My work focused on the untitled memoir of Edith Annie Williams, born November 1899 in Merthyr Tydfil. Then a mining village, Merthyr Tydfil is now the fourth largest town in Wales, and Edith never forgets her humble roots all throughout her writing. It has been an honour to have been able to help share the words of Edith Annie Williams with the Writing Lives collaborative research project, and a real pleasure to have experienced.
I chose to write about Edith Annie Williams because I was interested in writing about a female autobiographer. Given her date of birth at the turn of the century, I knew that major shifts in the life of working class women, such as the right to vote, would play a part in her life. As she lived through a century in which some of the most major events in our history happened, to which she acknowledges as a reason for writing, I felt I had to write about her. I was attracted to her memoir also because of the summary provided by the Brunel University Library archive, which outlined her mention of her study at Oxford University, and attendance of Pantglas School, the unfortunate site of the 1966 disaster.
Initially I was apprehensive as to whether or not I would be able to capture Edith’s voice within the blog posts, and to keep her words at the forefront of my posts. As her memoir is significantly shorter than many of the other authors being a mere 11,700 words, and with four missing pages, I worried that it would be difficult to extract enough detail to create the eight thematic blog posts. Fortunately after reading through all of her memoir, it became clear that this was not going to be an issue as she talks at great length about topics such as her childhood, schooling, and her working life.
Prior to studying this module I had no experience of blogging. I had never used WordPress before this, and at the start of the project I was struggling to get to grips with it. However, after some guidance from the rest of the group and a few successful posts, I grew in confidence and I now feel very knowledgeable in using WordPress which I feel shows in the progression of my posts. I am incredibly thankful for this new skill as it has already proven to be very useful in the job market.
I have always had an active presence on the social media platform Facebook, but I had never used it to promote my work or to help with research, and I very rarely used Twitter. I have learned a great deal about using social media for research purposes from working on the project, especially as it became increasingly obvious that Edith was not going to be an easy find on the records, so using social media for research was vital. Having no children, it was hard to find anything other than Edith’s marriage record and birth on Ancestry.com, but she was definitely worth the challenge. I have connected with so many different people who I would never have had the opportunity to speak to before this project, such as people in Facebook groups that I have reached out to, and academics on Twitter who regularly share our posts.
It has been a huge confidence boost to see such positive comments on my work from my peers on the project, and from scholars and historians on Twitter. From working on this project and having an active role on social media, I feel like my writing with a purpose to inform as opposed to academic essay’s has drastically improved which I can transfer into other areas of life. Collaborating with other students on the project has been a real help, and particularly Ruth Childerhouse’s posts on Mrs R.M Downer had been helpful in contextualising Edith’s memoir.
The blogs have given me the opportunity to contribute to public history which has been incredibly rewarding for me. I contributed to the UK Reading Experience Database with an entry on Edith’s mention of her copy of Lord Tennyson’s poems which I hope was a useful piece of information for the resource. Contacting the Bodleian Library at Oxford for any record of Edith was an arduous process and very timely, but this proves what information can be found through the most unlikely of sources. Should the Merthyr Tydfil Library share my blog posts after their email, it would be pleasing to know that people growing up in the same place as Edith can learn about their town’s history in a kind of detail that maps and textbooks cannot provide.
It has been a real pleasure to have been able to help raise the profile of the project by helping Writing Lives reach a larger audience. Reading about Edith’s life I feel that we can all take something from her thoughtful words. Her memoir is all about making the most of the opportunities that we get in life so as not to live with regret, and the importance of working for the things that matter the most to you. Her words have inspired me, and I hope that now they are a part of our lives on social media through sharing my blogs, they can do this for others for years to come.
Index entry in Burnett et al The Autobiography of the British Working Class: 832 WILLIAMS, Edith. A, ‘Untitled.’ TS, pp. 39 + 3pp. chapter summary (c. 11,700 words). Brunel University Library.
Image of the 1901 census – 1901 Wales Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.