Saturday, November 17, 2012

Using Primary Sources and Joining the Correct Critique Group: Saturday Links

I've been up at the hospital all week with my son (fourth visit in six months), which means not as much computer time as at home. When he's awake, my laptop must be used for watching Shaun the Sheep, and when he's sleeping, I should be sleeping too--since we'll be woken up every couple hours for vital signs, antibiotics, or blood draws. Despite the dearth of Internet browsing, there were still a few articles that caught my eye this week.

One was Kim Rendfeld's post asking, "What if long ago letters were part of high school history classes?" Primary sources are a subject near and dear to my heart. When I taught history for junior high and high school, we read a couple primary source excerpts a week, and many of their books for the class were primary sources (Joinville's history of the Crusades, William Bradford's Plymouth Plantation, the Diary of Anne Frank).

Primary sources can bring a period to life in a way that memorizing names and dates cannot, but they are also especially important for teaching the concept of inescapable bias. By reading contradictory primary sources, students can learn that how you decide to tell a story and what facts you decide to include, will paint an entirely different picture than someone else recording the same event. For the history student, reading and evaluating primary sources has the same importance as performing lab experiments does for the science student.

Another post that caught my eye was Teralyn Rose Pilgrim's article on critique groups. They work best, she says, when they're in your own genre. She relates her experience of working with writers--good ones--who happened to have no background in history or historical fiction. They wanted her to add lots of explanatory text which ended up bogging down her story instead of helping it.

I tend to agree with Teralyn on this one--it's hard to get a good critique from someone who's not familiar with historical fiction. It's a bit like getting a critique on a cookbook from someone who doesn't cook.

Which reminds me, I need to get on the ball and submit my membership to the Historical Novel Society. They're kicking around the idea of starting a Pacific Northwest chapter, and if that happens, I'd love to be involved in the meetings.

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