Alltagsgeschichte

“History of everyday life,” history of ordinary people and ordinary things they did and made. Alltag in the present is considered rather gray and oppressive in a special way in Germany, at an intensity only made possible by festivals, so another English explanation of Alltagsgeschichte might be history of the LDG, loathsome daily grind, rather than of DWM, dead white males.

Most people who ever lived have been forgotten. The ordinary events in their ordinary lives might have been considered the most unworthy of documentation because ubiquity gives an air of permanence, because the literate few didn’t know how normal people lived or because chroniclers wanted to erase or deny aspects of it. Accidents are thus the source of much of the little we know in Alltagsgeschichte and related branches of historical study. Such as the preservation of medieval clothing cast aside in mountain salt mines, the preservation of Stone Age bodies in Alpine glacier ice, the Viking custom of sacrificing things valuable to them in anaerobic peat bogs. It took an unusual event to bring details of common people’s lives into written forms that were preserved: in witch trial documents clerks wrote down where women were and what they were doing when bedeviled, old coroner’s reports contain information about peasant work, Samuel Pepys’s diary is a unique source of day-to-day detail, and Ken Starr’s report accidentally tells us more about White House routine than any political memoire. Anything that causes secret services to violate people’s rights to privacy will record details of everyday life otherwise lost to posterity. On a lighter note, today’s Bundestagsfloskeln websites, where people can submit examples of classic German parliamentary speech phrases, real or “pastiche,” are accidentally excellent teaching aids to people unfamiliar with parliamentary democracy or the intense German “discussion” tradition.

One wonders what technology, customs and rules might lead to a future Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-type encyclopedia in which important events are narrated in 3D video with realistically embarrassing detail.

(OLL togs geh SHICHH teh.)

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