29 June 2010

What Surprised Me: Don't Know Much About History

By Delia DeLeest

I've always been a history buff. When I was little, my favorite TV show was "Little House on the Prairie." My favorite book was about four kids who were required to clean an old vacant house as community service and ended up researching the house's history in an attempt to save it from the wrecking ball. I wanted a time machine so I could go back to ancient Egypt.

It's always amazed me that there are so many people out there who just flat out aren't interested in history and therefore, know nothing about it. I didn't realize that historical ignorance was as bad as it was until a reader once questioned my character's use of a telephone in my 1920s era upcoming book, NOT LOOKING FOR TROUBLE. Telephones were old hat by that time, yet this person had no idea.

My love for history turned into a love for historical romances. Though those early novels weren't always totally historically accurate, it was through them that I gleaned nuggets of information about the Civil War, the Norman invasion of Saxony, and--thanks to the wonderful, dearly departed Kathleen Woodiwiss--sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Those books were simply starting off points, from there, I dug into actual history books and rounded out all those wonderful history bites the romance books provided.

But even when I didn't dig deeper into a subject, my mind is still teeming with wonderful little bits of historic trivia provided by all those books I've devoured over the years. What a wonderful community service we historical romance writers are providing to the public when a reader cracks open a book and not only gets a wonderful story, but can take something else away that can give them an appreciation for past people and places. I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about it.

I feel bad for people who don't know who fought in the French and Indian war, how a wagon train made its way to California, or how bootleggers smuggled illegal hooch in from Canada. Too often it's felt that history is in the past and since there's nothing we can do about it, so why bother learning? Of course George Santayana said it best with, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But I couldn't help but feel a little surge of pride when my sixteen-year-old daughter stated the other day, "You know, if people would just learn from history, there'd be a whole lot fewer problems, wouldn't there?"

Yep, there's hope for the future.