Days Gone By - stories from the past

Monday Musings: Can we always believe everything we read in history?

Have you ever wondered if you are reading accurate accounts of events in history books? Can we really believe everything we read and have learned in school? brainstorming or decision making


What is the actual meaning of the word history?

I searched several dictionaries for the meaning of the word, history, and found the following definitions:

  • The branch of knowledge dealing with past events. (this definition seems very general)
  • A continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; chronicle; a history of France; a medical history of the patient. (chronology seems to be important)
  • The aggregate of past events. (the same as the first definition)
  • The record of past events and times, especially in connection with the human race. (this sounds like a time-line of events, but who chooses the events to include in a history book?)
  • A past notable for its important, unusual, or interesting events; a ship with a history.(who decides what is notable and important?)
  • The discipline of recording and interpreting past events involving human beings. (what does interpreting mean – sounds like this one includes personal opinions, perspectives and motives for writing, and there are many different opinions, perspectives and motives – which one is right?)

Reading/writing workshop

Historians pick and choose facts

At a historical novel convention in London, a few years ago,  best-selling author Philippa Gregory was the keynote speaker. In her speech, she pointed out that “historians and biographers face a dilemma. When they write history or biographical books; they must complete considerable research, but there are usually so many facts surrounding events; it would be impossible to record them all.” She continued with this statement, “historians are forced to  ‘pick and choose’ the facts to include in their historical account.”

facts

The words ‘pick and choose’ are interesting. I wonder, if you ‘pick and choose’ facts and do not record everything, can historians and biographers still declare they are presenting an accurate account? Didn’t they shape the history by leaving out facts and choosing only some? And how does the historian determine which facts to include? Does that not color and distort the writing?

Historians usually write about what interest them

According to Philippa Gregory, even events recorded in books are subject to review. She pointed out that “most likely, the events would be those that interest the “individual historian” and usually were out the ordinary or abnormal events. Mundane daily life is not usually interesting, but if the historian does not include them, then the reader receives a faulty grasp of the time period being recorded. For example, when only wars are recorded about a country, one comes away with the feeling that the country was always in a state of war.

Writing history requires investigation and imagination

After thinking about all this, I was even more confused so I turned to my trusty computer and googled ‘What is history?’ At the top of the page was a website from Siena College that struck my eye with the question, “What is History & Why Study It?” I clicked on it and found the following:

History is the analysis and interpretation of the human past that enables us to study continuity and change over time. It is an act of both investigation and imagination that seeks to explain how people have changed over time. Historians use all forms of evidence to examine, interpret, revisit, and reinterpret the past. These include not just written documents, but also oral communication and objects such as buildings, artifacts, photographs, and paintings. Historians are trained in the methods of discovering and evaluating these sources, and the challenging task of making historical sense out of them. Nevertheless, historians do not always agree on interpretations of the past. The debated differences help expand and enhance our understanding of human development.

I found my answer

Aha….perhaps I’ve found my answer. History involves analysis and interpretation. It is an act of both investigation and imagination that seeks to explain how people have changed over time.

Did you notice the word imagination? Do Historians actually use their imagination when writing historical books? When I research historical records for my Tapestry of Love Seriesnovels, I do all these things. I utilize many forms of evidence to examine, interpret, revisit, and reinterpret the past and I try to make historical sense out of them. Then I use my imagination to tell the story in an interesting way. I even add an Appendix at the end of each book to delineate the facts from fiction in each chapter.  Could I actually be writing a history book instead of historical fiction? (LOL).

Should I change my description?

Instead of using the words historical fiction novels, I should use the words analysis, interpretation, investigation, and imagination when describing my Tapestry of Love Series.

Perhaps I should take out the word fiction and call them historical novels since they are based on actual people and events. What do you think?

