Thursday, 21 August 2014

Writing - History through social mores

We depend upon many sources for the history of our cultures. Nursery Rhymes are famous for telling stories by interpretation.

Ring a ring o' roses
a pocket full of posies
atishoo atishoo
we all fall down.

The above refers to the Black Death and is thought to originate in the 17th century. The 'ring of roses', and sneezing (atishoo) were symptoms of the plague. The posies were small bunches of sweet smelling flowers which was thought to ward off the illness. 'We all fall down' refers to the high death rate.

Baa baa black sheep have you any wool,
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full,
One for the master and one for the dame,
and one for the little boy who lived down the lane.

This nursery rhyme was believed to be quite political. The 'Master' refers to one of two Plantagenet kings either Edward I or Edward II. In both cases it was suggested that the royals were trying to make money from the very healthy wool industry that existed in those days. Edward I was accused of adding  a heavy tax on wool in 1275 whereas Edward II was encouraging European finishers and dyers who were felt to be better at the finishing processes involved in producing woollen material.

Further afield in Japan something of Japanese culture through the history of the geishas.

A literal translation of the term geisha is 'performing artist' and sometimes just 'artist'.
The history of Japanese geisha as we know it begins at the turn of the 18th century. The first geisha were men, and their profession was purely to entertain, serving as a kind of ‘warm up’ for the headline act of the courtesans (oiran). A generation of teenage odoriko (the ‘dancing girls’ hired by upper-class samurai) saw the potential of this new art form, and as they advanced into adulthood many of them joined the ranks of geisha in the 1750s, with many choosing to sell their artistic skill as opposed to their bodies.
On occasions more traditional prostitutes called themselves geisha which eventually led to a decline in the geisha industry in the middle of the 1900's. There is still a geisha  industry today and it is principally to support the tourist trade and has returned to the original format of showcasing Japanese arts.

When it comes to researching work for our stories then enriching the quality of the background to your settings may be in the areas of social history. I know I tend to go on at length about the depth of the setting and the characters in stories but it is in an effort to engage the reader and give a more satisfying reading experience.

God Bless