Patricia and Robert Malcolmson speak at the Nelson Public Library on Tuesday.

Social history examined at Nelson library

The diaries of famous people are popular reading, but it’s the diaries of ordinary folk that historians look to for details of our past.

The diaries of famous people are popular reading, but it’s the diaries of ordinary folk — sometimes living in extraordinary times — that historians look to for elusive details of our past. Social historians Patricia and Bob Malcolmson offer a glimpse into the role of personal journals in our understanding of history in a special presentation on Tuesday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Nelson Public Library.

Books authored by the Malcolmsons include (by Bob) Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850 (1973) and Life and Labour in England 1700-1780 (1981); and (by Patricia) English Laundresses: A Social History 1850-1930 (1986) and Me and My Hair: A Social History (2012).

Their latest book, Women at the Ready: The Remarkable Story of the Women’s Voluntary Services on the Home Front, was released in the summer. During the past decade they have been active in editing for publication of some the best diaries held in the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.

The Malcolmsons have edited three volumes of the diaries of the remarkable and prolific literary housewife Nella Last, who lived in the shipyard city of Barrow-in-Furness: Nella Last’s Peace (2008), Nella Last in the 1950s (2010), and The Diaries of Nella Last: Writing in War and Peace (2012).

“I like to feel the beat of life,” Last wrote in 1941, and in her engaging writings she makes the reader feel it, too. With keen editing to best illustrate both the person and the times, the Nella Last series is an excellent example of the Malcolmsons’ expertise.

The Nella Last diaries inspired a BAFTA award-winning TV drama. The presentation will be of interest for anyone with an interest in reading and writing history.

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