Using Literary Works in European History
Literary works—novels, poetry, plays, even movies—or pieces that are dependable (i.e., historically accurate) are often more interesting than textbooks. The following suggestions are works that can supplement, though not supplant, your text. The choices are often personal, but also included are general websites that give you a broad array of material. As you consider these alternate resources, bear in mind the content you have studied in class, making connections as appropriate.
What’s the point? Certainly, you have enough on your plate already. Perhaps a study group could pick a literary work, an artist or an artistic movement, or a piece of music and have members present one every few weeks. Everyone in the group would benefit without having to do all the work alone.
What to look for: Examples that make clear the importance of points of view and climates of opinion or that flesh out a particular period or event. Two samples follow. Each is meant to be a starting point for AP European History; that is, each makes you consider how history is written, by whom, and to what end.
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time, a novel. This book, a mystery, serves as an introduction to historiography and to effective analysis and communication skills. A discussion or essay topic might include these prompts : (1) Use examples from the novel to support the following quotation: “The truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper. The sale of a house. The price of a ring. The real history is written in forms not meant as history.” What examples of true history can you find in the novel? (2) Using The Daughter of Time as your frame of reference, give examples of four historical biases regarding King Richard III [England]. Two must be positive and two must be negative. If you like reading Shakespeare, or watching a production of a play, consider comparing Tey and Shakespeare’s portrayals of King Richard III. Keep in mind each author’s purpose.
Watch the two most famous film versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V—one with Laurence Olivier and one with Kenneth Branagh. Each deals with the same historical events, but the Olivier version was made during World War II and has propagandistic purposes, and the Branagh version, made in the post-Vietnam era, demonstrates modern antipathy to war. How does each film—through its version and vision of historical events—demonstrate authorial (or in this case, directorial) voice or intent?