 

All books by Donna R. Causey 

Bestselling novel RIBBON OF LOVE: 2nd edition – A Novel of Colonial America (Tapestry of Love Book 1) is the story of a first family in colonial America with descendants in Alabama

RIBBON OF LOVE: 2nd edition – A Novel of Colonial America (Tapestry of Love Book 1): Book 1 in Tapestry of Love Series


By (author): Donna R Causey
List Price: Price Not Listed
Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me
All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
She has authored numerous genealogy books.
RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE)
is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2)
is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series)
Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1)
is the continuation of the story. .
For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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10 comments

  1. Susan Bryant Myers

    if the book is over 25 years old, yes but older is better

  2. No, because history books are written by PEOPLE, who have their own pre-conceived ideas and prejudices, whether or not they recognize them. Con-
    temporary accounts are best, although it is generally believed that Capt. John
    Smith used “poetic license” in the account of his personal experiences in the
    Virginia Colony. Oral history is also questionable, especially stories involving
    “two brothers” and “Indian princesses”, some of which belong in the category
    of urban myths. I think your phrase “historical fiction” is correct. It uses real
    people and “fleshes” them out, based on the likelihood of events based on
    legal records, socio-economic status, and the time and place in which they lived. It is one of my favorite reading categories.

  3. I agree that history is interpretation and analysis – of the facts that can be found. And of course lots of stuff is left out because it is mundane and wouldn’t interest most readers. And is not germane to the story.
    I have no problem with you being a historical novelist!
    But if you think historians write only dull stuff because they have done exhaustive research and footnoted and cited their sources – I highly recommend ‘Washington’s Crossing’ or ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ by David Hackett Fisher or ‘The Crucible of War’ by Fred Anderson or Jill Lepore’s ‘The Name of War’ or ‘Scratch of a Pen’ by Colin Calloway or – closer to Alabama, our Univ of South AL’s Greg Waselkov’s ‘A Conquering Spirit’ (Fort Mims and the Creek Indians). You will enjoy learning US history that is easy to read, easy to enjoy and easy to remember!
    And then there is ‘Creekside – An Archaeological Novel’ by Kelli Carmean – who presents scientific archaeological excavations at a early Ky settler’s house and relates the artifacts back to telling the story of the original homesteaders moving into Indian territory – and the following generations.

  4. Deborah O

    Look at copyright dates. Late 50s and later are suspect to me unless I know the author is reputable.

  5. This is a fascinating topic. Thanks for writing the post. I hope that I can add to the discussion.

    I believe that many perceive history to be boring, but I don’t buy the “fact” that all history is dull. I will say that one has to diligently dig through the mundane to find the more interesting material. It’s possible to be completely factual and interesting at the same time, but there has to be a balance between the two. That’s where the author’s creative writing skills as a historical wordsmith come into play.

    The decision of what to keep, or what to leave out, is simply part of the process. If the mundane adds depth to the historical topic, it’s always best to use it. For instance, technical information about a railroad should be included along with the colorful lives of those who built it.

    As for being factual, I’ve found that it’s extremely important to use original sources instead of using regurgitated information that has been handed down from generation to generation. I always prefer using firsthand anecdotes opposed to using historical repetition, which gets misconstrued over time. Original sources are better for this reason.

    These firsthand sources can also conflict with each other such as Gen. Thomas S. Woodward’s The American Old West: Woodward’s Reminisces being a rebuttal to Pickett’s History of Alabama by Albert James Pickett. By the way, Pickett’s history is accepted historical cannon by most academics. I’ve found it interesting to use opposing viewpoints to give a broad detailed glimpse into the past.

    I’ve written for many publications and I’m currently finishing up a new book about Tuscaloosa’s trolleys. Here’s a popular blog post that I wrote a few years ago. http://www.tuscaloosatrolleys.com/southern-fried-stories/-discovered-long-lost-photo-of-the-washington-hotel

    I’m also the admin for:
    http://www.facebook.com/tuscaloosatrolleys
    http://www.facebook.com/JDTownsend

  6. History is written by the victors. Each of us can see the same thing happen and most of the time the people involved report what happened differently. Everything ,including history, is by perspective, in the eye of the beholder. I feel that the title, historical fiction is appropriate for the books you write. You write fiction with historical facts. I wish I could write so well. Thankyou for the writing you do. History is wonderful and magical and more acceptable and interesting when turned into something we can live vicariously through.

  7. Perfect topic! Where can I find references for the posts on alabamapioneers? Thanks!

    1. Most references are included at the bottom of the page or along with the headline. Thanks for the question.

  8. Price Pass

    History books are written by humans & like various versions of the bible are interpretations.

  9. Jason Saxton

    Not always true and some are probably outright lies. Take it for what’s it worth.

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