Day 4: Does the success of historical fiction benefit or threaten academic history?

It can fairly be said that historians are often wary of fiction or at least to the suggestion of it. History is claimed as a science and an account of true things about the past. Fiction is the polar opposite. However, as this conference has already begun to show, the rise of academic history as we know it today went hand-in-hand with the rise of historical fiction and indeed both forms of writing are influenced by the other whether we like it or not. Not long ago the challenge of postmodernism sought to overturn the historian’s craft and still to this day there is a degree of uncertainty as to where history ends and fiction begins.

What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the predominance of historians who can only be described as frustrated novelists in disguise. How many are there out there who sheepishly dream of unburdening themselves from facts and evidence so that they can spring their imaginations free with historical fiction?

Historical fiction currently enjoys an unprecedented rate of success and popularity both with the public at a large and those that make history their life’s study. Yet, there are still many critics out there. So does the success of historical fiction benefit or threaten academic history? That is today’s topic of investigation. Throughout the day we will hear lectures by accademics Jackie Eales and Cora Kaplan, as well as History Today editor Paul Lay and author/historian Stella Tillyard. We will also have the usual mix of book reviews, articles and opinion pieces.

Day 4: Programme

9.30am          Lecture: Jackie Eales

10.30am        Book review: Telling Ghost Stories (Judith Harris)

11am             Article: Tracey Rosenberg on Researching the Nazis: the Girl in the Bunker

12pm            Lecture: Cora Kaplan

2pm              Lecture: Paul Lay

3pm              Lecture: Stella Tillyard

4pm              Book review:The many lives of John Bale (Matt Phillpott)

5pm              Day 4 Best bits

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About Matt Phillpott

I am an historian of early modern Britain and the Digital Resources Manager at the School of Advanced Study. My main area of interest is in the authentication of knowledge in early print, including religious, historical, and agricultural texts.

1 thought on “Day 4: Does the success of historical fiction benefit or threaten academic history?

  1. Pingback: Novel Notion: Reflections on History and Fiction | David Toms


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