Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Getting balance (and interest) in New England's history

I have just finished Keith Leopold's memoirs on his student days, part in Armidale, part in Sydney. Today I rushed through John Bach's A Maritime History of Australia

So much to write about, but I am trying to limit myself to 100,000 words in my history of New England. More and more I am becoming fascinated, obsessive, about what to include, what to leave out, how to tell the story.

I was talking to eldest yesterday after a politics lecture. She did not fully understand the difference between the states and territories. It was the ACT gay marriage saga that bought this alive. She commented in passing just how boring she had found Australian history at school.

Boring? It's fascinating. So how, then, have we killed it?

The answer, I think, lies in the fact that we try to tell kids what they should know rather then telling a story. I am not talking just about narrative history here. All history involves stories.

New England's story is a fascinating one. But how to write it so that it is accessible to all?

History has to have framework and facts. It must be as accurate as possible and testable by other researchers. Yet, despite this, the best history should draw the reader into the story.

I think that people and examples are central to this. Each section of the narrative should build, creating a world that sweeps the reader along.

At one level this may sound a contradiction, for I am saying that the reader should be grasped, absorbed. If you are absorbed, how then can you be objective?

I think that objectivity and test comes later. The literary value of the work, and history is or should be literature, stands alone.

I know that in a sense I am setting myself up to fail because the absolute benchmark created cannot be met. But, surely, isn't it a good thing to aim high?  

No comments: