowhere, hidden in the woods, and if you didn't know it was there you would never happen upon it. 

Jeremy Huggett addressing my archaeology class in the spring of 2011, in the broch mentioned above.

Whilst living in Scotland, I found out about Sanquhar Castle, which is not owned by Historic Scotland, or any other company that is preserving it. For more pictures (I think I took over 50!) I'll put a link to my old blog about my adventures there. The exciting and unique thing about visiting Sanquhar Castle was the fact that it was untouched. There was a fence around it which my friend Rachel & I had to break into in order to access the castle. It hadn't been tidied up, and we tripped over rubble quite a bit. The spiral staircases hadn't been preserved and restored. There weren't any signs telling us which bits of the castle had been used for bedrooms, halls, cellars. It was exciting. 

Sanquhar Castle seen from a distance, with the deep defensive ditch which runs around it.

Clambering up the spiral staircase!

We weren't the only visitors, as sadly, much of the castle was graffitied. 

I'm not saying that all castles should be like this. If they weren't tidied up and preserved, they would fall into greater ruin, and this might prevent them from being visited. And I am sure there was much about the castle that could have been learned by at least a few information boards. 

Another issue in preserving and presenting the past is the question of what period should be preserved? There are examples in Britain of later periods being demolished in favour of earlier eras, for example, in Conwy, Wales, Victorian houses built up against the walls were torn down.

Conwy Castle, which has a wall which encloses the city.

 Another excellent example of this difficulty is one seen in America, and one of which I am acutely aware, being a Mormon. It is the way in which the LDS church restores its historical sites. No one can fault them on doing an excellent job, and creating informative and interesting visitors centres, and landscaping the area beautifully. 

A postcard showing the Joseph Smith home as it once stood, with the additions which were built after the original home. 

The restored Joseph Smith home as it looks today. 

The Joseph Smith house in Palmyra, NY is an excellent example of this. My sister was living in upstate NY at the time, and we'd visited this site before and after the church restored it to what it would have been in Joseph Smith's time. At the risk of sounding sentimental, my family and I agreed that something of the spirit of the place had been lost when the later 19th century additions to the house had been removed. I learned since that in the 1910s, Willard & Rebecca Bean, members of the LDS church, went to live in the Joseph Smith home and through their presence in the community, were able to pave the way for the Church to obtain land and built memorials to our history there. An account of their experiences can be found in this book. Yet their lives and contribution were wiped out with the restoration of the Joseph Smith home. 

There are a lot of difficult decisions to make when determining what aspects of history and archaeology should be preserved and shown to the general public. I'm not offering any answers, it's just something that's been on my mind lately and that I wanted to explore. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Gift of Frugality

The 1940s isn't my favourite, historically speaking, or fashion-wise. My friend Sarah loves and appreciates it much more than I do. What's more, she is quite an expert on the history from that era. When I visited her this past October, we looked through a lot of her 1940s magazines. I had to admit that I was really impressed. Not necessarily by the clothes (though there was a white & green seersucker dress with a green linen jacket that was lovely!), but by the attitude in the magazines. There were articles, tips, and even advertisements urging the average American to conserve, well, practically everything. Not only in food rationing, but in every aspect of life. I think we could learn quite a few lessons from that attitude. 

Instead of my ramblings, I asked Sarah if she would do a guest post for me on this subject. Have a look at her blog, HISTORY: Preserved, which is fascinating and informative. If you're inspired by the idea of rationing, I'd especially recommend her blog, as last year she made a ration recipe every week of the year! She has also recently published a novel - The War Between Us set during WWII which is not only well written, but painstakingly researched. 

Without further ado, here is Sarah's post: 

Some good rules for your veg!

In the summer of 2006, my husband and I lived in Provo, UT while I finished my associates degree at UVSC. I took the bus to classes, and as happens on repetitive bus trips back and forth, I stared out the window the entire time.

One thing I came to notice was this small, spectacularly well-kept lawn gracing the front of a little cottage of a house. It seemed that not one blade of grass was out of place, not one weed dared show its ragged face. Manicured was the perfect word for it. I admired it so much, that I started looking out for it on every bus trip. Then one morning I caught sight of its care-taker: an old, white-haired woman in a house dress. I got to see her several times, and every time she was out there with a tiny pair of scissors, bending over and clipping stray blades of grass. It seemed a morning ritual for her, and I rejoiced every time I was lucky enough to spy her on my trip to school. I admired this woman and her comforting dedication. It was obvious that it brought her great joy and satisfaction in her care of her yard, though I wonder if she knew how much joy it brought other people, passerby like me.

When I think of that great generation that came out of the 1930s and 40s, I think of this woman as a great symbol of that time. She represents hard work, dedication, frugality, and persistence. A good case study of these traits, especially frugality, can be found in American and British food rationing during WWII.

