Learning From History

Learning From History

“You can either run from it or learn from it.”

Rafiki in The Lion King

History is a tricky beast. Some say we should just forget it, hakuna matata, and all that. Others say that if we simply ignore it, we’ll never learn from it.

As an historical fiction author, I land firmly in that second camp. I believe history is made up of some of the most important stories we can ever tell our children.

Historical fiction in particular gives us the opportunity of examining history while reminding ourselves that these were real people experiencing the same things we do today. Their clothes may look different, they may have used slightly different language, but in the end, they were breathing, living human beings just like we are, and suffered from the same worries, fears, and wonderings as we do.

As Connie Willis writes in To Say Nothing of the Dog: “It is a temporal universal that people never appreciate their own time, especially transportation. Twentieth-century contemps complained about cancelled flights and gasoline prices, eighteenth-century contemps complained about muddy roads and highwaymen. No doubt Professor Peddick’s Greeks complained about recalcitrant horses and chariot wheels falling off.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from my favorite book. (To hear more, check out my interview with Jayne on the Tales with De Sales podcast, where we discussed this topic at length.)

I believe one of the beauties of historical fiction is that, because it’s history retold as a story, we often see themes and lessons we wouldn’t see in a story set in our own time period because we take for granted our current day. And because history is full of cycles, and there is nothing new under the sun, we can learn from the past.

As August Wilhelm von Schlegel said, “Historians are prophets looking backward.”

The musical Hamilton I think is an excellent example of the power of historical fiction. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda was not afraid to take an historical fiction look at the rather tempestuous events that made up Alexander Hamilton’s life, the man has become almost as well-known as Washington to modern audiences. Through Miranda’s songs and script, we are reminded that history is made up of different perspectives.

One of my favorite songs is “Satisfied,” where they literally rewind the events we’ve just witnessed and retell them from another person’s perspective. The entire musical is about exactly this. That history’s import lies in its varied perspectives, which means we should never be satisfied with the way we’ve learned it.

Dave Barry says, “After you’ve heard two eyewitness accounts of an accident, it makes you wonder about history.”

History is made up of stories, and part of what that means is that it’s going to be biased, no matter what. Stories are biased, and history, as Jim Butcher once put it, “is like a big, long soap opera that they needed a better writer for.”

I am that writer. I am one of many.

Historical fiction allows for a new perspective, one that takes us on a journey. Our perception of the past impacts our future. How we think of history changes how we think the pendulum of the future should swing.

We can learn from history. Why don’t we?


Be sure to search my website to learn more about my writing and how history inspires my books. You can also follow me on FacebookInstagramYouTube, or Goodreads—while you’re over there, be sure to follow my author profile and add Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Taker to your Want to Read List. Following an author ensures you’ll be the first to hear when a new book is released or a giveaway is happening!

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Thank you so much for reading!

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