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Writing History
  (and teaching history):
 The Three-Legged Stool
        Approach



                                                  The three “i’s”




                                             The three “r’s”
Ellen A. Brown  The Virginia History Exchange    www.vahistoryexchange.com
Community Archives of Southwest Virginia, LLC mynewestchapter@verizon.net
The Three R’s
                       (of history education)
                                 • readin’
                                  • ‘ritin’
                                • research

Just like in the days of a one-room school house, when a teacher tried hard to
make sure her pupils learned readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic… there are three
similar components of an education in history. In order to write about a specific
time and place in the past, one must combine the three elements above: 1)
read what other historians have written, 2) track down whatever information is
available, and get them organized, and 3) weave a compelling narrative.
A recipe for writing good history …
(incl. historic fiction, biographies, short stories, family histories,
         museum tour guides, and scholarly monograms)

                  Like a cook preparing a savory dish,
                       a writer must make use of
                              the three i’s…


                          • Inspiration
                   • Ingredients (Information)
                         • Imagination
Inspiration

Inspiration for historians can come from many sources,
   including…
• a batch of old letters
• a journal written by an ancestor
• an unbelievable family story
• a legendary or heroic deed
• an unsolved mystery
• curiosity about why certain people acted a certain way
Ingredients (Information)

• Primary source documents – journals, letters, newspaper
  clippings, oral histories, court documents, marriage
  certificates, etc.
• Secondary sources – local histories, text books, dissertations,
  Wikipedia, other encyclopedias, family histories, internet data
  bases (Ancestry.com), movies and videos,
• Other (we’ll talk about this more…)
Imagination

It takes imagination…
• to produce a setting… the sounds, smells, weather, and
    landscape (e.g. the battlefield, on the evening Stonewall
    Jackson was shot)
• to create well-rounded characters, speech patterns, clothing,
    beliefs, everyday occupations, etc. (e.g. wife, children,
    neighbors, and slaves in Patrick Henry’s household)
• to weave these characters into a web of relationships, and
    their actions into a plot…encouraging the reader to feel
    suspense, excitement, and empathy… (e.g. Boo Radley, in To
    Kill A Mockingbird)
Teaching History Through Literature
           (reading both fiction and non-fiction)

•   Bud Robertson’s biography of Stonewall Jackson
•   Anne Rinaldi, Or Give me Death, about Patrick Henry’s family
•   Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn
•   To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
•   Cold Mountain, by Charles Frasier
•   Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
•   The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
•   Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom
About non-fiction

Examples of not-so-good history

• Trans-Alleghany Pioneers, by John Hale (written in 1884 –
  perfect example the romantic period in regional history)
• A Girl’s Life in Virginia, by Letitia Burwell (about the good ole
  days on the plantation)
• Suggest other examples…
Research – the indirect method

While looking for information about Southwest Virginia in the
  1770s and 80s, with an interest in William Ingles, Andrew
  Lewis, William Preston, etc., I discovered:
• Travels in North America, by the Marquis de Chastellux, with
  delightful descriptions of Natural Bridge, Monticello, etc.
• Cradle of America, by Peter Wallenstein
• William Fleming, Patriot, by Clare White
• The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790, by Rhys Isaac
The amazing world of internet research…

• the Pennsylvania Gazettes (from about 1730-1790) are all
  digitized, and in a searchable database. Same is true of the
  Virginia Gazettes…
• The Chalkley Chronicles (records of the Augusta County Court
  House) are all available online. It is possible to search for the
  names of early settlers, many of whom showed up in a court
  record in the early 1750s, but then disappeared during the
  French and Indian Wars…Where did they go?
• Genealogy data bases (Ancestry.com, etc.) offer thrilling
  access to POSSIBLE family connections…but it gets
  overwhelming. It is a tool that requires practice and caution…
Examples of Writing
     (Do they meet our three legged-stool criteria?)


• Stonewall Jackson, by James L. Robertson
• Cold Mountain, by Charles Frasier
• Or Give Me Death, by Anne Rinaldi
• Mr. Roosevelt’s Steamboat, by Mary Helen Dohan
• If Trouble Don’t Kill Me, by Ralph Berrier
• Roanoke, Virginia, 1882-1912: Magic City of the New South,
  by Rand Dotson
• Others?
Three-legged Stool – A Summary
If you are writing a short story, novel, or family history…try to do
    the work of an historian by:
• reading
• researching
• and then writing, carefully incorporating the historical context
When writing your narrative, try to make sure it combines…
• imagination (breathing life into the assembled facts)
• inspiration (having suspense, drama, curiosity)
• information (carefully gathered from reliable sources)
When in doubt, go back to a classic (like Huckleberry Finn) for
    inspiration…and that should help you keep your balance!

