Jilara (jilara) wrote,

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The Problem with History

The problem with so much of what is presented as alleged history its total crap. It's a good story, a lot of the time, but has nothing to do with what actually happened. The role of the historian *should be* to excavate back to find the most likely interpretation of what actually happened, but often, then just come up with more crap. The moment something has happened, the stories start appearing. Often, they've disappeared into the haze of romance before even a decade has gone past. Out of living memory, they become mythology.

I am writing fiction, dammit, but I like to do good research if I'm doing historical fiction. I have a debt to history. A lot of authors don't feel that responsibility. I can't write about anything unless I can live and breath it, even if it's a parallel history. I get back to who people really were, read primary accounts, as close to source documentation as possible. It's a combination of research in original sources and detective work. And my background in living history makes things really, really different. But all the time, I find things presented as history that are more mythos and fiction than what I'm writing as alternative history.

Today, I found a big piece of crap about Ann Hockley, whom I have become intrigued with, as I keep finding bits and pieces of her life that are far different from what I expect from a woman of the 1770's. She was married to one of the characters in the book I am working on.

Well, I found something from a book on women of the Revolution. Oh please. It had a mention of her eloquent letter to Congress, but then it came up with a piece of complete romance novel hokum that purported to be from the Philadelphia Register. Ooh, we meet Captain Conyngham when her ship is taken by The Revenge, and she meets this dashing young privateer. It was enough to fuel a bad historical romance, and we shall spare the details. Big problem. Conyngham didn't even captain the Revenge until 1778, and they were married in Pennsylvania in 1773, and had two children by the timeframe set for their first meeting. Let's just say that the inaccuracies of this romantic account were...high and deep.

One of the nice things about working on this book is I am given the opportunity to tell the real stories of some remarkable people, or at least a lot closer to the truth, having excavated them out of mythology. Fireball MacNamara, most of whose life has been mythologized, is another one. He was remarkable enough in his real incarnation, but he has been turned into an amalgam character by history, and his real accomplishments have been forgotten.

I constantly find myself knowing the history no one knows. I mention the serial killing at a historic site I'm reenacting at, and find none of the docents have ever heard of it, though it was notorious in the annals of Early California. Likewise, at some sites, people don't even know who the nearest neighbors of the inhabitants were. I can produce names and often photos, not just of them, but of their houses. I know what they did in their spare time, even. Maybe I'm just strange, thinking all this matters.

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