Experimental History

I’m always going on about the *experience* of history, because as a cultural historian I think it’s an important part of historical inquiry – trying to understand what it was to exist in another time. One of the ways I’m attempting to experience the past is through learning 18th Century penmanship, which involves a quill and ink. This evening I had a completely, and unexpectedly, authentic experience when I was practicing penmanship. I knocked the bottle of ink onto the floor, broke the bottle, and ended up with a huge puddle of ink soaking into the floor (wood floor). Of course I don’t have any paper towels or anything of the sort in the flat, so I was on my hands and knees mopping up ink with a tea towel and wringing it out. Now that’s the sort of authentic historical experience I really didn’t plan on having! But in hindsight, I’m glad it happened. I don’t tend to think of those sorts of things, the little things; the accidents. I don’t think how one tiny slip of the elbow could set the whole evening into a fuss about cleaning up an extremely tricky stain, or how much more of a pain in the arse it could have been if the ink had gone down my front or hit a chair or the wall. People had background experience with these sorts of things that we lack now, so probably wouldn’t have set a bottle of ink near their elbow, but I’m sure accidents still happened.

It’s going to take a while for all the ink to wear off.



  1. Katie
    I have some really nice Faber Castell pencils that I am more than happy to let you use!! They write well, don’t stain your hands and can be erased from paper really easily!!!

  2. Oohh. That sounds nice! Thanks! I must say, though, the ink and quill is fun.

  3. Adam Budd · ·

    And I can loan you an eraser! Next time you spill ink, pour a quantity of table salt onto it–that will do the trick, and look: no purple hands! A lovely and envocative post! 18th-c ladies often complained of permanently stained hands from letterwriting – welcome to the club!


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