Imagining and Re-Imagining:
Constructing the past: writing history and historical fiction
History writing in America includes writing about past as possible source of cultural identity and also revolution considered as the main source of identification in popular history. Moreover, writing about past includes moral-didactic purposes. However, U.S. lacks a long national history or culture.
Washington Irving was the first professional man of letters in America, his first best-seller was a satire called A History of New York (1809) and he wrote many books of travel and specially of history. He was the first internationally recognized author of America. Although he became famous nationally because of his satiric work A History of New York, his fame abroad was made with The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.
In historical writing, history is considered as a progress and particularly the progress of civilization. Jared sparks was an American educator and historian who served the as president of Harvard University in 1838 for the first time when an American got a chair in the history. Among the considerable American historians are George Bancroft, Francis Parkman, William H. Prescott.
Sir Walter Scott was one of the prominent writers of the country. He wrote numerous historical adventures and romances and he was a prolific poet as well. He studied law and after completing his studies he practiced as a lawyer. He is known mostly as a Scottish figure in literature. He was highly influential model for American writers. He is also known as inventor of historical novel and historical fiction. Waverly which was a historical novel and it is regarded as the first historical novel was written by Sir Walter Scott in 1814. The protagonist of the novel is Edward Waverly and the novel emphasizes that the Union with England is essential in order to making progress. On the whole, Sir Walter Scott describes the settings and characters in a realistic way, history is considered as process and progress, protagonist are average persons and the major focus of the historical novel is the man and society as products of historical change. On the other hand, the common settings are Puritan beginnings, conflicts at frontier, Revolution and chivalric South vs. materialistic North.
James Fenimore Cooper pioneered the historical novel based on American themes and characters. The Last of the Mohicans is the second book in James Fenimore Cooper’s series of five adventure novels and it is about American frontier and the confrontation between different stages of civilization, it is about native Americans vs. white settlers. The central character is Natty Bamppo.
There are female names among the historians and historical fiction writers such as Lydia Maria Child and Catharine Maria Sedgwick.
Catharine Maria Sedgwick wrote numerous short stories and novels and travel literature as well. Hope Leslie is one of her well-known novels. It was written in 1827 and it is about the juxtaposition of the two cultures and the interesting thing is that none is inherently better than the other hence, cultural norms become doubtful when juxtaposed with a different point of view. In this novel there are ambiguous signs and the rightfulness of the law of progress is not clearly confirmed. Its title is considered as commentary on US history.