Today I am very pleased to announce that videos from our Novel Approaches conference were added to the History SPOT platform (see here for the videos pages), to Youtube and iTunes-u. So you now have the option of watching or simply listening to what our panelists had to say. In fact today (which will be the last update to History SPOT before Christmas) has very much been about a return to the end of November when I was busily working on the virtual conference. I therefore thought that this was as good a time as any to write down a brief summary of the conference:
Novel Approaches Conference
17-18 November 2011
Where do the borders between academic history and historical fiction lie? Can historians legitimately write historical fiction whilst also maintaining their legitimacy and truthfulness as an historian? How ‘authentic’ should an historical novelist be when writing about past events and persons? These, and many more questions, were the focus of this years’ highly successful IHR winter conference. Novel Approaches: from academic history to historical fiction featured historians, novelists, and publishers in a discussion and debate about the relationship of historical fiction and academic history.
Hilary Mantel and Alison Weir both argued that ‘authenticity’ and ‘accuracy’ was essential to their craft and that in many ways what they did was not that different to that of the historian. James Forrester (pen name for the historian Ian Mortimer), however saw historical fiction as more fantasy than accurate history. Forrester/Mortimer made the distinction between History and Fiction through writing for both forms under different names.
Amongst the many threads that were taken up throughout the conference was a concern that academic history was seen as ‘stuffy’; ‘dull’; and ‘irrelevant’ by the public and that (perhaps more troubling) historical fiction was often viewed as a better sort of history and one that was equally as accurate. I don’t think any historical novelist would claim that what they wrote was strictly ‘truthful’ when it came to the past, although many (including Mantel and Weir) would argue that they only made up those elements that fell between the cracks of historical knowledge. Within that argument, it seemed, was a slight queasiness regarding where historical fact merged with fiction and how the reading public could differentiate between the two. It must be said that the same queasiness affects historians when they regard their sources; how does the historian remain neutral when regarding the evidence? Is it possible to remain entirely neutral? Is it even possible for the historian to discover the past and write about it in a ‘realistic’ manner that is, in itself, not partly fictional?
After the conference end began our first ever ‘virtual conference’. The virtual Novel Approaches includes podcasts from History SPOT; book reviews from Reviews in History; bibliographies and online resource lists (compiled by the people behind BBIH) and a host of additional articles, materials and opinion pieces. The conference ran between Monday 21 November and Friday 25 November 2011 but the resource itself is there indefinitely. Indeed today we updated the site so that it will be a little easier to navigate. For those who registered for the virtual conference you should find in your email inbox a new Newsletter (issue 2) with information about upcoming events, some photographs from the conference, and a few other short articles. This and the previous Novel Approaches newsletter will be published on the virtual conference site in the new year so those of you who didn’t register won’t miss out.
Please do feel free to have a look at the Novel Approaches website, to contribute to the continuing discussion around these resources and make use of the site whether your interest is in academic history, historical fiction, or somewhere in-between.
And that’s all from me for another year. I hope you all have a good Christmas or holiday break! I’ll be back in the new year with more SPOT newsletters, podcasts, handbooks and live streams than Santa Claus could stuff into a sack!