The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution

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We can feel that we know not just what the subject did but what they would have done, how they would have responded, what they were probably doing in those periods where the sources run dry, how they would feel if they knew that we were spending so much time thinking about them. We should be reflective about judgements like these, and not dismiss them out-of-hand.

The English in love: the intimate story of an emotional revolution — Macquarie University

Emotional attachments can, if considered carefully, become a useful tool. There is, of course, a risk that our identification with the people whose pasts we study produces a distorted perspective; that our feelings of sympathy or similarity iron out differences, contexts and historical specificity.


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But we are used to being aware of our biases and subject positions, to being reflexive about them and to accepting them as a necessary part of the production of historical knowledge — the emotional attachment we bring to our work is another influence that should be understood and worked with, rather than seen as a problem to be ignored.

Our emotional lives and mental health also shape how we produce history, whether it be our feelings shaping how we work, research and write, or a mental illness that can bring it all to a halt.

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And as Laura Sefton argued in her paper and in a recent blog , there are material and structural factors at play. In light of their papers, a renewed interest in individual lives might be seen as a product of the material, as well as intellectual, conditions in which we write history. Intimate histories seem to offer a way of narrowing our research: a rational response to dried-up funding pots, tightened deadlines and the pressures of the job market.

As Lewis pointed out, historians producing intimate histories more often face the frustration of leaving out rich material than finding enough for a thesis. And even the richest archives contain silences that can never be filled.

Martha Robinson Rhodes shared her frustrations about what she could not know about an archived oral history project, particularly the paths of enquiry that were ignored by the original researchers. Important information about the identity of the researchers themselves was missing. In this light, working on intimate histories helps subvert conditions of marketisation. The internet offers another way of using individual lives to challenge the drive towards competition.

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This act of democratisation, one suspects, is one which many of the authors of the autobiographies would have supported. Historians such as Carolyn Steedman, Frank Mort, and Graham Dawson have long used details from their own family as entry points into broader histories, placing their own subjectivity centre-stage.

Ferhat & Asli Emotional + shocking scene - Black White Love - story of beauty & Beast

Feats of historical reconstruction that would have been impossibly laborious a decade ago are now possible relatively quickly—but our subjects might never have anticipated, or welcomed, the possibility that future historians would be able to reassemble their lives in this way. Historians have never been better equipped to produce deep studies of the lives of individuals, but this makes it imperative to retain the reflexivity of earlier work.

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The costs of a subscription to online census records—not to mention countless trips to local archives, nationally and internationally—mount up for family historians, too. At the same time, like all council services, local history archives are facing cutbacks. Many are employing shortened hours, reduced service and—in at least one case—proposing to charge researchers to access materials a policy which, thanks to public pressure, was dropped. Historians must defend the services and institutions on which we rely from continued cuts.

Without continued advocacy on behalf of embattled local services, we run the risk that the toolkits of family history—which have the potential to generate such thoughtful, reflective histories of individual lives—are parcelled off.


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  • Both our emotional attachment to the individuals, and the material, precarious conditions in which we work shape intimate histories. Further reflection on these themes could prove to be a productive way of thinking about modern British history, and we are grateful to MBS for giving us a space in which to begin these thoughts.

    You are commenting using your WordPress. And particularly as the ideology of love spread, many of the same tensions and concerns we recognise in relationships today emerge. Once inside, they went to the back seats, designed for two, sat quietly for 10 minutes, then her offered her a cigarette, at which she took off her hat, loosened her coat and took off her gloves.


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    • She got hold of my hand … I put my left arm around her — she slightly lifted her right arm — so I put my hand around her breast. I then began to feel the breasts of the girl with my now disengaged hand … She stopped my hand straying too far. We also did some kissing. Some of the accounts of attitudes towards mixed class, and particularly mixed race relationships are painful to read, particularly given the suffering they must have caused to those in them, although sometimes public reaction to racism is reported as robustly combative.

      Advice included moving away from them in the cinema, crossing the street to avoid them, leaving a shop if they entered, and certainly never entertaining a romantic liaison.

      The English in love: the intimate story of an emotional revolution

      Her sense of shared standards was presumably punctured by the reported fury of her audience. This is a highly readable telling account, which might not change your ideas about the Thirties or the Sixties, but offers a far from stereotypical view of the social history of the decades in between. And it will leave you thinking how much human damage religious, social and legal strictures about human relationships have done.

      Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. The latest volume of Bob Dylan's bootleg series features must-hear collaborations with Johnny Cash.