The Extraordinary Historical Magic of Ordinary Things by Frances Durkin

So much of history is a puzzle waiting to be solved, and one of the great joys of being a historian lies in fitting together the pieces to construct the stories of those who lived long ago. Those stories can be the grandest journeys into empires and dynasties. Or they can be the tiniest, most intimate tales about people whose names may not have survived into the present, but whose actions and creations have gifted us enough to be able to bring their worlds to life.

When Grace Cooke and I first started working on The Histronauts books it was very important for us to introduce our readers to the ‘ordinary’ people of the past. The glamour of kings and queens is a great way to explore history from the perspective of those with power, but we wanted to avoid that approach and give our audiences something relatable. We wanted to step inside homes, to show children playing with their siblings, to visit the places where people work and to see the things that they created.

At the beginning of each book our gang of adventurers find an object that whisks them back in time to experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a day in history. They are guided through that day by someone who shows them their life and introduces them to the people within their community. In our previous books we have met a Viking boat builder, an ancient Egyptian priestess, a man who was enslaved in ancient Rome and, in our latest title, we meet a prop-maker at a theatre festival in classical Athens. All of these people represent different parts of their society and they are often the ones who have left clues for historians and archaeologists to interpret. We can learn so much from objects and they can contain multiple layers of information.

One of my very favourite examples of this is the gorgeous black and red pottery that has survived from ancient Greece. These beautifully formed pieces of clay were shaped for many purposes and they reveal the tangible parts of real-life: from tableware to storage vessels to the prizes given to athletes at the Panathenaic Games. But more than being just objects with uses, the images that were painted onto them tell us what people wore, what instruments they played, the different sports they trained for, and stories of the gods that they worshipped. These pots are more than just objects, they are a way to explore an ancient world. Craftspeople in ancient Greece had the skills to make those pots and, although we don’t necessarily know who they were, they have given us the most extraordinary gifts that we can hold and use to learn about them and their time.

These objects that were once used for storing oil or for drinking wine now hold immeasurable value and I hope that our young readers can relate to the significance of the ordinary throughout all of history, even today. It is so much more than a list of dates. It is a human story of which we are all a part and I want our readers understand that they occupy their own special place within that history. Historians of the future will be just as delighted to learn about them and the extraordinary ordinary things they do as I am, when I dive into a medieval manuscript or go on these adventures with The Histronauts.

Dr Frances Durkin is the author and co-creator of The Histronauts book series. She is a writer and historian who has a doctorate in medieval history from The University of Birmingham.

Frances’ latest book, THE HISTRONAUTS: A GREEK ADVENTURE was published by b small publishing in October. In this adventure, The Histronauts travel back to Ancient Greece, and need your help to uncover the secrets of the past! Join them as they visit the Acropolis, watch the activities that inspired the Olympic Games and paint masks for a thrilling Greek tragedy at the amphitheatre. An exciting mix of story, facts and activity!

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