Do you think that historical fiction is an effective way to teach and learn history?  Do you think that historical fiction is an effective way to teach and learn history?  

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think historical fiction can be the difference between a student enjoying history or not.  I'm not an avid history buff (I do not hate the subject but would never teach it) but I found myself loving my history classes in college because my professors could stand up in front of the class and tell it just like a story for 90 minutes.  It was difficult NOT to remember facts and details when they were presented in the form of a story.  So I agree with the above post - that historical fiction is a great way to learn history.  For someone like me, who loves to read, hear and tell stories, historical fiction fits perfectly.

I agree too that it would be more time consuming on the preparation end, for a teacher to use historical fiction - but I disagree with the final statement that it would not be an effective way to teach (presumably history).  At the elementary school level, where science and social studies have been narrowed down in some districts to maybe being taught part time (if at all) because of the emphasis on NCLB end of course tests - I cannot imagine a better integration of two subjects than history (social studies) and language arts.  I personally think novels are the best way to study literature (I cannot stand literature/language arts text books - with snippets here and there from several masterpieces.)  Why not throw out the language arts text book and integrate historical fiction or even historical non-fiction in order to teach reading and writing skills.

One of the number one questions I hear as an English teacher (mostly with students who try to have a negative attitude with anything concerning school) is "Why do we have to read all these dumb stories that didn't even happen?"  Well, if it is historical fiction, there's a perfect answer right there.  "Oh this?  This DID happen.  It was real.  And because of this event, your life is different than it would have been..."

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In concurrence with the observations of those experienced in the field, reading historical fiction rarely, if ever, provides the student with accurate information.  However, literature often provides the human touch to events and does, indeed, make certain historical events come alive through the use of character and dialogue.  So, for the reluctant student of history, reading a historical romance, for instance, may ignite more interest in a particular period in history.  But, in agreement with a previous post, the novel needs historical fact to dominate the narrative.  Such a novel as A Tale of Two Cities may ignite interest in the student, but there is little in the narrative that teaches historical fact; rather, there is more historical feeling.

In addition, historical fiction often provides insight into the personality of a figure from important time periods or occurrences.  For instance, Irving Stone's novel The Origin, is an interesting account of Darwin's personal life that so contributed to his work.  Likewise, Tolstoy's War and Peace, set during the Napoleonic Wars, provides the readers with insight into the lives of the Russians at that time, as well as a detailed philosophy of history from Tolstoy which takes up nearly the last two hundred pages.  For lovers  of literature, historical romances make historical events seem more real, more genuinely human in their causes and consequences.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000182 EndHTML:0000004240 StartFragment:0000002558 EndFragment:0000004204 SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/akannan/Desktop/Historical%20Knowledge.doc I do believe that historical fiction is an effective means to learn history.  I think that in order to advocate this, one has to embrace the idea that there are different tools for different jobs and that learning is, by definition, multi and interdisciplinary.  In accepting this, I believe that there is a greater sense of intellectual gain when being able to merge history and literature in understanding both disciplines.  For example, reading Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” is a great way to understand the history of Partition and the formation of India.  In reading, “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” Yolen gives a wonderful and eloquent portrait of the pain of the Holocaust.  In both works, the world of history is opened through literature, and allows historical inquiry to be commenced through reading.  It should be noted that historical fiction needs both a literary focus as well as a historical one.  Teachers and students cannot sacrifice one over the other.  In reaching a wider audience, the humanities ends up become a multidisciplinary venture in which multiple lenses of analyses are incorporated into better understanding both text and historical reality.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion (as a history teacher and a lover of historical fiction) historical fiction is a good way to learn history but not a good way to teach it.

The reason I say this is that learning through historical fiction requires a great deal of time to be spent without learning very much as a result of all the time spent.  If you read a whole novel (which kids don't tend to do very quickly) you might learn a bit about the history of a given time period.  The time period might "come alive" for you a bit more.  But you would not learn the same amount as you would if you spent the same amount of time and effort on reading a textbook.

