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Should history be fictional?

Posted: Fri May 20, 2016 7:14 am
by Matthew88
It seems to me that the most important aspect of history is what lessons can be learned from it. But can't lessons be learned from fiction, as well? Such as comics, legends, movies, etc. To what extent does it matter if we agree that historical events happened, as long as we are learning from them?

Scary question?

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Fri May 20, 2016 5:19 pm
by PaulMurphy
Is the assignment due on Monday?

It matters because there will be those who deny that it happened, or rewrite it to paint their country as less belligerent, less culpable, or less illegal. Fiction teaches us how good fiction can be, but fictionalised history is just as bad as those who rewrite it. Ask about Braveheart on here, and see what response you get ;-)

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Sat May 21, 2016 10:58 am
by Simon Atford
Historical fiction can teach us lessons about the times it was written in even if it can't tell us much about the times in which it is set and the persons and events it portrays.

Take Shakespeare for example. The history plays are not accurate sources for the events they portray but they do tell us a lot about how the Elizabethans felt about the Plantagenet era.

The key thing is remember that it is fiction and take everything you read, see or hear with a massive pinch of salt until you are able to do your own research. In this month's BBC History Magazine the historian Alison Weir expresses her frustration at people telling her that Richard III definitely didn't kill the Princes in the Tower because it says so in Phillipa Gregory's novel The White Queen.

Braveheart is actually a very good example of how fiction and especially movies can distort history as virtually nothing is accurate apart from the names of the principal characters.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Sun May 22, 2016 10:02 am
by de Coverley
Fiction is good, it's a distraction from real life, but it's NOT history. There may be historical references but fiction is not history. Usually, apart from some principal events, history is best researched from several sources, single source research from contemporary writing may work, but from non contemporary writings may well be total fiction. Research from modern film sources will give you some really false ideas -FILM says that the Enigma codes were snatched from U101 by the Americans, (who were not at war at the time). History states clearly that it was the Royal Navy who made the snatch, and lists the medals awarded. I can't imagine that any other film is any more accurate.

Remember that contemporary writings will be from a single perspective, they could only write what they saw and what they heard in their village. Collected histories are wisdom accumulated from several sources but collated with assorted degrees of academic rigour.

Modern history can often be checked from multiple sources, but as literacy waxed and waned older histories are somewhat closer to "best guesses available" -look at any estimates for the birth, battles and death of "King Arthur". I have no doubt that he existed though his name wouldn't be in modern English! But the dates cannot be confirmed from reliable sources and many books have been written giving different views, and different dates.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Tue May 24, 2016 11:19 am
by Brother Ranulf
The line between fact and fiction can often be blurred, especially when you try to see through the eyes of our ancestors. My own area of research is the Anglo-Norman 12th century - a time when "Green Men", "The Green Children of Woolpit" and malicious demons tormenting country folk and monks were certainties in the minds of many writers; on the other hand the King Arthur stories were intended to be popular fiction, with an entertainment value only. This did not prevent the monks of Glastonbury from "discovering" Arthur's grave at a very opportune moment in the life of the abbey . . .

But you only have to read the historical accounts of William of Newburgh (writing in the 1190s) to recognise a factual, sober, detailed, well-researched and highly knowledgeable piece of work - the fact that he fails to mention the "discovery" of Arthur's tomb is significant. All he says is:

Quod enim Britones dicunt eandem insulam suo parvisse Arturo fabulosum est, sicut et cetera quae de ipso mentiendi libidine petulantia quorumdam confinxit.

The translation is: "The Britons' claim that the island was subject to their king Arthur is fable, as are the other stories about him which the impudence of certain individuals with their fondness for lying has invented."

Clearly serious historians have always been more than sceptical about what they see as fictional accounts, of little or no value beyond pure entertainment.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Tue May 24, 2016 12:40 pm
by John Waller
I think Napoleon had it sorted "History is a set of lies agreed upon".

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Thu Jun 02, 2016 11:16 am
by Mark Griffin
Spot on John!

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 12:42 pm
by FionaDowson
So, is the function of re-enacting to entertain or educate?

On Trip Adviser there's a review of the museum where I volunteer (West Stow in Suffolk) where someone is complaining about how the presence of a coach load of primary school children ruined her family visit. Are museums tourist attractions or a valuable educational resource? Is it possible to be both?

If we're re-enacting at a museum or English Heritage site, is this different from, say, a bit of combat at a fete?

I've seen people at fetes wearing tartan picnic rugs and claiming that this is what people in the Dark Ages wore. If people are going to re-enact do they have a responsibility to the public to be authentic or does it not matter because it's just entertainment?

