"Historical fiction" is an umbrella term, generally comprising fiction set in the past, such as Sir Walter Scott's Waverley, which he published in 1814. Waverley is not set in Scott's present, but fictionalizes the last Jacobite uprising in 1745. It has therefore a historical topic. More recent examples are Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth or William Boyd's An Ice-Cream War.
Georg Lukács' influential study The Historical Novel demands a "concrete depiction of history as history" as a basic feature of the genre of the historical novel, i.e. authors of historical novels are not to recount the sequence of historical events, but to represent the motivations, feelings and characters of the persons who figured prominently in those events, as accurately as possible.
Lukács notion of the historical novel is therefore mimetic, in the sense of an imitative reconstruction of the historical past.
The changing perception of history as philosophy of history takes models of individual memory as a starting point for research and emphasizes the transformation and reconstruction of the historical source in the processs of its reception by the historian.
Linda Hutcheon defines a new subgenre within the historical novel that takes the changing practices of traditional historiography into account – the historiographic metafiction.
While the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott were still firmly grounded in the belief in an objective historical science, in postmodernist novels, history is constituted by the individual. Totalitarian modes of presentation are replaced by the realization that the past can only be accessed through the stories we tell about it.