Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

Jan Morris

(Faber, 2002)

Recommended by Andrew Hodgson

Jan Morris’s book on Trieste is a lyrical history of the city. It is a description of Trieste and its past; it is also an attempt to work out what Trieste means to Morris, and to understand how one’s relationship with a place changes through time. It shows how to appreciate a place’s sadness, ‘the allure of lost consequence and fading power’. It’s a great book on place because it doesn’t just tell you about a place, but shows you how to enjoy it. The best place to read it is outside a bar off the Piazza Unità d’Italia, sipping a Campari and soda, gazing out into the Adriatic for a glimpse of the ghost of Browning’s Waring.

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village

Eamon Duffy (New Haven, 2001)

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation & Rebellion in an English Village by Eamon DuffyRecommended by Alexandra Harris

A revelatory example of what happens when the great movements of national and international history are explored from a particular on-the-ground vantage point. Morebath is a small village on the edge of Exmoor; the priest there in the mid seventeenth century kept detailed parish records, and these form a core around which Duffy builds up a portrait of rural Catholic life and how people responded to the changes they faced. It’s a good starting point for exploring the varied field of historical writing in which skilled and painstaking archival work is made to yield precious clues about the experience of rural and working people whose lives have been otherwise forgotten.

 

The History of Myddle

Richard Gough, ed. David Hey (London, 1981)

The History of Myddle by Richard GoughRecommended by Alexandra Harris

A pioneering work of local history. Richard Gough was a Shropshire yeoman who wanted to write about his parish community: its past and its present. In 1701 he published a study of the antiquities in Myddle, following more or less the newly established conventions for antiquarian place studies. But he wanted to write about more than the pedigrees of manorial lords and the relics of monastic houses, so he invented a form to suit him and embarked on his ‘Observations concerning the Seats in Myddle and the families to which they belong’. By ‘seats’ he meant pews in the church. He drew a plan of St Peter’s, labelled the pews, and wrote a portrait of each member of the congregation, seat by seat. Though he was imagining them all in church, he was writing lives that strayed far from the orderly Sunday formation, into fields and towns, into bedrooms, backrooms, affairs, and quarrels. It was a simple and evocative method of group biography; no-one seems to have used it before, or since.