History Students Look at Historical Fiction
Welcome to Katzenhaus Books, where we tell - the stories behind the history.
RSS Follow Become a Fan

Delivered by FeedBurner


Recent Posts

One More Before the Excitement Fades
Trumpets! Confetti! Funny Hats! Screaming Crowds!
Getting On with the Writing
Turning an Idea into a Business
The Second Mouse Goes Digital

Categories

A new contest
Abolition
absurdity
academic myopia
Almost Free
Amazon
ancestors
Announcement
apocalypse
Applications and software
Appomattox
Arnulf of Lisieux
art of speaking
attracting readers
audience
audio books
Author Central
Author Gifts
author's Plea
awards
baseball
basketball
Battle of Port Royal
Battles
biographical
blind artists
blockade
blog chain
Book Club Guides
Book Design
Book Launch
book stores
book trailer
bookstores
Boxed Set
bright ideas
Building a platform
business
Business plan
Busy-ness
butterflies
Career choices
cats
celebrations
cemetery research
Census
challenges
characterization
Characters
Charleston
children
children's books
choosing a publisher
Choosing a Title
Christmas Past
Civil War
commercials
Computer Hacks
Confederates
Conferences
Connections
constitutional amendments
construction
Contract labor
cotton
Countdown Sale
Countdown to Launch
Cover Designs
Cover images
cutting and pasting
Cyber Monday
daily drama
daily events
Dead Mules
Deal of the Day
decisions
depression
diversions
dogs
Do-Overs
DRM
earthquake
e-book pricing
e-books
editing
elevator speech
elmore leonard
Elves and Holidays
Emancipation
England
English class
evidence
Excerpt
exclusivity
Exercise
Expertise
Facebook
fact and fiction
failures
fame and fortune
family affairs
Favorites
Fear of Failure
Fish
flood waters
flowers
food delights
Formatting
Fort Pulaski
free chapter
Free Days
freebies
Friendship
Frogmore
garden
gardens
genealogy
Getting organized
ghost stories
Giveaway
Goals
good business
good news
grammar cops
gratitude
gray horses
gripes
grocery shopping
guest blogs
Gullah
handicaps
Harriet Tubman
Hiatus
Historical background
Historical Fiction
historical puzzlers
historical thinking
history lessons
Holidays
home office
hope and kindness
horse races
horses
hurricanes
identifying your audience
illustrations
imagination
indie authors
Inspiration
inspirations
internet
internet history
intruders
ISBN
Kalamazoo
karma
Kindle
Kindle links
Kindle rankings
Kindle Serials
kings
Klout
Ku Klux Klan
Lack of co-ordination
landmarks
language
Laughs
launch dates
Laura Towne
Layouts
legal matters
lending library
Lessons learned
lessons unlearned
libraries
literary genres
local news
love story
making choices
Marketing
Matchbooks
medicine
medieval-isms
Meet the Characters
Memorial Day
memories
Milestones
military matters
mind-mapping
Misfis
Monthly Musings
name recognition
NaNoWriMo
Nellie Chase
New Blog
New Book
New England
New Research
New Year
newsletters
nonfiction
non-profits
nostalgia
Nurses
oddities
odds and ends
olympics
omens
opening lines
outrage
Oxford
Papacy
parties
Penn Center
photographs
picture book
Pinterest
Pinterest and copyrights
Pirates
planning ahead
plot
point of view
polite society
politics
portraits
powerful women
Predictions
pre-orders
press release
previews
pricing
Principles
procrastination
productivity
Profiles
Progress Report
Promotions
proofs
pros and cons
publishing
publishing companies
publishing ploys
publishing rights
pure sentimentality
puzzlements
quiz
rain
random thoughts
RBOC
read an ebook
readership
recipes
Reconstruction
Relaxation
research
Resolutions
reviews
road trip
rough draft
Roundhead Reports
royalties
rules
SALE
Sales
scams
schedules
Scoop It
ScoopIt
seasons
Secessionville
second edition
Second Mouse
self-publishing
settings
Shiloh
Short Stories
Silliness
slander
Slavery
small world
Smile of the Day
snow, living in the south
social media
software
software disasters
South Carolina
Speechless!
sports
Spring
story arc
Substitutes
Success
summer
Synopsis
Taking a Break
Taxes
Thank You
the difficulties of blogging
The Gideonites
Theme
Tongue-in-cheek
Traditions
trailer
Travelog
trilogies
trolls
Tweet
Twitter
Upcoming Events
using commas
Vacation
vacation photos
Valentine
video
Visitor
vocabulary
Volunteering
voting
warnings
weather
weather trauma
website
word counts
Word-of-Mouth
Words
Words of Warning
Writer Beware!
Writer's Block
Writing Advice
Writing as Career
writing process

