History and fiction


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An overview of the debate over history as fiction.

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History and fiction

  1. 1. HISTORY AND FICTION M Esterman, 2009
  2. 2. DEFINITIONS <ul><li>History   noun. pl. his·to·ries </li></ul><ul><li>1. the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. </li></ul><ul><li>2. the record of past events, esp. in connection with the human race. </li></ul><ul><li>3. A continuous, systematic written narrative, in order of time, of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>4. the aggregate of past events. </li></ul><ul><li>5. a past worth of record or out of the ordinary....... </li></ul><ul><li>Fiction </li></ul><ul><li>The branch of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form. </li></ul><ul><li>Works of this class, as novels or short stories. </li></ul><ul><li>Something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story. </li></ul><ul><li>Law : a statement or suppositions which is known to be untrue, made by authority of law to bring a case within the operation of a rule of law.... </li></ul>Both definitions are from The Macquarie Dictionary, 2 nd Revision, 1990.
  3. 3. ACTIVITY <ul><li>According to these definitions, history and fiction are two very different things – depending on your intended meaning of “history”. </li></ul><ul><li>List some words that arise in BOTH definitions. What might this tell us? </li></ul><ul><li>Name some historians who would argue that history is, or can be, an art. Then name some who would argue against this. </li></ul>
  4. 4. FEATURES OF FICTION <ul><li>Purpose of the text is to entertain or possibly inform in a creative way. </li></ul><ul><li>Invention, imagination and creativity is the core of the text: invented story and/or characters and/or setting. </li></ul><ul><li>No established facts are required </li></ul><ul><li>Usually a single, omniscient narrating voice – does not need to be the author’s voice. </li></ul><ul><li>Themes and issues can be implied or hidden within characters, events or languge. </li></ul><ul><li>Originality is praised </li></ul><ul><li>Others? </li></ul>
  5. 5. FEATURES OF HISTORY <ul><li>Purpose is to inform, educate, retell the ‘truth’ about the past </li></ul><ul><li>Theory or thesis is usually present during research and writing </li></ul><ul><li>Based on sources from the past </li></ul><ul><li>Interrogation and evaluation of sources </li></ul><ul><li>Inference, judgement and interpretation of sources </li></ul><ul><li>Degree of objectivity </li></ul><ul><li>Peer-reviewed or public scrutiny – new information must be verifiable </li></ul><ul><li>Form is usually narrative or following a chronological sequence. </li></ul><ul><li>Others? </li></ul>
  6. 6. EXAMPLE: THE DA VINCI CODE <ul><li>Purpose: to entertain </li></ul><ul><li>NOT to change the history of the Church </li></ul><ul><li>Settings: Accurate but some are fabricated e.g. Location of “Holy Grail”. Settings give people a sense that there is some reality to the story </li></ul><ul><li>Characters: Fictional. Possibly based on people/characters researched. Work with the plot – no hero is successful unless he has the necessary tools and abilities to succeed. </li></ul><ul><li>Plot: Fictional. Most of the story (including background evidence) is false – acknowledge by the author. Great story, little facts. </li></ul><ul><li>Audience: Wide, popular, “best seller” list. No academic study required. </li></ul><ul><li>Amazing publicity – no interviews by the author, reactions from the church = automatic publicity regardless of reaction. </li></ul><ul><li>End conclusion: a work of fiction based loosely on some historical assumptions and very few established facts. </li></ul>
  7. 7. CONTENT AND FORM <ul><li>The core features that history and fiction can be compared on are content and form . </li></ul><ul><li>When analysing works of history, just as when analysing literary works, content and form dictate what kind of text is created. </li></ul><ul><li>Content: the material presented in the text. </li></ul><ul><li>Form: the style or type of text in which the material is written. </li></ul>By limiting your analysis to these two core elements, you will be able to more briefly discuss this debate in your essays.
  8. 8. HISTORY, HISTORICAL FICTION, FICTION? It is important to compare features of these texts in order to assess their nature. Examples Fiction History Troy (2003) Herodotus, The Histories Crusades: Crescent and Cross (2003) BOS Source Book of Readings Journal Article about historiography Shakespeare, Hamlet
  9. 9. COMMON FEATURES OF HISTORY AND FICTION Objectivity Evidence Peer review/public scrutiny Narrative form Audience To inform/educate To entertain Argument and debate Invention and creativity Characters Plot Setting Others?
  10. 10. OTHER ISSUES TO CONSIDER <ul><li>Research methodology – rigorous use of sources or creative imagination? </li></ul><ul><li>Sole author or collaborative effort – how many people were involved in finalising the work? </li></ul><ul><li>Impact on the general public – fad or lasting? </li></ul><ul><li>Various audiences – children, teens, adults? </li></ul><ul><li>Effectiveness – is effective history writing as appealing as effective fiction writing? </li></ul><ul><li>Is good historical fiction bad history? </li></ul>
  11. 11. COMPARING HISTORIANS <ul><li>Herodotus – narrator is ‘observer’ – sometimes events and evidence contradict each other: both sides are included. </li></ul><ul><li>Thucydides – omnicient “all knowing’” narrator tells the story of what happened in a single voice. </li></ul><ul><li>Bede – narrates according to the story of God’s will & the morals and ethics of Christianity and the betterment of the Christian peoples. </li></ul><ul><li>Gibbon – romantic narration, remembering the great deeds and people of the past in a sentimental way – very popular form in his time. </li></ul><ul><li>Von Ranke – past ‘as it actually happened’, using written sources to tell a single story – God’s will, nationalistic. </li></ul><ul><li>E.H. Carr – History narrated based on historical ‘facts’, expressing a single view – selection of sources. Economic history. </li></ul><ul><li>Focault – history is not an overarching narrative but specific historical texts should be removed and read based on their own context, content and form. </li></ul><ul><li>White – argues that historians are inevitably linked to narrative form, and that this is the historian’s choice NOT a natural phenomena that grows from studying past events. Therefore, history is a kind of narrative fiction. </li></ul>
  12. 12. NO RIGHT ANSWERS? <ul><li>Can ALL histories be categorised as either fiction or history? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there a percentage of fiction allowed in a history? </li></ul><ul><li>Do historians’ interpretations of sources count as ‘fiction’ or ‘invention’? </li></ul><ul><li>Who would read or view an historical fiction rather than read a history textbook? What implications does this have? </li></ul><ul><li>Who cares? </li></ul>
  13. 13. POTENTIAL SOLUTION <ul><li>If both art (fiction) and science (history) are required for a sense of understanding our complex world and society.... </li></ul><ul><li>A mixture of rigorous historical research and a creative pool of historical fiction will give us the resources we need to give ourselves our historical identities. </li></ul><ul><li>After all, novelists will always turn to histories to inform their work and the general public will always prefer novels and films to history texts. </li></ul><ul><li>Isn’t it good to have various competing and conflicting stories about the past? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you agree? </li></ul>