These podcasts derive from the Novel Approaches conference held between 17 and 18 November 2011 at the Institute of Historical Research. They can also be found on the History SPOT website where we also have video editions available. Each podcast is approximatesly 15-20 minutes in length. You can either click on the links for each lecture or scroll down this page.
Chaired by the IHR’s Dr Jane Winters our concluding roundtable looked at the questions that had come up over the course of the conference. What is the relationship between historical fiction and academic history? Is there a problem within the writing of academic history itself which limits its potential? Has historical fiction begun to enter a new period in its own history – has Hilary Mantel initiated a different form of historical fiction?
Although we are unable to supply the entire podcast from the Roundtable we have produced the responses for two of the questions raised for you.
[Notes: the audio quality of this podcast is poor in places due to the difficulty in placing the audio recorders in places where they could adequately pick up sound during the roundtable]
Question 1: Throughout this conference it has been claimed that historical fiction enables readers to reach the human experience in a way unachievable by academic history. Indeed, it seems to be perceived that academic history cannot get to the human experience. Is that true?
Question 2: There has been a lot of talk about the importance of authenticity for both acdemic history and historical fiction. How do writers of both forms deal with the need to write for your own times and for your own generation? How does those requirements impact upon authenticity?
Stella Tillyard has the unenviable job of bringing the lectures from the conference to a close and she does so by going full circle. On Monday we provided the podcast from Hilary Mantel’s talk where she stressed what makes a good historical novel is its historical authenticity. Tillyard argues the opposite – what makes a historical novel good is a a good novelist not its claims to authenticity.
Much historical fiction is ‘tosh’ but then too is a lot of academic history. Paul Lay looks at the varying quality of both forms of writing about the past as a means to answer the question of whether the success of historical fiction benefits or threatens academic history. Lay also brings in the issue of film and the important role of myth. Part of this paper discusses Asa Briggs, who turned 90 this earlier this year. In celebration the IHR hosted a one day conference on Asa Briggs (click here for those podcasts)
Speaker: Cora Kaplan (Queen Mary University of London)
Cora Kaplan examines the success of historical fiction as a benefit and threat to academic history through a feminist standpoint. Kaplan suggests that one way to look at this issue is through the ‘politics of the novel’, that is the through understanding the readers, the writers, and the moment of their writing/publication.
Speaker: Jackie Eales (Canterbury Christ Church University/Historical Association)
Jackie Eales starts by questioning what she does when she writes history. How does she use sources? What controls does she place on her interpretations? Eales also brings in another ‘rabbit’ – popular history (its got to that time of the day when metaphors are floating around!). Popular history bridges the gap between the two forms of writing about the past and perhaps suggests both a benefit and a danger to the provision of historical knowledge.
Speaker: Rebecca Stott (author, University of East Anglia)
Rebecca Stott sees historical fiction and academic history as being on a spectrum rather than in anyway being opposites. At one end you have the dry historical analysis and at the other the pleasurable read but where each history or fiction resides very much depends on the writer and the reader’s point of view.