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 12:42 pm
by FionaDowson
So, is the function of re-enacting to entertain or educate?

On Trip Adviser there's a review of the museum where I volunteer (West Stow in Suffolk) where someone is complaining about how the presence of a coach load of primary school children ruined her family visit. Are museums tourist attractions or a valuable educational resource? Is it possible to be both?

If we're re-enacting at a museum or English Heritage site, is this different from, say, a bit of combat at a fete?

I've seen people at fetes wearing tartan picnic rugs and claiming that this is what people in the Dark Ages wore. If people are going to re-enact do they have a responsibility to the public to be authentic or does it not matter because it's just entertainment?

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:45 pm
by Medicus Matt
FionaDowson wrote: If people are going to re-enact do they have a responsibility to the public to be authentic or does it not matter because it's just entertainment?


The primary responsibility is to the client. If the client is hiring you to entertain, entertain.
Although entertainment and education needn't be mutually exclusive.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 6:28 pm
by Simon Atford
Medicus Matt wrote:
FionaDowson wrote: If people are going to re-enact do they have a responsibility to the public to be authentic or does it not matter because it's just entertainment?


The primary responsibility is to the client. If the client is hiring you to entertain, entertain.
Although entertainment and education needn't be mutually exclusive.


Your primary responsibility might to be to the client but you also have to think of your members. Re-enactors give their time for free and get cheesed off doing events they don't enjoy.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 6:36 pm
by Simon Atford
FionaDowson wrote:So, is the function of re-enacting to entertain or educate?

On Trip Adviser there's a review of the museum where I volunteer (West Stow in Suffolk) where someone is complaining about how the presence of a coach load of primary school children ruined her family visit. Are museums tourist attractions or a valuable educational resource? Is it possible to be both?

If we're re-enacting at a museum or English Heritage site, is this different from, say, a bit of combat at a fete?

I've seen people at fetes wearing tartan picnic rugs and claiming that this is what people in the Dark Ages wore. If people are going to re-enact do they have a responsibility to the public to be authentic or does it not matter because it's just entertainment?


The two types of event are different. The primary focus at the former should probably be education and entertainment at the latter. Wearing fancy dress has it's place but no one should mislead the public by saying that people in the past wore things we know they didn't. It's like movies. A film can be historical bunk and still be entertaining as piece fantasy but if the filmmakers claim it is accurate when it isn't that is dishonest.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Sat Dec 10, 2016 12:54 pm
by Henri De Ceredigion
I have written a large number of self published books based on the stories written by Alexandre Dumas and Jules Verne and although works of fiction, where suitable, I have added actual history into them. For instance, in my version of "Around the World in Eighty Days" when we get back, seemingly a day late, having been attacked throughout our journey, I decide to report those crimes and as I leave Savile Row bump into a policeman who is clocking off for the night and as we walk to the police station he informs me of the Great Fire of Boston (November 9th 1872), the discovery of the Marie Celeste (December 4th 1872) and the death of the wife of Mr. Disraeli, the then leader of the Opposition.

This theme continues in my versions of "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" with references to the 1874 general election.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Sun Dec 11, 2016 8:52 pm
by Medicus Matt
Simon Atford wrote:
Your primary responsibility might to be to the client but you also have to think of your members. Re-enactors give their time for free and get cheesed off doing events they don't enjoy.



I was assuming that the group leader/business manager/Il Duce/whatever would already have taken that into account before agreeing to work for a particular client at a particular event.
Once you take the booking, your responsibility is primarily to your client.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 9:01 pm
by Simon Atford
Medicus Matt wrote:
Simon Atford wrote:
Your primary responsibility might to be to the client but you also have to think of your members. Re-enactors give their time for free and get cheesed off doing events they don't enjoy.



I was assuming that the group leader/business manager/Il Duce/whatever would already have taken that into account before agreeing to work for a particular client at a particular event.
Once you take the booking, your responsibility is primarily to your client.


You would think so but this is not always the case. Sometimes "Il Duce" books an event without really consulting the members or thinking of what sort of events they like. This hasn't happened recently but I have experienced this once or twice although in all fairness it wasn't entirely the fault of the person who booked the event. If an event is crap it becomes very difficult to raise enthusiasm no matter how many times someone tells you it is for the good of the society. Clients do not always know what they want from re-enactors, especially if they are more used to booking professional entertainers, and do not always appreciate that we (a) give our time for free, (b) cover our own travel expenses and provide our own kit and (c) do it for the love and only the love.

Re: Should history be fictional?

Posted: Fri Dec 16, 2016 11:27 am
by lonewolf
fiction is make believe, its not fact.