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Just a quick advertisement for our upcoming workshop specifically designed for up and coming authors of historical fiction: How to Get the History Right in your Historical Fiction: A workshop for authors

As you may be aware, last year the IHR hosted a conference entitled Novel Approaches: From Academic History to Historical Fiction which was also produced online in the form of a virtual conference.  Both events were hugely successful so we thought we would go one step further by running a workshop on getting the History right when writing historical fiction.  We will have various experts at hand including the published novelist Elizabeth Chadwick, an expert from the Geffrye Museum and medieval historian and research training officer at the IHR, Dr Simon Trafford.  The basic blurb is below so please do join us!

Getting to know other times and other places well enough to describe them convincingly is one of the great pleasures of writing historical fiction, but also one of its greatest challenges. Anyone can achieve a basic feel for an age by reading published histories, but to go beyond this, to enter the mental and physical world of the inhabitants of another age, to see through their eyes, to touch the objects that they knew and to speak with their voices, requires detailed knowledge and the understanding that can come only from autonomous research. Above all, it helps to know and understand contemporary source materials, but to find and use these requires specialised skills.

This one-day workshop aims to encourage writers to develop their abilities as historical researchers, introducing the tools and techniques employed by academic historians, and showing how to get the most from libraries, archives, museums, art galleries and, of course, the internet. Teaching will take place in an informal format with participants actively encouraged to discuss the problems they encounter and to share their own experiences.

Date: 26 April 2012
Time: 10.30-1700
Location: Senate House, London
Cost: £100

For further information and the application form please click here.

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Today I am very pleased to announce that videos from our Novel Approaches conference were added to the History SPOT platform (see here for the videos pages), to Youtube and iTunes-u. So you now have the option of watching or simply listening to what our panelists had to say.  In fact today (which will be the last update to History SPOT before Christmas) has very much been about a return to the end of November when I was busily working on the virtual conference.  I therefore thought that this was as good a time as any to write down a brief summary of the conference:

 

Novel Approaches Conference
17-18 November 2011

Where do the borders between academic history and historical fiction lie? Can historians legitimately write historical fiction whilst also maintaining their legitimacy and truthfulness as an historian? How ‘authentic’ should an historical novelist be when writing about past events and persons? These, and many more questions, were the focus of this years’ highly successful IHR winter conference. Novel Approaches: from academic history to historical fiction featured historians, novelists, and publishers in a discussion and debate about the relationship of historical fiction and academic history.

Hilary Mantel and Alison Weir both argued that ‘authenticity’ and ‘accuracy’ was essential to their craft and that in many ways what they did was not that different to that of the historian. James Forrester (pen name for the historian Ian Mortimer), however saw historical fiction as more fantasy than accurate history. Forrester/Mortimer made the distinction between History and Fiction through writing for both forms under different names.

Amongst the many threads that were taken up throughout the conference was a concern that academic history was seen as ‘stuffy’; ‘dull’; and ‘irrelevant’ by the public and that (perhaps more troubling) historical fiction was often viewed as a better sort of history and one that was equally as accurate. I don’t think any historical novelist would claim that what they wrote was strictly ‘truthful’ when it came to the past, although many (including Mantel and Weir) would argue that they only made up those elements that fell between the cracks of historical knowledge. Within that argument, it seemed, was a slight queasiness regarding where historical fact merged with fiction and how the reading public could differentiate between the two. It must be said that the same queasiness affects historians when they regard their sources; how does the historian remain neutral when regarding the evidence? Is it possible to remain entirely neutral? Is it even possible for the historian to discover the past and write about it in a ‘realistic’ manner that is, in itself, not partly fictional?

After the conference end began our first ever ‘virtual conference’. The virtual Novel Approaches includes podcasts from History SPOT; book reviews from Reviews in History; bibliographies and online resource lists (compiled by the people behind BBIH) and a host of additional articles, materials and opinion pieces. The conference ran between Monday 21 November and Friday 25 November 2011 but the resource itself is there indefinitely. Indeed today we updated the site so that it will be a little easier to navigate. For those who registered for the virtual conference you should find in your email inbox a new Newsletter (issue 2) with information about upcoming events, some photographs from the conference, and a few other short articles. This and the previous Novel Approaches newsletter will be published on the virtual conference site in the new year so those of you who didn’t register won’t miss out.

Please do feel free to have a look at the Novel Approaches website, to contribute to the continuing discussion around these resources and make use of the site whether your interest is in academic history, historical fiction, or somewhere in-between.

And that’s all from me for another year.  I hope you all have a good Christmas or holiday break!  I’ll be back in the new year with more SPOT newsletters, podcasts, handbooks and live streams than Santa Claus could stuff into a sack!

Best wishes,

Matt

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Tomorrow around 4.30pm you’ll find me running around setting up audio equipment in preparation for the first part of the IHR’s Novel Approaches: from academic history to historical fiction conference.  The conference seeks to look at the intersection and relationship between the professions of academic history and historical fiction.  It should be a lot of fun!

I’ll also be there for the entire event taking notes.  Not because I think I could be a budding novelist in the waiting nor just because I find the topic fascinating.  No, this time I’ll be there because we are planning on doing something rather different with our podcasts. 

This coming Monday (21 November) we’ll open up our first ever virtual conference as a continuation of the two-day Novel Approaches event.  What is a virtual conference you might ask?  Well in this case at least it is an online site that continues our face-to-face conference well after it is finished.  At scheduled times each day we will publish podcasts from the conference, articles, book reviews, and opinion pieces.  We’re also planning on running a competition with some nice prizes on offer and will provide our ‘ultimate’ bibliography and list of relevant online resources.  All of this is free although I would encourage you to register so that you can enter the competition amongst other things.  

