History from the Bard, or from the Scholar?
In most languages, “history” and “story” are the same word. In the English-speaking world we make a distinction.
- “Story” denotes fiction. A tale that is fabricated.
- “True story” suggests the tale is true, despite its fantastical appearance.
- “Facts” are verifiable accounts that must be accurate.
- “History” is a synthesis of “facts” and “true stories” that constitute an official truth, providing a universal accepted basis for culture.
But we lost something along the way. The role of historian has been passed from bard to academic. From artist to bureaucrat. The result is a compartmentalization of culture to specialists and scientists. This is an important job. These specialists are bound by code of conduct and methodology that respects the subject matter. But what happened to the bards? Academics do a thorough job of documenting, archiving and preserving that is essential to the analysis of history. This job was once in the hands of artists, whose interpretations of oral tradition served in turn as primary sources for academics. But the motivations were different. While historians seek facts, storytellers sought to compel the essence of these stories. For them, morality and identity were fueled by drama. Facts were expendable in the service of intrigue. Dates and places were irrelevant. History was about how decisions were made, and how passions drove action.
In the following podcast, the historian meets the bard. World War Two was an event that has shaped the modern world. One that deserves attention to detail, requires factual accountability but must be handled with care. Newly released on itunes, The Story Engine takes a new approach to history, it puts it back in the hands of the storyteller. Spinning dusty volumes into yarn. In this two-part story of the showdown between Hitler and Stalin, every word refers to an actual event in the war, while the imagery is fantastical. A mixture of Gothic prose, operatic crescendo and fact. History the way it should be told. History the way it was once told, but with the benefit of academic accountability. I present The Curse of the Broken Cross:
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Ask students to listen to the podcast. Let them choose an element from the story and find the historical event that it refers to.
- Adolphus is the king of the Toringi. With some research, students will discover that the Toringi were a Visigoth tribe in the 4th century who sacked Rome under the leadership of Alaric. Alaric had an ambitious brother named Adolphus who wanted to turn Rome into a Gothic empire.
- The Mandrake warns Adolphus of the Golden Star and the Healing Father. These are references to the most widespread religions in Europe: Judaism and Christianity.
The story serves as a framework for understanding the essence of the conflict, while allowing talking points for each of the fundamental factual elements of history. Teachers can develop a number of useful activities around it. I encourage readers to share their classroom techniques in the thread below.