Rebecca is a historian of design. She works as a freelance writer specialising in architecture, design and history, preferably writing about all three together.
What made you decide to pursue a career in history?
I previously worked in marketing. After 12 years I needed a change. I didn’t know what that change looked like but I knew it involved New York and going back to university. I had really enjoyed art history at high school, particularly the history of architecture as it introduced me to a new way of looking at and understanding the world. I searched university programs in New York and applied for a Masters in the History of Design and Decorative Arts at Parsons School of Design.
I wasn’t necessarily pursuing a career in history at that stage; rather I was just interested to learn more about design history. I expected it to be about materials, styles, techniques, etc., and was pleasantly surprised that in fact we studied cultural history through the lens of design and architecture.
Who is the audience for your history?
My audience is predominantly readers interested in design, architecture and/or cultural history. However as I aim to write in an accessible and informative style I hope my audience is quite broad. My work always comes back to the way we live and why – the buildings we are surrounded by, the objects we live with and the images we see – and I believe my audience can usually relate to some aspect of my work.
I currently work full time as a freelance writer and researcher specialising in architecture and design (my portfolio is here). I write for magazines, websites, museums and publishers. I am mostly commissioned to write about contemporary projects but I love the opportunity to write about historical projects, and I’ll often include history in my contemporary work as I find it provides the context.
What’s your favourite historical source, book, website or film?
Magazines, particularly from 1900–1960, are my favourite historical source. There is so much content within one magazine about everyday life, events, fashion and attitudes. The cover, photographs, illustrations, articles, writing, advertisements, letters to the editor are all a goldmine for my area of history. I also like to focus my research solely on one magazine publication, for example Holiday magazine, which I presented about at a popular culture conference in Atlantic City.
If you had a time machine, where would you go?
I would go back to 1950s America and take a road trip across the States. Much of my Master’s research was about the postwar travel culture of America – the cars and highways, national parks (which my masters thesis is about), motels and diners, and signage and postcards – and how these spaces, structures and images were an expression of American ideology and national identity.
Why is history important today?
We don’t live in a bubble. Everything about the way we live is the direct result of history. If we can understand the past then we have a better understanding of today and what’s to come in the future.