Literary as History


Very troubling today are academically-trained historians who rigidly view and write about the past through the lens of the present, and judge the people of that time without understanding the mores, traditions and daily realities which motivated them.  In short, that rigid view holds that “as they are not like us today they are backward, ignorant and unworthy of respect.” Often untrained in literary skills and depending too much on bald statistics, they add little or nothing to our understanding of history or the enjoyment of reading it.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


Literary as History:

“The relation of Literature to History is two-fold – History is the Record of Events – and it is for the man of letters to compile that record. Since it is impossible to relate everything that happens, he must select those incidents which are most momentous, most characteristic of the time, most instructive, to posterity.

He must set them forth not only with accuracy and clearness, but also in such a way as to fix the attention and penetrate the minds of his readers. For these purposes literary skill is needed. Accordingly the writing of History is a branch of Literature, and the man who is to do justice to his theme needs to have studied the art of arrangement and that art of expression which are the two capacities which go to making good literature.  But the connection I have referred to has another side also.

The literature produced in any age is part of the history of that age, and in some ways the most important part.  To understand any nation at any epoch in its career you must know not only the events that were passing but also the thoughts and feelings and beliefs of those who lived among and whose action caused those events.

Its mind and soul are more fully and more freshly and directly expressed through its intellectual creations, such as poems, speeches, sermons, letters, treatises, pamphlets, and so-forth, than through its institutions and its laws; for laws and institutions of the Present.  Through the thinkers and writers of the age we get a direct and familiar knowledge which the mere chronicle of events does not provide.”

(Tenth Annual Meeting of State Literary & Historical Association, Nov. 4, 1909, Compiled by Clarence Poe, Mutual Publishing, 1909, page 71)