Monday, September 29, 2008

Historians neglecting their role as storytellers?

Award-winning historian Peter Cochrane is urging his colleagues to look to the narrative techniques of literature to recreate the past in a vivid and lively way.

Cochrane, an inaugural winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History, said historians should be able to cross freely into the territory of novelists and poets to use their techniques of plot, character, and imagination. .....

"This, I think, is an old, ingrained prejudice. Historians tend to see themselves as social scientists, as scholars whose job it is to 'write up' or report on their findings, rather than as writers whose job it is to create or imagine the past, to captivate anaudience.

"We should be crossing boundaries and borrowing what we can from fiction, or at least from fiction writers ... in terms of structuring and vivifying a story."

Cochrane's comments follow the public chiding of novelist Kate Grenville for overstepping the boundary between fiction and history in her acclaimed novel The Secret River.

You have got to be joking! I think they're doing a pretty good job of fabricating history to fit with the mores and expectations of a PC present.

I think it's dangerous to be imagining history, especially when the facts are there and history is not fiction, it is fact. I think that is a major problem with history and the teaching of history these days, it has become too tied with fanciful ideas.

Read more. (missing link discovered, thanks skeets)


Skeeter said...

Kae, missing link for "read more"?

Boy on a bike said...

I guess that puts Wilbur Smith at the forefront of historical technique?

Minicapt said...

That, or he's establishing his mea culpa in advance of when someone digs out ahistorical bits in his history.


Minicapt said...

For your amusement:


Skeeter said...

There is a place in literature for historical novels and another place for narrative history.
I have a friend who writes excellent historical novels. She admits that most of the "history" in her books is creative and not backed by research. She accepts that she will make historical errors and nowhere claims that her stories are based on facts.
The real problem is where PC historians use a similar technique to create narrative history, and then expect everyone who reads their work to believe it is based on authenticated facts.
The creative PC historians who were the target of Windschuttle's works were forced to admit that they had "made up" much of the history they had written because gaps had to be filled in the records.
The problem remains that they do not warn their readers when they start to get creative, and the reader is left with the impression that it is all based on facts. This impression is enhanced with a liberal sprinkling of footnotes.
Windschuttle went to the sources in their footnotes and was able to prove that, not only were they making things up, they also distorted facts that were on record to better fit with their PC ideology.
To an informed reader, some of the anachronistic errors were hilarious. Aborigine-proof fencing on tribal lands and massacres achieved with one muzzle-loading musket against 30 spears are two examples that come to mind.

kc said...

You discovered Skeets is the missing link? Wow.

How cool is that? 8-)

Skeeter said...

kc: Cool indeed — and it has done wonders for my self-esteem.

minicapt: I have tried the demo and I am most impressed with the graphics.
Ah well. The projects I had planned for the next few days were not important.

kae said...

Golly, Skeets, I'll have to put Rome in the post for you so that Mrs Skeets isn't bored!