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Saturday morning with coffee in hand I sat down with the business section of The New York Times – my husband had the front section. Nothing much to read except a story on how Trump’s tariffs will affect farmers and I’m so weary of all that. Flipping further I came to an obituary for historian Hayden White.

I paused. Like most of you, I’ve never heard of Hayden White but the caption beneath his photo said “He argued that historical meaning is imposed on historical facts by ’emplotment’, or choices in storytelling.” Hmmm.

A few more statements stood out for me.

The historian serves no one well by constructing a specious continuity between the present world and that which preceded it … On the contrary, we require a history that will educate us to discontinuity more than ever before; for discontinuity, disruption and chaos is our lot.

Well, I can certainly agree that we’re living amongst discontinuity, disruption and chaos!

Apparently some of Hayden White’s ideas were shunned by many of his fellow historians, most particularly the idea that “all stories are fictions” according to Robert Doran a professor at University of Rochester.

White held that while historical facts are scientifically verified, stories are not … historical meaning is imposed on historical facts by means of the choice of plot-type, and this choice is inevitably ethical and political at bottom.

Here’s another notion that appeals to me:

history is a living, breathing entity shaped by those who write it, not merely a dry examination of dusty artifacts.

I feel a sudden loosening of the bonds restricting the historical novels I write and a sense that even my stories can add to our living, breathing history.

You can read the entire obituary here. And more about Hayden White’s life here.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.