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Writing history

  • 1. Writing History (and teaching history): The Three-Legged Stool Approach The three “i’s” The three “r’s” Ellen A. Brown The Virginia History Exchange www.vahistoryexchange.com Community Archives of Southwest Virginia, LLC mynewestchapter@verizon.net
  • 2. The Three R’s (of history education) • readin’ • ‘ritin’ • research Just like in the days of a one-room school house, when a teacher tried hard to make sure her pupils learned readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic… there are three similar components of an education in history. In order to write about a specific time and place in the past, one must combine the three elements above: 1) read what other historians have written, 2) track down whatever information is available, and get them organized, and 3) weave a compelling narrative.
  • 3. A recipe for writing good history … (incl. historic fiction, biographies, short stories, family histories, museum tour guides, and scholarly monograms) Like a cook preparing a savory dish, a writer must make use of the three i’s… • Inspiration • Ingredients (Information) • Imagination
  • 4. Inspiration Inspiration for historians can come from many sources, including… • a batch of old letters • a journal written by an ancestor • an unbelievable family story • a legendary or heroic deed • an unsolved mystery • curiosity about why certain people acted a certain way
  • 5. Ingredients (Information) • Primary source documents – journals, letters, newspaper clippings, oral histories, court documents, marriage certificates, etc. • Secondary sources – local histories, text books, dissertations, Wikipedia, other encyclopedias, family histories, internet data bases (Ancestry.com), movies and videos, • Other (we’ll talk about this more…)
  • 6. Imagination It takes imagination… • to produce a setting… the sounds, smells, weather, and landscape (e.g. the battlefield, on the evening Stonewall Jackson was shot) • to create well-rounded characters, speech patterns, clothing, beliefs, everyday occupations, etc. (e.g. wife, children, neighbors, and slaves in Patrick Henry’s household) • to weave these characters into a web of relationships, and their actions into a plot…encouraging the reader to feel suspense, excitement, and empathy… (e.g. Boo Radley, in To Kill A Mockingbird)
  • 7. Teaching History Through Literature (reading both fiction and non-fiction) • Bud Robertson’s biography of Stonewall Jackson • Anne Rinaldi, Or Give me Death, about Patrick Henry’s family • Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee • Cold Mountain, by Charles Frasier • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott • The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne • Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom
  • 8. About non-fiction Examples of not-so-good history • Trans-Alleghany Pioneers, by John Hale (written in 1884 – perfect example the romantic period in regional history) • A Girl’s Life in Virginia, by Letitia Burwell (about the good ole days on the plantation) • Suggest other examples…
  • 9. Research – the indirect method While looking for information about Southwest Virginia in the 1770s and 80s, with an interest in William Ingles, Andrew Lewis, William Preston, etc., I discovered: • Travels in North America, by the Marquis de Chastellux, with delightful descriptions of Natural Bridge, Monticello, etc. • Cradle of America, by Peter Wallenstein • William Fleming, Patriot, by Clare White • The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790, by Rhys Isaac
  • 10. The amazing world of internet research… • the Pennsylvania Gazettes (from about 1730-1790) are all digitized, and in a searchable database. Same is true of the Virginia Gazettes… • The Chalkley Chronicles (records of the Augusta County Court House) are all available online. It is possible to search for the names of early settlers, many of whom showed up in a court record in the early 1750s, but then disappeared during the French and Indian Wars…Where did they go? • Genealogy data bases (Ancestry.com, etc.) offer thrilling access to POSSIBLE family connections…but it gets overwhelming. It is a tool that requires practice and caution…
  • 11. Examples of Writing (Do they meet our three legged-stool criteria?) • Stonewall Jackson, by James L. Robertson • Cold Mountain, by Charles Frasier • Or Give Me Death, by Anne Rinaldi • Mr. Roosevelt’s Steamboat, by Mary Helen Dohan • If Trouble Don’t Kill Me, by Ralph Berrier • Roanoke, Virginia, 1882-1912: Magic City of the New South, by Rand Dotson • Others?
  • 12. Three-legged Stool – A Summary If you are writing a short story, novel, or family history…try to do the work of an historian by: • reading • researching • and then writing, carefully incorporating the historical context When writing your narrative, try to make sure it combines… • imagination (breathing life into the assembled facts) • inspiration (having suspense, drama, curiosity) • information (carefully gathered from reliable sources) When in doubt, go back to a classic (like Huckleberry Finn) for inspiration…and that should help you keep your balance!