I also think that a person can learn more from historical fiction if they already know a lot about the time period.  That way, the fiction can build on things they already know.  Again, this is not the case for most students.

So I think I learn a lot from reading historical fiction.  However, I would not (and do not) think that assigning historical fiction is an effective way to teach.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the major problems with the way history is taught, particularly in high school and middle school, is the idea that it is a discipline filled with facts, rather than the idea that it is based on various people's interpretations of what happened.

Because of this, historical fiction can be a useful tool as it tends to bring out a more nuanced look at the events of a certain time period or person or group, but it leaves the door open for questions about why certain things happened or who gets to tell the story of how things happened.

Historical fiction might include things that also get left out of main-stream history classes, like pilgrims that desperately wanted to go and join the Indians but were prevented by the leaders terrified that they would lose control over the groups of people they led here from elswhere.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I enjoy historical fiction as a method of seeing history as context, but I would probably not use it as anything but enrichment to the study of history.  What's great about historical fiction is that it gives life to historical events.  That can be just as easily done, many times, by true historical figures in their own words (as pointed out above).  Real people telling real stories in history is much more accurate, though admittedly not always as entertaining, as reading a fictional account.  I don't teach history, but I think I could.  My goal would be to tell history in terms of connected stories and narratives. History works in American lit when I use John Smith's journal or Sojourner Truth's speech; literature can work in history the same way. 

martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think historical fiction is a great way to learn history especially if the fiction is mostly fact.  As a teacher of history I have to be careful that any historical fiction is historically correct.  If not, then students will most likely learn information that is not true.  History is a story anyways.  If told the right way it will be fascinating whether it is historical fiction or not.  One of the best ways to use historical fiction is in collaboration with the English Language Arts or Literature teacher.  The ELA or Lit teacher can be teaching an historical fiction novel while the history teacher is teaching the history of that era.  Students then can find for themselves any incorrect history in the novel.

hustoncmk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I feel that historical fiction is a great supplemental resource when teaching history. I would have the students compare and contrast details from the fiction pieces with nonfiction resources and textbooks for the same time peiod.  The students were able to get a much more thorough perspective of the time period being studied.  I also had them compare the nonfiction pieces with each other and find common facts and discrepancies. I actually have used the movie Spirit with students in elemenatry school through AP US history students.  I had them watch the movie, then afterwards, they had to write an essay using the movie and at least three other resources explaining whether they felt the west was won or lost.

sboeman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thanks, Clairewait, for pointing out the wonderful connection between social studies and literature.  As an English teacher, I get quite a few requests from our social studies teachers asking about passages, short stories, poems, etc.  that highlight or emphasize the real-life stories of historical moments.  What better way to teach French history than to play some wonderful songs from Les Miserables?  Or, as a previous post mentioned, read some slave narratives when teaching the Civil War-there are numerous possibilities.  Yes, the novel might not be filled with facts and dates, but students will be able to better understand the impact these events had on the people who experienced them.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Historical fiction, can if well-researched, present the human experience in terms of feeling and emotion.  This is not something that you can get from facts.

I respect the recorded slave narratives because the Library of Congress now has a resource that has actual recorded first person perspectives.

I believe if historical fiction is strongly based on primary source documents, then it might be an effective approach at inferring the feelings of the people of a period. However, I would think also that an effective teacher would expect students to find evidence in primary source documents that support or oppose a historical fiction author's perspective.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do think historical fiction is an effective way to teach the subject of history.  That being said, the term historical fiction is pretty loosely defined, sometimes leaning much more towards fiction than history.  For my US History students, I use Fools Crow by James Welch, which I consider to be both authentic and very readable.  Kids find it interesting, and it is a valuable resource for giving them the historical perspective of native peoples and their religion, culture, and eventual subjugation.

etjones | Student

For those of you who are world history teachers, what short stories have you used that fit with the study of different time periods or events?  For example, Alphonse Daudet's story "The Last Class" fits with the Franco-Prussian War and the fact that Alsace kept changing hands.