In 2014, I embarked on a year-long project of cooking my way through 1940s wartime rationing recipes. I made one a week, mostly American, but some British. It was an eye-opening experience, but the biggest thing I took away from my year of ration cooking was the incredibly clever way they approached their shortages while maintaining high levels of nutrition.

I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised by how good they were at “making do” without. Most homemakers were seasoned veterans of the Great Depression, and while I’m sure no one looked forward to rationing, the previous decade of recipe revision and recipe creation for hard times came in handy!

Here are a few ways frugality was put to use during wartime:

  1. Use every scrap  
Wasting food was considered unpatriotic, so there were many interesting ways devised to make leftovers stretch, to use every last bit of food. Wartime and the Depression are where eating everything on your plate was established firmly in our culture. You, yourself, may have memories of not being able to leave the table until everything on your plate was gone.
One example of using every scrap was reusing leftovers and disguising them as something else by simply adding breadcrumbs or mixing it with one or two other ingredients to remake it into something “new” for dinner. Another example was to reuse stale cake, by turning it into crumbs and remaking it into another dessert. I think this is quite clever! We usually only think of reusing stale bread for crumbs or croutons. Another frugal/nutritional tip was to use the syrups from canned fruits as a sweetener and the cooking water for vegetables in other things like soups and stews.
One important part of using every scrap in wartime was rendering your own fats, to clean and reuse them until they were no longer fit for use in cooking. Then they sent it off to be used for munitions where they would make use of the glycerin in the fat.

  1. Doing without, yet still making it great  
One thing I loved to look for in these recipes was how they got around making things without common staples like fat, eggs, and fresh milk. These recipes are still useful today for people who are allergic to eggs or dairy, who are sensitive to sugar, or just want a lower fat diet. I made one recipe for Eggless Lemon Curd and found it quite tasty! The richness from the egg was missing, but it still made a very delicious spread that made it a nice replacement for the real thing.  

  1. Nutrition despite economizing
Due to the lack of meat available during the war, organ meat was emphasized for its nutrition - and because it wasn’t rationed. Nutrition in general was very strongly emphasized during the war because a healthy nation meant healthy workers and less time off for sick days. There are hundreds of pamphlets and articles dedicated to educating the public about how to maintain nutrition during wartime. Among these was how to properly care for foods and how to prepare vegetables. Cutting of vegetables was reserved to right before serving, as they believed that cutting and exposure to oxygen destroyed the valuable vitamins. So, no “cutting a week’s worth of veggies to simplify for later” like today’s mentality.

  1. How America Lives
Some of the best lessons I learned about frugality and hard work came from reading this book, How American Lives. Published in 1940 by Ladies Home Journal,, it chronicles the lives of American families from across the country of different socioeconomic backgrounds to get as true a picture of American lives as possible. They talk about their daily lives, what they do for fun, the jobs where they work, and how they make do. There’s even the family’s budget at the end of each chapter. None of the families did for compensation, though they were given “a makeover” from each department from Ladies Home Journal - household, fashion, etc. They participated to show the way they lived and it is a truly revealing snapshot of that time.  

In the end, the frugal kind of mentality isn’t something that is born in us, it’s something achieved through effort. I think many people admire the frugal and hard work of former generations and long for something like it in our culture today. There is no secret in how to achieve it, though. No “magic pill” or “get it quick” solution. The answer has always been there. I think back to that old woman, so careful in her ritual. Her yard spoke for her in its immaculate beauty achieved one morning at a time. Good things come to those who wait - and those who work.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

1910s Skirt & Blouse

Skirts & blouses from 1916

Back in February I finished my second 1910s skirt and blouse. The skirt was quite different from my first one (with all the buttons), as it was dated around 1916, four years later. And the silhouette of the 1910s changes drastically within the decade. 

I used the wonderful Wearing History patterns for both the skirt and the blouse. The skirt is part of the 1910s suit pattern - I'll get around to the jacket one of these days! 

It has, surprisingly, taken me nearly two months to photograph my new ensemble. As I've lost some weight in the past few months, my 1910s corset no longer fits me! I had to use my Regency long stays to pose in. I guess I have some alterations to do now!!!

Oh, no! I need a petticoat under this skirt!

I love the soft, olive green of the skirt. It gives it a sort-of military/ WW1 look which I like. So far, both the wools I've used for my 1910s skirts have been from the excellent Burnley & Trowbridge, which I highly recommend!

The blouse pattern was a little bit tricky, but came together nicely. The skirt was fairly simple, and I love them both! As it's a thick wool, though, I think I'll be putting it away till the cooler weather of the autumn comes back.