Monday, December 9, 2013

Why I Love History

From Punch Magazine, 1906. http://www.punch.co.uk/

Look at this cartoon from a 1906 issue of Punch Magazine, forecasting the future of wireless technology. It shows two people sitting outdoors, but ignoring their surroundings and each other because they're engrossed in their mobile devices. The woman is sexting. The man is looking up sports scores. This cartoon was published over a hundred years ago, yet it is depicting something we are all extremely familiar with today.

Now take a moment to think of what life was like back in 1906. Compared to what life is like now, 1906 might as well be a different planet. And yet here we are, looking at the same cartoon people looked at in 1906, and thinking exactly the same thing. Of course this cartoon is fantastical, a speculation based on advances in telegraph technology. But the prediction has turned out to be 100% accurate. And just as we roll our eyes today at people engrossed in the latest technology, ignoring everything else, so too did people roll their eyes on that far away planet of 1906.

This is why I love history. Because the people of history lived in a completely different world than we do now, and it can sometimes seem unfathomable to imagine their lives. But they were still people who laughed and cried and had a favorite color and food and best friends and awkward conversations. For so many history is just a list of facts and dates and names and obviously that's really boring. But if you really look closely at history you learn about real people who were just like us even though they lived on another planet. And to be able to connect to some one that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, in a completely different world, is amazing.

This is one of the many many reasons why I love fashion and textile history in particular. Because I get to work with the very clothes that people lived their lives in and the textiles that they slept under or sat on or that adorned their walls. You may roll your eyes at this, but I've always loved how Stanly Tucci's character in The Devil Wears Prada describes fashion as "greater than art, because you live your life in it." I think that quote so wonderfully sums up why fashion and textile history is so important, and why it means so much to me. Because these are the things that people lived their lives in. And to study that is to connect with these strange people from a distant land in the most intimate way. The first extant garment I ever held was a shoe from the early 1810s. I remember just sitting there and staring at it, because here in my hand was a shoe that was on a woman's foot when Napoleon was conquering the world. And in that moment I had a personal link to that time in history and more importantly the people of history. A woman and I, separated by two hundred years, were able to share a moment.

This is why history is amazing, and historic preservation is so important. We can't hop into a time machine and literally meet the people of the past, but we can make an intimate connection with them through the objects they've left behind. We can understand and 'make friends' (for lack of a better phrase) with people who lived in a different world, but in the end are just like us.

3 comments:

  1. Wow. You have summed up rather succinctly exactly why I love the history of fashon so much.

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  2. Just found your blog & OMG am I hooked!! :-) This post in particular is meaningful; I live in a historic traditional American Foursquare neighborhood & our home was built in 1909.

    In my bathroom hangs a picture found in my great-grandma's house that nobody but me wanted: It's 2 women inspecting one another's outfits, one dressed in the height of the crinoline fashions of 1862 (huge skirts) & the other the more linear fashion of 1912 (huge hat). The caption underneath states "How ridiculous you look, my dear."

    Keep up the great work... you've got a new fan!

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  3. I was also very touched by history and clothing while working at the Danvers Historical Society. And one story in particular, still evokes the same wonderful feelings that you feel with the past. The story is The Blue Dress, by Nancy Rexford in a small booklet put out by the society. I am a new follower!

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