Meet the Speakers- Melanie Backe-Hansen

18 Sep, 2021

Meet the Speakers- Melanie Backe-Hansen

We are delighted to have experienced house historian Melanie as one of our key note speakers at RQG conference 2021. Her talk is on Finding your ancestors at home: researching the history of houses. We caught up with Melanie and asked her about the inspiration behind the talk:

What got you started with your interest in house history?

I was really fortunate in finding my dream job researching the history of houses. I completed a history degree at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, majoring in British and European history. However, when I graduated, there certainly wasn’t anything like a ‘house historian’, particularly in Australia. I entered the publishing world in PR and marketing and transferred to the London office in 2001, but a few years later I was looking for a new role and found the unique position as an historian for an estate agent. They were looking for someone who could undertake the historic research, but also had experience in marketing and PR, to promote the houses for sale and the agency and its expertise. So, I started as the in-house ‘house historian’ for Chestertons. Through this role I researched the history of houses across the country, while also speaking at events, engaging with the media, and was commissioned to write my first two books. Over time, I was increasingly asked to take on private commissions, so after almost six years, I went freelance in 2012 and here I am nine years later continuing to research the history of houses across the UK.

What is the inspiration behind the subject of your talk?

The inspiration for my talk for the conference is finding your ancestors at home. In my work as a house historian, I specialise in the social history of houses, and I am passionate about revealing the stories of ‘ordinary’ people through the life of a house, as well as discovering fascinating stories lost in time. In the past, quite often it was the large stately homes and palaces that have been the focus of research, but I firmly believe there is a wealth of history to find in the history of all houses – big or small, grand or humble. This coincides nicely with the world of genealogical research and those delving into archives and records to discover the stories of our ancestors.

What do you want people to take away from your talk?

I would like people to go away from my talk being inspired by options of different sources – perhaps sources a little beyond the usual remit for genealogists, but which also provide opportunities for discovery about our ancestors and their stories. Some might help piece together the stories of people at home and how they lived, while others might actually open up new avenues for research and perhaps even break through a few research ‘brick walls’. I hope some of my stories from my own research and a glimpse into the research for the BBC Two series, ‘A House Through Time’ (for which I was research consultant) might also inspire researchers to branch out and delve into more house history research.

To find out more about RQG Conference 2021 and to book a free place:

Clare O'Grady