Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reading & Writing History

As I have been reading alot lately, it got me thinking about all those books written about history over the centuries.  As time has progressed and modern scholarship improved, these past tomes have been discarded as being not relevant and historically incorrect.  But are they.

Consider: most contemporary sources are now considered flawed (by our modern standards of scholarship) and yet are still a valuable resource for the historian and writer.  They reflect the time in which they were written; often the bias of the author; and the availability of information at hand (often localised).  And these "primary" sources are still considered more noteworthy than some "secondary" sources.

Which brings me to my next point.  Should all "secondary" sources be dismissed outright just because modern scholarship has more to add.  Again, I think these "secondary" sources are just as valuable, reflecting not only the scholarship of their author (as with the "primary" sources) but also prove to be a study of the current values of society at that time.

Yes, we should look to improve upon what was written before - and we today have the advantage of access to so much more than some writers who came before us.  Technology is a wonderful thing - so many previously inaccessable tomes are now available so freely over the internet.  No longer do we have to pore over unwieldly tomes in dimly lit archives, travel miles to the nearest library to access some book only available to scholars at universities - unless we want to.  Much of what we need comes at the touch of a button (or keyboard).

My pet gripe is with authors who poo-poo at works considered "outdated" should actually take a closer look them and not just base their opinions upon those of others.   Doing your own research is one of the joys of history - discovering some little piece of long-hidden information, tucked away in a book considered "out of fashion".  No book should be discounted based solely upon it's age.  Many of these early books provided a great introduction into history - they have their place and their value.

Which brings me to another point - historical fiction.  Have you noticed how much historical fiction has come along.  A few decades ago, artistic license was flourishing - readers didn't demand greater authenticity and attention to detail from their fiction writers - how that has changed today.  More and more authors are bringing the past to life in their tomes of fiction - so much so, it is becoming increasingly difficult to assess what is fact and what is fiction.  Some "non-fiction" actually reads like it should have been deemed "fiction" and vice-versa! 

And we are becoming more critical of our fictional authors - demanding they stick to details and admonish them when they leave the path.  Possibly because history itself has entered something of a renaissance - the more we read, the more we feel the need to read and explore further.  Not a bad thing in my opinion.


3 comments:

Nicholas Klacsanszky said...

A very interesting discussion. I also think the lines of genres are getting blurred. As a historical fiction writer, I was aware when I was writing my novel that I should stick to the facts with a discerning eye. Nowadays, calling out on others is more common - politically, religiously, you name it. But historical fiction can get dry if it concentrates too much on the facts. One book I know that come out recently that is more accessible is The Scorpion's Bite by Aileen G. Baron: http://www.aileengbaron.com/ It deals with an archeologists' journey through the Trans-Jordan Desert and her discovery of a secret oil production center connecting significant countries in political turmoil.

Melisende said...

Nicholas, many thanks for your thoughts, even more so as you yourself are an author. That once clear line between fact and fiction has become more blurred. And I agree, some fiction can become too dry with too many facts and not enough fiction.

Nicholas Klacsanszky said...

Even the line between author and non-author is blurred. More people are putting together novels and books for print than ever - thanks to Nanowrimo and self-publishing. This is not necessarily a bad or good thing, just different. Authors like Aileen G. Baron, a veteran author, should get more recognition. But in the market now, there is an overload of authors, and an overload of queries for publication. It will be interesting to see how the market will go from here.