Monday, August 8, 2011

Mentor Monday--Writing History

The Write Sisters have been writing history in the America's Notable Women series profiles that we have worked on. Researching the women and their historical context has been fascinating. Condensing everything into approximately 550 words has not been as much fun. There's always been the conundrum of making the profiles readable for a 4th grade audience, while still including the relevant facts about each individual. So much is involved in writing history that it's a wonder that there are so few writing how-tos on the subject.

A few weeks ago, American Historical Association's blog released a round-up of "The Art of History" series of articles from the Association's journal Perspectives on History. The series has been delving into history writing as an art. Although written for historians, the articles have relevance for children's writers since we also do research, and we write for a particular audience.

I'd particularly like to recommend one article, "The Poetics of History from Below" by Marcus Rediker. In it, Rediker talks about his grandfather who although not a professional historian, was "a master storyteller." Rediker says of his grandfather,
His stories were vivid, complex, passionate, and somehow always practical. They featured apocalyptic Biblical language (a lot of hell-fire), long silences (with fateful stares), and curse words that were normally forbidden in our house (son-of-a-bitchin’ this and that). He always managed to tell a big story within a little story.

And this, my friends, is the key to writing history, or even science for that matter--be a masterful storyteller! Of course, you can't use "curse words" in books that kids will be reading in elementary school, but you can use colorful and musical language. Practice the craft of storytelling and you will certainly be on your way to creating the art of history.

Read a few of the other articles mentioned in the round-up. Despite not being a historian, I found most of the ones I read to be of interest, if not of practical use.



Andy said...

I must check this out. Thanks, Diane!

Mur said...

Thanks for the info on the blog, Diane. I'll be reading it soon.

Barbara said...

Interesting site with lots to think about.

I'm Jet . . . said...

Fabulous, D!