Archives

November 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010

powered by

"Roundheads and Ramblings"

History Students Look at Historical Fiction

Last spring semester, a history professor at my old college used my book, Beyond All  Price, as a a reading assignment in a class for 4th-year history majors. I was slightly disappointed, although not surprised, to learn that  while the students enjoyed the story, they felt it was somehow "out of place" in an academic setting. After all, the faculty had just spend the better part of four years teaching them to document their papers and to be sure of their facts. They were conditioned to regard historical fiction with skepticism, and the fact that this particular book had been written by an emerita member of their own faculty did not help much. In light of that experience, I found the following article from the "Novel Approaches" website to be quite interesting. I particularly like the statement at the end of the article by a student who recognized that the question was only a problem within a school setting.

ARTICLE
Lucinda Byatt

I asked my history class at the Open Studies department of Edinburgh University, who have been attending a course with the somewhat provocative title ‘Rome Caput Mundi: Curia, Cardinals and Courtesans 1300 to 1590’, to give me their thoughts on historical fiction.  More particularly I wanted to know what they thought about including it on the course reading list.

The answers I received covered the full range of opinion: clearly some were horrified by the idea while others possibly thought my questionnaire a waste of time, or had more pressing engagements at four o’clock in the afternoon.  Presumably those motives, and the fact that I had premised my request by saying I would not be lying in wait for them after class, accounted for the absence of answers from about half the class. However, we had a lively discussion before class ended and some of the written answers were enlightening.

Yes, historical fiction was a useful way of getting into the atmosphere of the time, or ‘setting the scene’, as well as revealing ‘the way of living, perhaps indeed the ways of thinking.’  Many agreed that it offered an excellent quick introduction to the dramatis personae of any given period. Although at least one person felt that a greater danger was posed by television historical series and films: an interesting point because they were content to rely on an author’s written interpretation and their own imagination while reading, but not on the visual, ‘less reliable’ interpretation in films and TV. 
Some gave examples: Dorothy Dunnett, an Edinburgh writer, was a favourite for one student who wrote: ‘irrespective of the “romantic” central characters, she leaves her readers very familiar with the geography of mid-15 century Bruges, the relationships between the traders, even how goods were transported. I learned what a “cog” was from her books!’ 

Historical crime was also popular: C.J. Sansom was noted by two or three as having enticed them into history.
One person commented on what she termed ‘cross-over’ books that manage to keep a foot in both camps: she cited John Guy’s ‘jolly good’ biography of Mary Queen of Scots which she was prompted to read following a course she took at the university this summer.  ‘Something by Philippa Gregory or Alison Weir’s book on Katherine Swynford are good cross-overs.’  However, she also added (as did two or three others) that Wolf Hall is ‘unreadable’.   (Someone described it as ‘incredibly tedious’ – but then you can’t please everyone).  However, for academic writers, the ‘revival of well-presented narrative history can be a plus – although it can be at the expense of analysis.’

A difference in the focus between academic history and historical fiction was identified by three people, also because we had been talking about it in the discussion. When talking about whether literary authors and academics learn from other, someone commented that ‘each reinforces the other. Academics tend to concentrate on the elites, while fiction [and he was thinking particularly of Sansom] provides more insight into ordinary life.’   Someone else also commented that ‘fiction can use isolated facts as a source of story and then use conjecture to elaborate on them’ – very true.  The crossover between fact and fiction was also debated: ‘some supposedly academic material, presented as fact, is fiction: i.e. theories of authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.’ 

At least one person noted that our understanding of history, or of any one period, is constantly evolving in the light of new research, and that it is also affected by our changing understanding of our own times.  However, the fact that some historians are turning their hands to historical fiction was generally seen as a money-making wheeze (no harm in that!): ‘Historians write fiction for money, which is fine if they can write good fiction!’  The same person underlined the fact that ‘historical fiction is not correlated to academic history’, adding that ‘fiction should be about people … imaginative and exciting’.

In conclusion, on the question of the popularity of historical fiction and whether it threatens academic history, various people stressed the importance of understanding where the boundaries are.  I liked the student’s comment that ‘It may be a problem in schools, but not beyond.  No harm in making history accessible, so long as it is accurate.’   This was reinforced by another who wrote that he would read historical fiction as course reading, ‘if I had confidence in the sources – otherwise it’s pure escapism’. Well, that’s the pot of gold at the end of the historical fiction rainbow, isn’t it?


Lucinda is also Features Editor for Historical Novels Review, the quarterly magazine published by the Historical Novel Society.