Material Histories: History MA projects with the Museum of English Rural Life

As part of our MA in History, our postgraduate students work with the curators and collections of the Museum of English Rural Life to learn about the history of material culture, and the various ways in which historians can use objects and artefacts to understand the past.

The students then choose an object from the collection and produce a short blog, video, or podcast explaining what it can tell us about the period it was made. Here are three of those videos made by students on the 2018-19 MA course.

What’s so Special about a Pair of Shorts? A Land Girl’s Clothes from the 1940s

by Beth Snyder

At first glance, these heavily worn and repaired shorts may seem like a somewhat insignificant item of clothing, that we today would perhaps throw away. However, these shorts have a unique historical importance: they are an unofficial item of the Women’s Land Army uniform from the Second World War, belonging to Doreen Thorp. They can tell us a great deal about the experiences of Land Girls, the conditions of wartime living, and attitudes about women’s clothes in the 1940s.

The World in a Box: A Japanese Lacquered Spice-Box from the 1880s

by Jake Blunt

Spice boxes are an amazing insight into Britain’s long-running fascination with spices and decorative kitchenware. This spice box, dated to the 1880s, brings together many different aspects of Victorian Britain: Britain’s worldwide trade, the culinary tastes of the general public, and the shifting cultural perspective of Britain as a marketplace for crafts from across the globe.


History in Bed: A Sedge Mattress from the 1500-1600s

by Fiona Lane

What can an old mattress tell you about the past? The answer is a surprising amount. One of only a very few to survive, and found hidden in a house in Titchfield, this mattress shows the craft skill of its makers. As it was probably made for a death or a childbirth, it can throw light onto concerns about hygiene and the material conditions of everyday life.


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