The story of everyday life is nowadays one of the most exciting and popular branches of historiography. It stems from dissatisfaction with the way much recent historical writing has focused on structures rather than on the life experience of real people. This new way of looking at the past is concerned with topics hitherto often neglected, or figuring as incidental material only. By contrast, research on socio-cultural history in the last few decades has seen the opening up of fresh perspectives on a wide variety of themes. Here one comes across study of topics as stimulating as how the householder, the soldier or the courtier actually lived from day to day; how people kept themselves housed, fed and clothed; how they got on with neighbours in pious confraternities and trade guilds, or in the street at the time of festival or periods of leisure; how they coped with those on the margin of the community as slaves or delinquents; what it meant to have access to books, handwriting and schools; and finally how these things helped define a culture.
These are all features of the new historiography, enriched as it is by an interdisciplinary approach and exposure to the influences of anthropology, psychology, history of art, literary criticism and the like. There is an emphasis throughout on the common man and woman, whose existence has been obscured for so long, though we do not leave out of account the upper classes, who have occupied the historical limelight elsewhere. Special attention is paid to those more enduring features of the human experience, that is, their repetitive and humdrum character, though without losing sight of the tensions and conflicts which foster the collapse of routine and the challenge of the new.
The present publication reflects the work of a large group of eminent historians, who have made this promising field of research their own. In this book the reader will find a wide-ranging survey acquainting them with the kind of day-to-day life their forebears would have known in the Age of the Enlightenment.