Coursera, Historical Fiction
I am currently mid-stream in a course called Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction, with Professor Bruce Holsinger our teacher (hosted by the University of Virginia).
I have enjoyed video lectures by Professor Holsinger, plus tutorial guest appearances by a number of historical fiction writers — more to come.
Our major assignment for the course is described as:
The Historical Archive Assignment
According to the official definition provided by the United States Library of Congress, “Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience.” Practically all authors of historical fiction rely on primary sources to provide details of setting, character, language, or event at some point in their writing.
For this assignment you will identify, describe, and discuss a primary historical source that is new to you and that you found either in an on-line archive or at a bricks-and-mortar archive in your geographical location. Once you have chosen your primary source, you will be asked to write a short and simple essay addressing questions such as the following: What is your primary source, and in what archive did you find it? How did you locate your primary source, and why did it catch your eye? What in particular interests you about it? Can you imagine a piece of historical fiction inspired by your primary source? If so, what would the story be, and how would your primary source figure into the narrative? You are encouraged to be as creative as you’d like with this assignment!
And here is my submission:
A Widow in 1890’s Haliburton Highlands
Primary source 1: The Minden Hills Museum & Pioneer Village
As described on the web pages, “The Minden Hills Museum & Pioneer Village has been preserving our local heritage and bringing history to life for all ages since 1984.”
Primary source 2: Haliburton Highlands Museum and Pioneer Village
“Telling the story of us all,” is the summary of this web and re-assembled site of village buildings.
Both sites have original 19th C. buildings moved and re-assembled at their new sites, in the form of tiny villages. They are open to the public during seasonable weather. My home is an easy half-hour drive to view either village replica of buildings and collections.
Once inside each building, you can examine artifacts of furniture, clothing, cooking facilities, books, tools, for example — all of the items and buildings that our ancestors in the Highlands used during the course of their daily lives, beautifully preserved and described. Between the two ‘villages’, there is a school house, a church, several homes, a smithy (still working today), barns, a bank and various out buildings typical for the time periods of mid to late 1800’s, in this area.
My great grandmother (Angelina Puffer, n. Baker), according to family lore, travelled by train and coach between Chicago Illinois and Haliburton to give birth to her three children. After she was widowed, she returned to live in the Highlands.
Today as primary historical sources, I can consult the web sites, or visit either of the above sites to see buildings and items Angelina might have used herself, certainly would have considered common useful tools and artifacts in her life.
My great grandmother’s story as a model, lends itself to an historical fiction. The existence of both web sites and re-assembled villages, provides excellent primary history sources, which would allow me to create a vivid and accurate setting and props for the historical fiction story’s unfolding, the trials and journeys of a widowed woman in the 1890’s Haliburton Highlands.