Social history is the history of ordinary people. Starting with the collections brought together by William Curtis in the 1850s we have a long tradition of collecting social history objects. They tell the story of what people did, at home and outside, for work and for leisure. Social history is not so much about taking snapshots in time, it’s about showing how trends developed, for example, in housework or shopping. Milestones – Hampshire’s Living History Museum in Basingstoke offers many opportunities to find out about ordinary people lived in Hampshire.
One of the most important trends that social history collections can demonstrate is where the things people used have come from, how they have evolved and what this tells us about changes in people’s lives. For example, an early Victorian home contained many more things that had been made locally than a similar home in the 1930s. The same home today is likely to contain very few things even made in Britain.
Most of the local distinctiveness that early collectors such as William Curtis were trying to capture in the 1850s has now largely gone. So, if a house or office in Hampshire has the same things in it as a house or office in Northumberland, should we stop collecting if what’s around us is no longer specifically ‘Hampshire’? Not necessarily. The objects on their own can only tell part of the story.
We also collect people’s memories about the objects and how they used them. So you may see similar objects on display at our museums in Alton or Havant, or Basingstoke or Fareham but their stories might be very different. Our approach to displaying objects has evolved as well. In years gone by objects were often displayed with little information about them, but now we offer many more opportunities to find about the collections and the stories they have to tell.
When William Curtis was collecting Hampshire objects in the 1850s he was aware that the world around him was changing very fast. Today we are living through a technological revolution every bit as rapid as the one he knew. This gives us some real challenges – how can we collect and display today’s technology which is changing so fast? How can we deal with things like the internet and email, which are having such an important effect on our home and work lives?