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.

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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…

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

The Great Man Theory and Historical Change in SFF

On November 18, 2019, I published the following article on Tor.com. This article is Part 2 in the series I am writing for them called History and SFF. I am really happy about this post because I have wanted to write about how Wesley Chu uses history in his Tao trilogy ever since I first read it. The fact that Chu tweeted that he was happy with this article makes it even better.

The Great Man Theory and Historical Change in SFF.

The Great Man Theory and Historical Change in SFF | Tordcotcom | The Boomerang

The question of what factors drive historical change has intrigued historians from the very beginning, when the earliest scholars first turned their attention to studying and interpreting the past. To find the answer(s) to this key question, historians make use of social science theories. These theories help make sense of the inherent contradictions found in human behavior and human society.

For example, there is the theory…

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

History and SFF Storytelling: A New Monthly Column

On October 15, 2019, Tor.com published the following post, announcing the launch of  the column I will be writing for them. I am really excited about this column. Not only because it’s about history and the historian’s craft, but because I have been wanting to work with Tor.com for a long time.

Enjoy!

History and SFF Storytelling: A New Monthly Column.

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Welcome to Tor.com’s new column on History and SFF!

My name is Erika Harlitz-Kern, and I will be your guide during the coming months in discussing the ways that history is used in fantasy and science fiction. But don’t worry—I won’t be dissecting your favorite story digging for historical inaccuracies and judging its entertainment value based on what I find… The purpose of this column is to take a look at how authors of SFF novels and novellas—with a focus on more recent works, published after the year 2000—use the tools of the trade of historians to tell their stories.

When any scholar does research, they use a set of discipline-specific tools to make…

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

I’m on Goodreads

Last year I took the plunge and joined Goodreads. I’ve been searching for a way to keep track of my readings as well as writing short reviews, since I’ve noticed that doing both of these things helps me retain what I read to a higher degree. I’ve tried keeping book journals, writing about books here on The Boomerang, tweeting about books I’ve read, but nothing seemed to work out in the long run.

I joined Goodreads in July last year, and so far, it seems to be working out well. If you’d like to follow me on Goodreads, you can find me there under my full name.

Here’s a sample of the books I’ve read and reviewed on Goodreads. Hopefully it will help you find some new books and authors to read. Either way, I hope you enjoy the reviews.

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti: Home.

Eric Idle, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. A Sortabiography.

Brian McClellan, Promise of Blood.

Aeschylus, Oresteia.

J.Y. Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven.

Eve MacDonald, Hannibal. A Hellenistic Life.

Myke Cole, The Queen of Crows.

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