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Novel approaches: The differences and similarities between historical fiction and academic history

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Published on Nov 30, 2011

18-11-11 Institute of Historical Research

Novel approaches: from academic history to historical fiction - The differences and similarities between historical fiction and academic history

Maria Margaronis (The Nation)
Ian Mortimer (author and historian)
Beverley Southgate (University of Hertfordshire)
Rebecca Stott (author, University of East Anglia)

The relationship between academic history and historical fiction is a subject of great interest to historians. Major academic conferences, for example the American Historical Association gathering last January and the Leeds Medieval Congress this July, have included papers and sessions on the subject, and they are proving among the most lively and well attended. There are numerous examples of historians who have successfully moved into the sphere of fiction, and conversely of authors whose fiction is underpinned by rigorous research. The large and growing public interest in history in Britain takes in both historical fact and historical fiction. And it is clear that many historians were at least in part inspired to pursue historical research by novels that they had read, or indeed are currently either planning to write or are writing their own works of fiction.

'Novel approaches' seeks to explore this phenomenon. It brings together a wide range of speakers, including academic and public historians, authors and publishers. They will be examining such questions as: Why have historical novels become 'respectable', and why anecdotally are historians being encouraged to write them? What is the difference between historical fiction and academic history, and how rigid are the boundaries between the two? How good are readers at differentiating between 'fact' and 'fiction' and how much does it matter if they don't? Does the success of historical fiction benefit or threaten academic history, and what can literary authors and academics learn from each other?

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