History and SFF: Oral History and Charlie Jane Anders’s THE CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

On April 15, 2020, Tor.com published the final installment of History and SFF, the column I have written for them since October last year. The column had two more planned installments to go, but Tor.com were forced to end it without those two posts being published because of cutbacks caused by the economic downturn in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I am currently looking for a home for at least one of the two remaining posts. So watch this space for updates!

In the meantime, please enjoy this post on how Charlie Jane Anders uses oral history and the intangible cultural heritage to tell the story of her amazing novel, The City in the Middle of the Night.

History and SFF: Oral History and Charlie Jane Anders’s THE CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

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Traditionally, history is the study of the human condition through written texts. But over the last half-century, historians have focused more and more attention on what is known as oral history, part of what UNESCO calls humanity’s “intangible cultural heritage.”

Protected by a UN resolution adopted in 2003, this intangible cultural heritage is considered more vulnerable than the cultural heritage consisting of monuments, locations, and buildings because the carriers of this heritage are human beings, and, as we know all too well, human beings are mortal. Oral history is part of this type of cultural heritage because if a people or culture dies out before their history has been recorded, vital information about the past will be irretrievably lost.

Thus, oral history is history before it is written down—as such, there are two ways of talking about the dissemination of oral history. On the one hand, oral history is the stories about the past of a group or people that are recounted, shared, and passed down the generations by word of mouth rather than being written down and distributed as texts. It is through a highly sophisticated use of oral history that the Aborigines of Australia have successfully maintained a cohesive civilization that is tens of thousands of years old.

On the other hand, oral history is the recording of the stories of others done by professional scholars, most often anthropologists. The purpose here is to capture the life stories of individuals whose unique experiences otherwise wouldn’t have been recorded. Here we find the various interview projects with Holocaust survivors and war veterans, for examples.

Both of these aspects of oral history can be found in Charlie Jane Anders’s novel The City in the Middle of the Night.

Please click here if you wish to read the post in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

How Plagues Can Shift Power Between the Haves and the Have-Nots

On April 10, 2020, The Daily Beast published my latest piece for them. What does the Black Death, HIV/AIDS, the House of Lords, and the gentrification of New York City have in common? Read and find out.

Enjoy.

How Plagues Can Shift the Power Between the Haves and the Have-Nots

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Photo by Mario Cuadros on Pexels.com

Singapore, March 1999. I was backpacking in southeast Asia, and my friend and I had just arrived in Singapore from Borneo. While on Borneo, we heard about a disease spreading uncontrollably in the rest of Malaysia, but it wasn’t until we reached Singapore that we realized the severity of the situation. Our plan was to cross the border between Singapore and Malaysia the next day. The problem was that some of the places where we’d planned to go were now out of reach because they had been placed under quarantine and martial law. And we couldn’t stay in Singapore; the illness was rapidly heading there as well. We needed to make a decision.

The epidemic in Malaysia in the fall of 1998 and the spring of 1999 was originally declared an outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis, a deadly zoonotic disease that spreads from pigs to humans with mosquitoes as the vector. But as the Malaysian government fought back against the outbreak, it became evident that what they were dealing with was not JE. Today we know that the epidemic in Malaysia was caused by a brand new virus, the lethal novel Nipah virus, first found in local fruit bats from where it moved on to pigs and from pigs to humans.

The Nipah virus might have been a novel virus, but the havoc it wreaked on Malaysian society was anything but new. Whenever an epidemic hits, the dynamics of that society are forever altered. Sometimes the effects are known immediately. Sometimes they take decades to manifest, even centuries.

Please click here to read the article in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

History and SFF: Footnotes in Fantasy Storytelling

On March 26, 2020, Tordotcom published the latest installment in the series History and SFF that I am writing for them.

Enjoy!

History and SFF: Footnotes in Fantasy Storytelling

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The key to a credible analysis of history is for historians to credit their sources. The most efficient way to do this is to add a footnote. A footnote, as all of you probably know, is a small, elevated number that is placed after information taken from another text. At the bottom of the page there is a corresponding number, and next to this second number the information about the source can be found. Here, historians sometimes also include commentary that is not immediately relevant to the discussion, but needs to be said to make sure that all flanks are covered.

We historians spend a lot of time getting our footnotes right before we send a book or article off to being published. It’s painstaking and pedantic work—but love them or hate them, footnotes are crucial for scientific rigor and transparency.

Footnotes can be found in SFF, as well. But where historians use footnotes to clarify or to add additional helpful commentary, fiction authors have the freedom to use them to obfuscate and complicate their story in intriguing ways. Let’s look at a couple of examples…

Click here to read the entire post.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

To See the Antisemitism of Medieval Bestiaries, Look for the Owl

On March 24, 2020, I published my first piece for Aeon Magazine. I am genuinely happy about how this piece turned out. It might be my best piece of writing so far, if I may so myself. A big thank you to Pamela Weintraub, the editor who I worked with for helping me unlock it.

Enjoy!

To See the Antisemitism of Medieval Bestiaries, Look for the Owl.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The owl watches you from the raised seat on the medieval misericord in Norwich Cathedral in the east of England. Surrounding the owl are birds with feathers like the scales of a pangolin. The birds are focused on the owl. The owl pays them no mind.

The motif of this scene would have been familiar to the woodcarver who made it and to the abbey monks who leaned against it during the long hours of Mass. But the associations the people of the Middle Ages made when they saw the scene on the misericord seat were different from how we would interpret it today.

Please click here to read the rest of the article.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

I was interviewed for Condé Nast Traveler

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One of the things you can do while working from home during this pandemic is to say yes to a request for an interview with Condé Nast Traveler about tourist destinations and amusement parks closing down because of the corona virus.

If you wish to read the article, please click here. Enjoy!

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.