Thursday, June 6, 2013

THURSDAY'S CHILDREN: Our Take On History

Well, it has been a most interesting week- one weirdly productive and incredibly unproductive at the same time.
I know. I’m confused also.
But I will not be pulling out the therapy couch today, because it is not time for such things. (Later, perhaps. Today? Nope.)

I’ve been revising and editing my MS recently (which I wrote in less than a month. Because I’m nuts, mostly), which has involved me doing some research.
Not just any research- research into very specific geographical locations in a very tight time frame. (And no, I will not tell you more, because it will give things away and we’re not there yet.) There isn’t that much information to be found about it, which has been fascinating and frustrating all at the same time.

Okay, there probably is a lot more information that Googling may not find.
It’s been said that history is told by winners.
I’m not so sure as it’s told by winners, or that it’s the story of the winners that are remembered. That the winners tend to be dramatized and romanticized.

Stories of heroism very often miss the not so exciting parts of the story. The life of a soldier is nine parts excruciating boredom and one part terror and action, as is the life of a firefighter.
As with fiction, people don’t necessarily want to hear about the ‘boring’ parts of history- only the interesting and the entertaining. So you end up with girls imagining what it must have been like to live in Regency England- gowns and dresses and dashing and handsome Dukes and Princes and Earls and Barons and maybe the occasional *GASP!* working man. Like Regency England was just one big fairy tale of tea and scones and the occasional fainting couch.

Statistically speaking, most of the people who are reading about Regency England, should they have lived there themselves, would, if they were lucky, be working as a maid in the Duke’s home. Personally? Depending on the year, I probably wouldn’t have been legally able to live in England at all. (Yay Jewish diaspora and exile from most European countries!)

Everyone always talks about the good old days. We like to romanticize our pasts, when really, things tend not to be as rosy and wonderful as we remember them to be. Read an old diary or journal just to remind yourself that your whole childhood wasn’t all wonderful and fabulous. (A lot of it may have been- but not all of it.) Historical fiction, a lot of times is the same way. Saying that all of history, before we came along, was the good ol’ days. The downsides of history are oftentimes, just ignored. Like how gross it probably was to have a chamber pot. And getting your period, if you were a woman (no pads, no tampons, no advil, no chocolate). And childbirth, for that matter. And how if you, with the mind you have now, were actually thrown back to Victorian England, you’d probably be banished from polite society so fast your head would fall off. That sitting around embroidering things (a FAVORITE pastime of the privileged woman) would make you want to stab your eyes out. That women’s lib didn’t really exist at all, and those who thought that women had equal rights were not really that popular. That knighthood was not always that heroic and magnificent, and that pillaging through people’s villages because they could is not really that chivalrous. That living in a small town in Middle America back during the 1800s was no picnic, and the chances of you getting shot by a random drunk were pretty high. That not all slave owners in the South had gigantic, humongous plantations and a lot were really not very wealthy at all (unequal distribution of wealth, holla!). We forget that statistically, most people during most of history were REALLY, REALLY, REALLY POOR.

I’m not trying to be the Debbie Downer pessimistic voice of BLAH here, just trying to keep things a bit realistic in our referencing our pasts.
And then we can tackle things like the rest of the world’s history, and not just the few white little countries that can have somewhat of a glamorized past. What was happening in China in the 1700s? What was really going on in South America? Australia? Malaysia? Africa? I can go on and on and on (history is quite a long time, darlings) but I will spare you from all of that today.

In our looking back at history, we forget what things were probably like. How long people lived back then. Of the spread of diseases, of the way people thought and acted, and that just like us, people from the past were far from perfect.
The MS I’m editing now isn’t historical fiction. And I’m trying as much as I can that I’m giving a fair portrayal of history in it. Because history, when told wrong, when not doing as much as you can to uncover a full picture of what happened, isn’t really history anymore.

It’s a one-sided account of a story.
Every story has two sides, at the very least.
Why should the past of humanity be any different?

Question time, should you so wish: What period in history do you think REALLY needs some other views? What time period would you like to read about more in fiction, and in non-fiction, too? I was in the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan on Monday with a friend of mine, and that got me thinking- which time periods in history do you think we’ve kind of forgotten about? Which countries did we forget about? (Because Britain was not the only country during the 1700s and 1800s, although they may have thought so…) And what historical cliché/inaccuracy would you like to never, ever, ever hear about again?
As always, thanks for reading my rambles, and have a Happy Thursday! xo




Thursday's Children is a weekly blog hop in which fabulous writers blog about what inspires them. Click HERE to see what everyone else is up to this week, and feel free to join too. :)

8 comments:

  1. Hmmm. I'd like to read more histories/stories from different countries and cultures like The Kite Runner, but this might just be me.

    http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2013/06/inspired-by-friends-new-ideas-and-good.html

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    1. There definitely seems to be a lack of diverse literature- there are a lot of writers trying to raise that awareness- check out DiversifYA if you haven't yet- they are all kinds of fabulous :)

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  2. I'd be lying if I said I was in any way, shape or form a history buff, but I don't see a lot of truth in the whole history is written by the victor's philosophy. As a therapist (speaking of therapists) I teach my clients that there are three sides to every story: your side, *their* side, and the truth. Perception is one hundred percent of reality and therefore history, like everything else is subjective, whether you win or lose.
    Good luck on your research!
    ~Dannie @ Left to Write

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  3. By training, I'm a medievalist (my PhD is on Morgan la Fey) so that's my favorite time period to write about but I often do get annoyed with novels that have done very sloppy, superficial research. There's a hug difference between what would be going on in 6th versus 13th century England--I'm looking at you Arthurian writers. It's also important for writers to remember when researching primary texts in this period that the medieval legends are themselves usually written several hundred years after the fact. Okay, rant over. Thanks for joining Thursday's Children!

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    1. You did your PhD on Morgan la Fey?!?!?! SO. COOL.
      No worries- I'm loving the rant :) Primary texts are so much more important than people give them credit for at times. xo

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  4. I'm fascinated by times in history when woman artisans actually had privilege or could earn prestige and uncommon liberties by becoming master crafts people. Two of the short stories I've had published are about such woman. One a glassblower in Venice. The other a potter in England.

    In truth though, I don't mind reading stories which aren't true to historic periods because I know they are fiction :)

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  5. Well, in terms of what I've always enjoyed reading about the most, I'd say anything British from the Iron Age all the way up until the Stuarts. That whole Regency period never did much for me. My children are from Russia and China so I have read some about the history of their cultures too, which are fascinating. I "should" read more about what happened south of the equator, obviously... I think it's equally fair to say that history is what those who recorded it deemed record-worthy. Sometimes that aligns with the victors' perspective, but history has also been "rewritten" and what was once a victor's perspective may turn into the vanquished's perspective and be revised accordingly. It therefore depends on which version of it you're reading (as Dannie mentioned).

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