History — Four Views

History — as viewed by four authors

His­to­ry is bor­ing, dull, ho-hum. No, no, his­to­ry is excit­ing, new and fresh! Which is it? Is it thick books filled with facts, dates, wars, inven­tions, and famine? Or is it a live­ly nar­ra­tive, full of mys­tery and intrigue?

Answer—it can be either! Amaz­ing­ly, the sub­ject you may have hat­ed in school, just might be retold in anoth­er way, a way that keeps you glued to the pages, think­ing not of sleep or a TV dra­ma but of what comes next with the turn of a page. And, the same his­toric facts may form the basis for mul­ti­ple books, each com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. His­to­ry may even be fic­tion­al­ized. (That is, turned into a sto­ry pos­si­bly even more allur­ing than the facts. But you knew that, right?)

The four books illus­trat­ed here approach his­to­ry in four dif­fer­ent ways. How is that?

On the left, Paper Woman by Suzanne Adair (the first of sev­er­al books) tells the sto­ry of a woman dur­ing the run-up to the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion when British sol­diers and colo­nial rebels were very much in the pic­ture. Suzanne bases her mys­ter­ies on lit­tle-known facts of the south­ern states dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. She aug­ments those facts by tak­ing part in reen­act­ments. She knows what it is to dress as they did then, to pre­pare food, in fact, so many details of every-day life. A list of inven­tions, dates, and lin­eage? No—this approach to his­to­ry is the next best thing to being there—without the dan­ger!

The cov­er of The Blue may remind you of a col­orist gone wild, and that may be the intent, for it is, indeed about blue. Not blue as in sad, or even blue as in the sky, but blue as in invent­ing a dye that caused inter­na­tion­al upheaval in the world of porce­lain. Author Nan­cy Bilyeau com­bines her own her­itage as a Huguenot with fic­tion­al char­ac­ters to tell the sto­ry that spreads from 18th cen­tu­ry Lon­don to France. Inven­tions? Work­ing on that, for sure. But did any school book dwell on the king of France and obses­sion about porce­lain? This one qual­i­fies as a thriller.

The last two are not fic­tion. A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alas­ka is the retail­ing of sev­er­al trips to work in Alas­ka for col­lege mon­ey. This is the sto­ry my father told me in six audio tapes. He made the tapes when he was 88, gave them to me (as the writer in the fam­i­ly) and asked that I write them for fam­i­ly and friends. It took a year and a half to orga­nize (and agree) on the con­tent, but we did it. Some years lat­er, one of my daugh­ters designed the cov­er and I pub­lished it for all. It’s an account, as he remem­bered (and named) it of  a hot-head­ed kid who need­ed to fin­ish grow­ing up. He told me he’d made anoth­er trip to Alas­ka, tak­ing his broth­er, but he hadn’t includ­ed those sto­ries. He said, “I wasn’t the knuck­le­head any more. Fred was.”

Spies In The Fam­i­ly, by Eva Dil­lon, is just that. After her par­ents had both died, Eva and her sib­lings found a wealth of papers in the attic. I’m still read­ing this one, but it has amaz­ing his­to­ry. At the height of the Cold War, her father was a U. S. gov­ern­ment agent han­dling the CIA’s high­est rank­ing dou­ble agent, a Sovi­et gen­er­al. Besides a lot of weird CIA action, the book includes infor­ma­tion gath­ered from the Sovi­et general’s son, now liv­ing in the Unit­ed States. To me, this is tru­ly a grip­ping sto­ry that I can’t wait to com­plete. (No mem­o­riz­ing dates here!)

Each of the book titles are linked to their Ama­zon page. Tell me, how did you view his­to­ry when you were in school? Did you find it inter­est­ing or bor­ing? Or, per­haps, since I’m waaaay out of school, the his­to­ry as taught now is more inter­est­ing. Or, per­haps, it is non-exis­tent, which is a shame. Like some­one once said (and I real­ly should look it up, but I won’t) those who don’t know his­to­ry are des­tined to repeat it. (Or words to that effect.) There are a mul­ti­tude of ways to present his­to­ry. What are your favorites?


Comments

History — Four Views — 4 Comments

  1. So true! I do believe more teach­ers are embrac­ing his­to­ry as a series of inter­twin­ing sto­ries, rather than a list of dates and places to mem­o­rize. Our kids will be bet­ter off for it.

    I’ve always loved his­tor­i­cal fic­tion because it feels like a bonus — I get the sto­ry AND some new details about the past.

  2. When I was in high school, I hat­ed his­to­ry class. But my father intro­duced me to a series of books about the Plan­ta­genet kings by Thomas Costain. And that began a life­long love of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. And, amaz­ing­ly, an inti­mate knowl­edge of British his­to­ry. I think I’ll have to read “Paper Woman”, as my knowl­edge of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War begins, and ends, with John­ny Tremaine”. Thanks for this!

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