Friday, October 30, 2009

Historical Fiction

This week’s class discussion focused on “microhistory”, defined as looking at one individual’s life to study history. Our reading, Leo Africanus, is the This is nearly the opposite of what we have been doing until now. We are no longer looking at the world system as a whole, but one man’s experiences while traveling. The individual approach for studying history must be approached cautiously however, as one man’s experiences can only be generalized so far. A “great man’s” actions may affect thousands of people, or most of society, but he is still only one man. Using only a microhistory perspective can add rich detail to a historical study, but it must be used in combination with a more overarching survey.

The style of Leo Africanus particularly relates to historical perspective. The book is written as a fictional memoir of the life of a real man. Some of the events are very close to historical fact, while others are completely fabricated in order to tell a good story. And while the fabricated parts may be historically relevant, and based in fact, we must remember that not everything in the book actually happened. This book can help us put a more human face on the Middle Ages, but it is still a second hand, and fictionalized account.

I also reflected on how much liberty Maalouf can take while maintaining a historically accurate story. Everything in the book, all of the characters Leo Africanus encounters, and all of his experiences are realistic, but not all of them actually happened. The book may not be reliable as a textbook, but reading it is still worthwhile, yet I wonder, how much Maalouf can fabricate before the book is no longer worth considering a historical text and becomes a novel for enjoyment only.

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