How to Get the History Right in your Historical Fiction: a Workshop for Authors

Course dates

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Course fee


Course tutors

Elizabeth Chadwick, Eleanor John (Geffrye Museum), Dr Simon Trafford (IHR)

Getting to know other times and other places well enough to describe them convincingly is one of the great pleasures of writing historical fiction, but also one of its greatest challenges. Anyone can achieve a basic feel for an age by reading published histories, but to go beyond this, to enter the mental and physical world of the inhabitants of another age, to see through their eyes, to touch the objects that they knew and to speak with their voices, requires detailed knowledge and the understanding that can come only from autonomous research. Above all, it helps to know and understand contemporary source materials, but to find and use these requires specialised skills.

This one-day workshop aims to encourage writers to develop their abilities as historical researchers, introducing the tools and techniques employed by academic historians, and showing how to get the most from libraries, archives, museums, art galleries and, of course, the internet. Teaching will take place in an informal format with participants actively encouraged to discuss the problems they encounter and to share their own experiences. Themes covered will include:


  • Using published histories
  • Finding primary sources online, in libraries and in the archive
  • The historical backdrop: wars, revolutions, great events and what’s in the news
  • Households, material culture and the things of everyday life
  • Capturing localities and neighbourhoods with local sources and newspapers
  • The price of fish: how much should things cost, how long should travel take and other tricky questions


Contributing to the workshop will be: Elizabeth Chadwick, author of The Time of Singing, To Defy a King and many others; Eleanor John, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at the Geffrye Museum of the Home; Dr Simon Trafford, Research Training Officer at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. It will take place between 10.30 and 17.00 at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, located in Senate House. A sandwich lunch will be provided; please mention any special dietary needs on your application. As numbers are strictly limited early application is advised.

The course is open to authors, budding authors and anyone with an interest in historical fiction. Although all periods and areas will be covered, most of our examples will come broadly from the late medieval and early modern period and from the British Isles.

Application form

Completed registration forms should be returned by email or post to:

Dr Simon Trafford
The Institute of Historical Research
University of London
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
Tel: +44 (0)20 7862 8763

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