This week’s object, isn’t really an object, but a group of animals. Our final year undergraduate student Ben Eagle explains how these earthworms have inspired his history dissertation.
Earthworms have only recently become an historical interest of mine although I have had a soft spot for them, working and walking in the fields of the Essex landscape, as long as I can remember. As some of the oldest animals on the planet they fascinate me as much as they fascinated Charles Darwin who published a lengthy treatise on earthworms in 1881. These particular worms, a family of 80 eisenia foetida, a species of compost worm, were kindly given to me by a fellow Bristol undergraduate. They connect me to the soil and to the past, both personally and intellectually and they have inspired me to both pursue environmental history and to push boundaries in my writing, particularly relating to how we can study the natural sciences alongside the humanities.
Following on from our first object last week, our Head of Department Prof. Tim Cole describes how a piece of litter discarded in the Lake District sparked an interest in the past…
I glimpsed this bottle walking along a sunken lane in the southern Lake District when I was eight years old. I don’t know if that is when I decided to become a historian, but it certainly was part of a process of fascination with the past. Unearthing it from beneath moss and soil felt like connecting not just with the ‘past’ but with the unknown person who tossed this bottle to the side of the track a hundred or so years earlier. It is the everyday actions of ordinary people – in often times extraordinary contexts – that has occupied, and continues to occupy, my historical imagination.
As part of the Past Matters festival of history that we have been running at the Department over the last few years we are focusing on objects. Things that have meaning and value to people. Over the coming year some of our PhD students and members of staff will be working with different communities and groups in Bristol on a variety of exciting projects. As part of the those projects we will be producing postcards of objects important to the people they will be working alongside. And you’ll be able to follow them on this blog, under the title Past Matter (see what we’ve done there…). But whilst these various projects get off the ground, we thought we’d start with ourselves. So, over the next few weeks we’re going to be posting photographs of some of our own objects, taken by our Deas Scholarship PhD student Vesna Lukic, with brief explanations of why they are important to us.
To kick things off, here’s Dr Jonathan Saha, specialist in colonial Burmese history, and his Burmese bookend…
This bookend was given to me by a friend who studied with me when I did my MA in Asian History. It was made in Burma and is a Chinthe, a mythological lion-like creature. His father had been in the country many decades earlier and had acquired it. It reminds me of the camaraderie of my MA experience, and the friends I have made on the journey to becoming a historian. It is also a tangible artifact from Burma’s past that, appropriately enough, keeps my academic history books upright on their shelf.