Bringing History to Life

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The Bayeux Tapestry – an embroidered cloth depicting events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. Some historians believe it could have been made in England – not Bayeux – in the 1070’s

Most people would probably agree that to present history as a mere list of dates, or the minutiae of births, deaths, battles, coronations and political treaties and alliances, would be the best way of putting anyone off the subject for life. Undoubtedly the information referred to has its place; the chronology of historical events is vital. We wouldn’t want people believing, for example, that the Battle of Hastings was a mere hundred years ago.

But there are ways of presenting information that overcome the mundane . . .

I believe that to appreciate the importance of history – and by that I mean the magnitude of its effect on the lives we lead today; the great advances in technology that make our lives so much easier – we must project our minds back to the time being studied, or read about.

Feel it. Live it.

For me, as for millions of others, history comes alive through fiction. Historical fiction has become almost an obsession to me. I read little else. Even my favourite detective novels have an historical setting. I read novels set in any era, any culture. I love to be transported from the here and now to a world of past times; to characters with completely different moral values and attitudes to life than our own.

It all helps to understand how life has progressed; just how far – or in some cases, how little – we’ve come.

I’ll leave with these snippets to consider (there are many more on the ‘Brainy Quotes about Historical Fiction’ webpage):

‘One thing I like about historical fiction is that I’m not constantly focusing on me, or people like me; you’re obliged to concentrate on lives that are completely other than your own.’ (Emma Donoghue)

‘The thing that most attracts me to historical fiction is taking the factual record as far as it is known, using that as a scaffold, then letting imagination build the structure that fills in those things we can never find out for sure.’ (Geraldine Brooks)

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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5 Responses to Bringing History to Life

  1. I of July says:

    Feel it. Live it. – yes 🙂

  2. Imran Ali says:

    I believe the single most important reason to study history is that history teaches us to ‘think’. Whether it is American, European, military, art, ancient, modern, religious, archaeological, etc. history enables us to contemplate the experiences that came before us. It is true that history is the record of our past, however I think history is more than time and place. History allows us to ‘think’ about the greatest question humanity has ever asked…..WHY? Finish the question any way you want. Studying history allows humanity to look at its own reflection. We can embrace the reflection (good and bad ) and be stronger for it, or turn away from our reflection denying we ever existed at all. Which perspective do you THINK humanity has a better chance of survival with?????

    • milliethom says:

      You are right, Imran. History is so much more than a mere record of the past or catalogue of events. Studying history does allow us to reflect on the past, and man’s progression/advances. It also allows us to reflect on mistakes made. Yes, it definitely makes us think. The unfortunate thing is, that those same mistakes are often made over and over again. Wars are a prime example of that. However, I would like to think we learn from history, and overall, we do. The modern way of life and all the technology that goes with it, is a result of what went on before – the centuries of progress made. There is no way humanity can detach itself from the past and pretend that life has always been as it is today, We have evolved. As for humanity’s survival, that’s a complex issue, involving many political and environmental issues, including better ways of treating the Earth before we destroy our life-support system.
      I’m still away from home, so my answer is somewhat rushed. Perhaps we can explore this issue more deeply on another occasion

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