Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same; or Why I Write History

I have always loved history. I want to know what past times were really, how people lived, what
they did, and how it felt to be part of society in bygone days. The more I study, read and write about history, however, the more I believe that, technology and modern conveniences aside, the answer to most of those ponderings is “about like we feel.”

I am constantly amazed when I read about prejudices, conflicts and struggles in bygone times and find myself thinking, “That hasn’t changed!”

An interesting example I encountered recently was reading “What Made the News in 1809”in my favorite magazine Jane Austen’s Regency World. It seems that the English had seized 16 Dutch fishing vessels, an action that led to the government banning fishing trade with the Dutch to protect British fishing.

I then turned to reading the same week’s Economist, but had to check to be sure I’d changed magazines when I read of English trawlermen protesting European Union fishing quotas and a government leader promising to withdraw from an international fishing treaty, including with the Dutch.

The fact of how little people: their basic desires, feelings and ideas, really change has been an on-going underlying theme of my writing. All of my books, even the contemporary murder mysteries, have an important element of history as a means to understanding what is going on in the present.
In A VeryPrivate Grave, the first of my Monastery Murders, Felicity, my thoroughly modern, full-steam-ahead American heroine struggles greatly with this concept when she is thrown into close contact with Antony, her church history lecturer and they set out to solve a present-day murder with its roots deep in the past.

“History is—well, history,” she argues. “It’s past.  You can’t change it.  The future is what matters.  That we can change.”

Antony agrees to the truth of her statement, then explains, “But the past impinges on the future.  We have a better chance of controlling the future if we understand the past.”

And so I write history because I’m really writing about today—and tomorrow.

Donna Fletcher Crow is currently writing the fifth book in her Lord Danvers Investigates Victorian true-crime series, and, as always, is continually amazed at how little attitudes, desires and motives have changed. You can see these books and all of her novels of British history at www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com


  1. Thanks, Donna. It's funny. I don't write history at all, and yet I'm busy with a series based on lesser understood Biblical ladies. I guess that's history! And the research is tougher because there are no records to consult except the Bible and commentaries (which are, after all, someone else's opinion.)

  2. Oh, yes, Shirley. History is harder to write because of the intense research. Fortunately I love research! And, yes, Bible stories are definitely history--but still about today!