What do we hope to achieve through this virtual conference?  Well, for starters it’s not intended as a replacement for the actual conference.  How could it be?  However, we do want to continue and open up a discussion around the conference papers alongside various other resources.  We very much hope those going to the conference will take part and that those unable to join us in person will find our virtual conference almost as much fun and of just as much interest. 

The podcasts will of course still appear on History SPOT in due course (in fact we hope to also be able to provide some video content although that is very much an experiment and might not happen).       

So please do join us on Monday as we start with a conversation between novelist and historian (Hilary Mantel and David Loades) followed by a plenary talk by Alison Weir (plus of course much more!). 

Before then please also visit our IHR Digital blog where I have been (and will continue to do so throughout the next week and a bit) posting on the topic of A History of historical fiction.  I can’t (and won’t) say I’m an expert in this topic but I had fun researching the literature and learnt a lot along the way.  Hope you enjoy the results!

 

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Today History SPOT is one month old.  I can’t believe that it has been that long already.  Of course the platform is still in beta mode as we iron out some outstanding bugs and issues.  We still need to implement the search engine throughout the site and there are various theme issues still to be resolved.  For a while there was a minor issue with the log-in system which (I hope) has now been fully resolved.   However, we are rapidly heading towards a full launch which is fantastic news. 

In the meantime History SPOT is doing well.  In this one month period we have had 1,175 visits of whom have spent an average of 5 minutes on the site at any given time. 

Part of the point of History SPOT is to better achieve our mandate as a national and international institution by bringing our core activities to a wider audience.  So far we have had visits from (in order of most visitors to least) the United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Greece, Mexico, New Zealand. 

So far the least visited part of the site is the Collaborate section, however, to be fair this section is yet to be fully utilised in-house so hopefully in time that situation will begin to change.  I would, however, recommend spending a bit of time in the Collaborate section.  Creating a profile for yourself is easy and there is the opportunity to discuss seminars further in the Groups portion of the site as well as on the podcast pages themselves.   

The launch in September of course also coincided with the beginning of a new semester and thus we have been churning out seminar podcasts at the rate of about four a week (give or take).  These have so far ranged from a discussion on the freedom of information in relation to archives and libraries to sessions on London (specifically the Survey of London project and a discussion of the Bishop of London’s fund).  We have also had two talks on historiographical matters – specifically about the eighteenth century and Mexican Nationalism.  We have also added podcasts from this year’s Anglo-American conference on the topic of Health in History which can also be found on the ever popular i-Tunes U site. 

In two days time History SPOT will play host to our first live stream of the new semester; two sessions from a workshop on the topic of Locating London’s past: a geo-referencing tool for mapping historical and archaeological evidence, 1660-1800.  Last year the live streams were highly successful and fun to take part in and we therefore plan to do many more this year.  We also have plans to improve the service in the near future now that proof of concept has been validated (more on that when I can).

I’m rapidly working my way through this year’s seminar podcasts and a few stragglers from last year to post up as the focus for future SPOT Newsletters.  Please bear with me as I get back into a rhythm with these.  The launch of History SPOT alongside some exciting work connected to our upcoming November conference Novel Approaches: from academic history to historical fiction, is keeping me busy.  It is probably worth stating that there are still spaces available for that conference, which should be both interesting and fun.  I can’t think of many topics for historical conferences that quite inspire the imagination like one on the topic of historical fiction and its relationship to academic history.  So if you have not already done so please do have a look at our conference programme!

That’s all from me for now.  If anyone has any thoughts or comments on History SPOT that they would like to share please do so here (or on History SPOT itself).  All comments are very welcome especially at this early stage.

click the logo above to access History SPOT

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Another August day, more rain outside, and a new set of offices.  The recent IHR relocation has, in part, caused a short pause in my blog posting about History SPOT.  There are of course other reasons – largely based around the fact that not much happens in August when it comes to seminars and research training. 

I would like to say that I have a definite date for the launch of History SPOT for you, but we’re not quite there yet.  That said, we’ve almost passed the final big hurdle.  The single sign-on between the three systems that we are using (Drupal, Moodle, and Mahara) is now completed, although there is still some work to be done on the sign-off.  The toolbar on Mahara (which has caused us a little difficulty) is almost in place and a search engine now appears in the Drupal part of the website and should soon be implemented across the entire site.

Today I added the Asa Briggs: A Celebration podcasts to the History SPOT site.  Although these podcasts were already uploaded to the IHR History website a month ago I had yet to duplicate the effort.  They are now up with a little bit of additional content.  I’ll go into that more of course once the site is launched.  Whilst uploading I had a listen to one or two of them – it appears to me that Lord Briggs career provides an interesting lens for the development of the History profession in the 20th century.  I’ll write a post about it someday soon. 

I’m very much looking forward to the launch of History SPOT.  It’s been a long time coming!  Until then it would be great if you could have a look at some of our other recent activities.  In the last week IHR Digital has set up its own Facebook page which we hope will develop into a lively and interesting discussion of our activities.  The Rescript project (a platform for collaborative editing of historical texts online) is moving ahead at speed now.  Below is a link to that projects’ blog which contains fascinating insights into the texts already under their microscope.   The IHR Relocation Blog continues to be updated regularly and has most recently gained various photographs taken during the move (with more to come).  Finally, we have recently announced our winter conference.  This year we will be looking at the uneasy relationship between Historians/History and Historical Fiction writers/novels.  We are also hoping to have a larger online presence associated with this conference which I will be in a position to talk more about soon.

IHR Digital Facebook

Rescript Project Blog

IHR Relocation Blog

Novel Approaches Conference

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In addition, for those who might be wondering, the SPOT Newsletter will start again in September.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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