Monday, July 6, 2015

Literary Scholars and Historians!

Dr. Graham Hodges: our passionate leader

“I have always said fiction writers have a lot of ground to cover if we want to catch up with the scholars.”      Dolen Perkins-Valdez author of Wench and Balm.

So, we had a first session today to discuss abolitionism and The Underground Railroad. It was a very interactive lecture led by our fearless, passionate leader, Dr. Graham Hodges.

We discussed the idea of The Underground Railroad being non-governmental help for slaves; how Harriet Tubman risked her own life, by crossing the Mason-Dixon line, to help people to get to freedom; how The Underground Movement was the first integrated Civil Rights Movement; how The Underground Railroad does not have to viewed as a political event but can viewed as a movement etc.

For almost every topic that Dr. Hodges mentioned, I could think of a novel that matched the scenario. When Dr. Hodges mentioned abolitionist being viewed as fanatical, I thought of The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. When he talked about maroon groups, groups who isolated themselves and were self-governed, I thought of “The Seven Days” from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. When he spoke of the life of slaves after the end of The Civil War, I thought of Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 

I have great confidence in most fiction writers especially when it comes to historical fiction, and many times I will do my own research to verify many of the things that I read in novels. However, sitting in this room with mostly historians, I started to wonder if there is a place in the history conversation for literary scholars. 

I held back from interjecting literary examples to support or dispute the lecture. However, even though my examples are fictional and loosely based on history, I thought about the idea of using novels to give students examples of historical events. I know that historians tend to love hard, cold facts, and literary scholars tend to love flowery truth. However, I don’t see why the two ideas can not merge in order to enhance the teaching of history and literature. 

After the lecture, I asked many of the historians if they thought that there was a place in the historical conversation for literature and many thought that there were. Many of the historians even commented on the fact that they also thought of movies or novels that they have read as Dr. Graham was giving his lecture. 

So, I posed the question to Dr. Hodges, and I used the example of James McBride making John Brown appear fanatical in the wonderfully written The Good Lord Bird. Dr Hodges chuckled and stated that he like that book, and he also believes that there is a place for literary discussions among historians.

Hearing this from Dr. Hodges gave me a little comfort in the belief that I can interject literature in the discussion, but I am not sure that I will actually do it. I know that literature and history compliment each other in schools, but I am still not convinced that the interjection is appropriate in highly scholarly conversations like the ones that we are having during this seminar.

I may try a little interjection, or I may not...

My People, Weigh In!

Happy Monday.

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