Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

How should we discuss history?

A place to debate issues or to rant about what's on your mind. In addition to discussions about historical fiction, books, the publishing industry, and history, discussions about current political, social, and religious issues and other topics are allowed, so those who are easily offended by certain topics may want to avoid such threads. Members are expected to keep the discussions friendly and polite and to avoid personal attacks on other members. The moderators reserve the right to shut down a thread without warning if they believe it necessary.
User avatar
Rowan
Bibliophile
Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
Contact:

How should we discuss history?

Postby Rowan » Tue February 14th, 2017, 1:39 pm

I will note before I go any further that I am writing from a place of extreme annoyance right now. I know I should wait until I have calmed down, but that's not the point of a rant, is it? ;) And perhaps more level-headed and more intelligent people here will help me see where I am wrong as I cannot.

As my subject asks, how should we discuss history? Should we never give our opinion of what happened? What, exactly, is "assigning 21st century values/morals, etc." to any part of history we may discuss? How do you avoid doing such things? Is discussion of history really only about laying down of facts and sticking only to facts? For my part, the last question leads to a boring sense of history which we're already fed in school. When I read historical fiction, everything comes alive for me.

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue February 14th, 2017, 4:00 pm

History, for me, always starts with a personal viewpoint and expands from there. How could it be otherwise? I remember being horrified (I might have been about 12) on hearing that Inuit tribe elders, when there was not enough food, would be sent out to freeze to death. Later I found out that it was usually voluntary, but in my mind, their adult children ought to have prevented it.
But that was before I had much exposure to the idea that there might actually not be enough food for people to survive, long term. To my young mind, hunger was something that lasted until dinnertime.

I was violently against the death penalty when I had no concept of the problem of safety. Eventually, as I studied history, I came to see that keeping people who could not be released on society alive was more of an economic decision than a moral one--it took resources to do this, manpower and money. When those were in short supply, it was a more difficult proposition.

But it is hard to discuss history with people who are in a personal space where they will not (or maybe DARE not) let themselves consider other points of view than those held by their pack.
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
User signature picture

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue February 14th, 2017, 4:08 pm

Oh, here's a historical bit that drives me NUTS in reading novels: the 21st century viewpoint about sex.

Historically, sex=reproduction. That's biology. Reproduction equals severe risk of death for the woman. About 20%, in pre-modern medicine (and current 3rd world) situations.

So all these novels where sex is presented in the plot as mainly recreational. That's a 21st-century viewpoint. Back when it could kill a woman, it had social guards set about it that were let down only for the stupid and socially 'disposable' -- lower-class females, those displaced by war, and slaves. And it was not 'romantic' if the male engaged in sex without first going through the social rules set up to protect a woman and their offspring. It was exploitative.
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
User signature picture

User avatar
Rowan
Bibliophile
Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
Contact:

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby Rowan » Tue February 14th, 2017, 5:51 pm

"But it is hard to discuss history with people who are in a personal space where they will not (or maybe DARE not) let themselves consider other points of view than those held by their pack."

This must be what is going on.

User avatar
Mythica
Bibliophile
Preferred HF: European and American (mostly pre-20th century)
Location: Colorado
Contact:

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby Mythica » Fri February 17th, 2017, 6:34 pm

MLE (Emily Cotton) wrote:Oh, here's a historical bit that drives me NUTS in reading novels: the 21st century viewpoint about sex.

Historically, sex=reproduction. That's biology. Reproduction equals severe risk of death for the woman. About 20%, in pre-modern medicine (and current 3rd world) situations.

So all these novels where sex is presented in the plot as mainly recreational. That's a 21st-century viewpoint. Back when it could kill a woman, it had social guards set about it that were let down only for the stupid and socially 'disposable' -- lower-class females, those displaced by war, and slaves. And it was not 'romantic' if the male engaged in sex without first going through the social rules set up to protect a woman and their offspring. It was exploitative.


I'm not saying this isn't true, but there were plenty of people in history who had sex outside marriage, if that's what mean. It was certainly taboo, but it did happen and it wasn't solely the stupid, socially disposable, lower class, etc. That's not to say it was recreational, but sometimes people were overcome by desire, or love, or both. I have a documented case in my family tree of an 18th century Quaker woman having sex before marriage (it actually details this in the Quaker records), with a non-Quaker. She wound up marrying him, but she was excommunicated for it. She came from a reputable family who basically disowned her, I'm not sure if it was for having sex before marriage, or marrying a non-Quaker, or both, and she was written out of lineage books of that family (marked as "died young").

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri February 17th, 2017, 8:27 pm

I didn't mean that sex didn't happen outside of marriage. Just that it wasn't a casual decision, at least not for the woman. She had a lot to lose, starting with her reputation and social status and the roof over her head and ending with, quite possibly, her life. It takes more explanation, and more motivation, than the contemporary 'one night stand'.
I am currently re-reading a novel where the hero (like many another early hero) screws anything that will stand still. Okay, nothing too unusual there. But then he is represented as a helping person with a gift for healing, including delivering babies, complete with flashbacks of his own mum dying a long agonizing death in childbirth. And yet the act of making babies and the misery of birthing them never seems to connect with this supposedly caring, sensitive, intelligent man.

