History Writers' Corner?

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by Chris C, May 9, 2019.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Does anyone know of a website where history writers can talk with each other about the process & craft of writing history?

    And/or would there be value in such a section (writing WW2 history) here?

    Just a thought... as I realize that I need to set up a spreadsheet to keep track of the information from 3-4 different war diaries for September 1944. o_O
    Lindele, Waddell, Tolbooth and 2 others like this.
  2. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    Nice question. Never thought of it, but would be interested!
    Chris C likes this.
  3. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi Chris,

    I'd be very interested in contributing and asking questions/favours/advice, etc.

    I'm currently reading a book by Martin Gilbert (official biographer of Winston Churchill) called "In Search of Churchill" in which he describes the immense research and teamwork that went into the production of each of the multi-volume biography. He talks about (and this was long before spreadsheets) organising all the information that Churchill would have seen each day (both incoming and the letters/minutes/memoranda/phone calls) in chronological order (all typed out in long hand by an able team of typists) and then using that as a framework on which to hang his writing. I'm thinking that this level of support is probably out of reach for most of us here on WW2Talk but if anyone is hiding a research team in their basement can they let us all know! As well as describing the nuts and bolts of his work method, Gilbert's book is a great read as he describes stumbling across unpublished archives and letters and being passed on from one interviewee to the next over glasses of champagne and Dundee cake!

    The other book that I would recommend to any military historian is 'Salamanca 1812' by Rory Muir which includes his commentary on the way he dealt with conflicting sources to produce a "best-fit" narrative for the events of the battle, whilst retaining a sense of how conflicted the sources actually are (and that includes the actual lay of the land which he tramped over himself).

    My other suggestion would be to read some primary sources and see what questions they raise - why did x decide to do y, and why did x Corps appear not to use all their available forces on y day, etc, etc. Then go and delve into more sources to see what they tell you; if you are interested in the answers, then I expect your readers will want to find out too.

    A great start would be to identify the locations of key archives and how best to access them.


    Chris C likes this.
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Chris C likes this.
  5. idler

    idler GeneralList

  6. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Interesting stuff and from the "likes" there are others interested too!

    Aside from research methods... Well, consider this: authors of novels can go to writing workshops where they can get advice from each other and more experienced authors running the workshop. Even if that isn't possible for us, I think we probably all have insights to share and can help each other out. :) I will post something about what I'm working on and tag it, I guess? Or I could just reply here.
    Waddell likes this.
  7. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Interesting idea. I've had an idea kicking around in my head for a while now regarding a book but I have little idea how to go about crafting one.
    Chris C likes this.
  8. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    Hello Chris

    You have Open University and so on, so probably you can find from net a methodology handbook or something like that. A couple years ago I find one in Finnish. I got my MA in History 30+ ago and when my wife began study cultural history in our “Open University” a few years ago and asked me some questions about methodology and I began to suspect that some technical aspects had changed since I graduated I searched and found an update methodology handbook in Finnish from net. 144 pages, but last 17 is on grammar. Most probably there are in net several in English.

    Chris C likes this.
  9. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi Chris,

    The other thing I do in search of inspiration is to collect some of the remarks made by historians who I admire and which explain what they are trying to achieve in their various books. This is the kind of thing I mean:

    David Reynolds 'Britannia Overruled: British Policy and World Power in the 20th Century':

    '...I try to do justice to two central but distinct tasks of the historian. One is to analyse, with the benefit of hindsight, the long sweep of events - discerning patterns and demonstrating how we got from one point to another. But the danger of hindsight is that it may encourage a sense of inevitability: what happened seems the only thing that could have happened. The historian must therefore also recapture the openness of events, reminding self and readers that events now long in the past were once in the future, and seeing them as they were seen at the time.'

    I think the latter point is one that many [popular-] historians in particular lose sight of.


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  10. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    All interesting stuff... we don't have a central Open University here in Canada, just individual institutions offering distance courses. A methodology book could certainly help me if I can pick one, but I'm also just interested in the actual writing of prose, which I assume that doesn't cover. And also, dare I say it, community? Writing is a solitary thing, though so is research, and we have community right here.

    Jonathan, do you feel like talking about your idea? :)
  11. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  12. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    I remember seeing this interview with Antony Beevor a while ago about writing military history.

    Might be worth searching on YouTube for other stuff.
  13. idler

    idler GeneralList

    They say fiction writers should 'write what they know'. Perhaps with history it could be 'write what you'd read'. It's likely to be a hard slog so trying to satisfy someone else's ideas of what your book should be can only make it harder.
    Tom OBrien and Chris C like this.
  14. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Moved this thread to 'Historiography'.
    Pinned it.

    Seems the right area, so that'll do for now I think.
  15. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    The main benefit of doing a few subjects in modern history through an open university provider are that you learn to develop and state your arguments very clearly and tighten up your writing to keep within word limits.

    Drawbacks are having to write academically and there is a strong emphasis on argument as opposed to descriptive history.

    There are also online discussions within the classes which can be helpful in discussing ideas.

    Last edited: May 11, 2019
  16. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Yeah, that really wasn't what I wanted, but it seems to be what everyone interpreted it as. I guess I failed to express myself accurately.
    Last edited: May 11, 2019
  17. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Chris C likes this.
  18. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    I got to the bit about income vs expenses and just laughed :) I guess it wouldn't be so bad if one was writing an ordinary WW2 history book with maybe a few pages of photos, but I'm going to have a lot more than that and ... well, the Tank Museum coffers are going to be fuller, is what I'm saying.

    And I expect to lose money on this book. Not on the printed books per se, but all the expenses will outweigh the income. There's something we could talk about specifically re WW2 history books...
  19. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    I think these (see attachments) might be of interest. Please let me know what you make of it...

    Attached Files:

    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  20. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    To which I should add...
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