The People's History
May has been a strange month for us. At a time of new beginnings and a burst of spring hope it has also heralded the end of another era.
I recently read a large and highly interesting book about the very influential Jean Gordon, ‘Daughters of the North’ by Jennifer Morag Henderson. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Scottish History. The house of Sutherland today owns much of its riches to the foundations this lady lay down in the 16th century.
Combined with our own event it brought home to me once more how little we know of the so-called ‘ordinary’ or ‘common people’ through the ages. Common, ordinary? A very improper name tag I feel. Who decided that the people who made up our communities would be known as such?
What made folk simply endnotes in history? Mere records of the numbers of the dead after a battle or the horrific figures of the starved after a famine. Why were their lives so unimportant that we know so little of them? Did they not have names or families, homes, or jobs? Were they creative? What did they bring and do for their communities and the everyday lives of others?
It would appear that if you didn’t have a title or money or were infamous in some way then you are grouped like cattle as ‘ordinary’. However, I don’t think I have ever met a so-called ordinary person in my life.
The folks I know all tend to have something that makes them special, unique, and quite simply in some cases entirely extraordinary.
The mother who works all the hours so that she can put food on the table. The father who brings up his children after losing his partner. The old women who gives you an insight into the lives of the people who have gone before us. The person who raises money to help a stranger. The humans who fight to help the planet survive. The folks that put themselves at risk to help others. In short our friends our neighbours our family, perhaps even ourselves.
History as they say is written by the winners. In many cases, it is not the men or women who have laid their life down for some cause or to defend their homeland. It is generally the person who sits at the ‘top’ we hear about. The one who pulls a huge salary or crown on their head.
What of the people’s history? Thankfully, some historians are trying to address this. But it is difficult when most of the records or accounts take very little notice of the populace that had little or no money or were without a title.
One of the amazing things that cameras and computers have captured in a way that was impossible to do before is record the lives of many people. Some would say there is too much of this. However, at least now when historians look back there will be more than official records to consider. There will be a brief snap of what the so-called ‘common’ folk were up to. What they ate, what they did apart from their jobs, their dreams, and their way of life. Their massive contribution to how the world works around them.
It is not that I don’t find it fascinating to read and hear about ‘famous’ people from the past. But I also find it equally interesting to hear about how people lived their everyday lives. It is mostly these people we are descended from. These people survived despite the odds of famine, war, disease, and the constant battles they were expected to fight as the landed gentry fell out with each other.
So the next time someone refers to you as ‘ordinary’ or one of the ‘common’ people, just remember you are an individual and unique. A person that has come from a long line of survivors who have contributed vastly to this extraordinary world