All through my high school years, and probably before that, when people asked me what my favorite subject was, I would say either literature or history. And it was history that was my good old standard when it came to favorite subjects. Literature was the newcomer vying for the honour. But I had loved history for a very long time.
When people heard this answer, they had a tendency to be surprised. I expect that they were thinking of memorizing tables of dates, or dragging through long accounts of battles and legislature. Certainly, that kind of history was not my favorite subject.
What I really loved was not the history I was taught out of text books. It was history that came out of stories, history that stands before your eyes at historical villages, history which has colour and flavour, and tells not the dry facts of what happened when, but how it happened, and to whom it happened, and when it can, why.
I was reminded recently of the phrase living history. That is the kind of history I love. And the place where I have found it the most, and which has secured my loyalty to the standard of this unpopular subject, is in historical fiction. Historical fiction is one of the branches of the overarching category living history, and the books which comprise it make history live because they make their characters live. Facts and dates are very much like the everyday details I mentioned in a previous post. They are only important to us as they effect something we are interested in.
As an author, I see this very distinctly in doing research. I have been studying the history of Europe in 1848-9 for a book which is still in the very early stages right now. Ordinarily, the highly political and revolutionary events which occupied that place at that time would not hold a lot of interest for me. But because I was setting a story which I already cared about against this backdrop, the events took on a whole new interest.
So if you don’t find history exciting, if you see it as the study of dates and names and old, musty details of the past; if you have trouble teaching it, or learning it the hard, conventional way, why not try making a volume of historical fiction the backbone of your studies? You’ll find it brings history alive in a wonderful way, and as you begin to care about the story, you just might discover an interest in the facts along the way!
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