I have a hard time believing this level of disconnect. Those social taboos WERE so very strong exactly BECAUSE of all the consequences that came with sex. So the writer is trying to have it both ways, and that doesn't work.
This is a frequent issue I have with HF. The sudden shift between 'OMG, sex is likely to screw up my life (or already has)' to another scene where the characters are getting it on with apparent unconcern.
Lazy writing. If the plot calls for sex, then there has to be sufficient reason, one that is believable within the context of the story and the setting.
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
User signature picture

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri February 17th, 2017, 8:36 pm

MLE (Emily Cotton) wrote:History, for me, always starts with a personal viewpoint and expands from there.

I was violently against the death penalty when I had no concept of the problem of safety. Eventually, as I studied history, I came to see that keeping people who could not be released on society alive was more of an economic decision than a moral one--it took resources to do this, manpower and money. When those were in short supply, it was a more difficult proposition.



I was just reminded of this problem from a situation in the WWII memoir, https://www.amazon.com/Quartered-Safe-George-MacDonald-Fraser/dp/0007105932 by Fraser. In one scenario, they caught several of the enemy, who surrendered because they had no other option. But they almost outnumbered what was left of his platoon, and they could not take them back to headquarters because they still had a critical mission to accomplish. Now the Geneva accords say that, once the enemy has surrendered, you aren't supposed to kill them. But what were they to do? There were plenty of other enemy about for these guys to re-join, and a very real possibility that if they did not shoot the now-helpless Japanese, those same men would be re-armed and once more trying to kill them. Under these circumstances, what would YOU do?
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
User signature picture

User avatar
Mythica
Bibliophile
Preferred HF: European and American (mostly pre-20th century)
Location: Colorado
Contact:

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby Mythica » Fri February 17th, 2017, 10:04 pm

MLE (Emily Cotton) wrote:I didn't mean that sex didn't happen outside of marriage. Just that it wasn't a casual decision, at least not for the woman. She had a lot to lose, starting with her reputation and social status and the roof over her head and ending with, quite possibly, her life. It takes more explanation, and more motivation, than the contemporary 'one night stand'.
I am currently re-reading a novel where the hero (like many another early hero) screws anything that will stand still. Okay, nothing too unusual there. But then he is represented as a helping person with a gift for healing, including delivering babies, complete with flashbacks of his own mum dying a long agonizing death in childbirth. And yet the act of making babies and the misery of birthing them never seems to connect with this supposedly caring, sensitive, intelligent man.


Ugh, yeah, that's annoying. I often see the opposite in novels though, where the hero is of illegitimate birth and so is careful to use the withdraw method whenever having sex so as not to ever sire his own illegitimate child.

User avatar
Rowan
Bibliophile
Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
Contact:

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby Rowan » Mon February 20th, 2017, 2:47 pm

This is how I see "assigning 21st century values/morals, etc." to a historical event:

I was reading an article in BBC History Magazine this morning about the different ways in which William of Orange and his rule of Great Britain was viewed by different people, depending on where you live. Upon the tercentenary celebration of the "Glorious Revolution," the Prime Minister at the time was Margarat Thatcher. She was enthusiastic about the celebration of this event being big, while an MP (forgotten his name) was against it because William didn't care about the working class or the middle class or women. I presume the MP meant that the king should've supported women's rights, but in the 1600, as far as I can tell, women didn't have any rights to speak of. That, to me, was an MP assigning 20th century values/morals to something that happened in the 17th century, which is silly. Just because in the 1980s, women had more rights than in the 1600s, isn't a reason to dislike William III. After all, there are plenty today who still think women's rights are lacking.
Last edited by Rowan on Mon February 20th, 2017, 2:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Adding more thoughts.

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: How should we discuss history?

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon February 20th, 2017, 4:36 pm

The 'women's rights' axe-grinding is one of the issues that also makes me wall-bang a book. So many novels today with 'strong female heroines' out there thumping around leading armies, succeeding in a man's world with 21st-century ideas. It's as if the writer can't get his/her head around the ways that a woman could be strong and self-assured without putting on the proverbial pants!

In a culture and time were you were lucky if any of the people you loved and depended on didn't expire any given year, NOBODY is going to parse their group by something as vague as gender. You're going to think about family and tribe---cause that's what keeps you alive. Women's rights? that means a woman would have to be allotting some portion of her very limited resources to a group that included half the human race--including members of families/tribes that were trying to off HER beloved family/tribe.

This is definitely roll eyes territory. :rolleyes:
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
User signature picture


Return to “Debate/Rant Forum”