Methods of Knowing: Historical Research, Creative Writing, and the Past

deadline for submissions: 
September 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Kevin A. Morrison/Routledge
contact email: 

From Natalie Zemon Davis in The Return of Martin Guerre and Alain Corbin in Life of an Unknown to Kiera Lindsey in The Convict’s Daughter and John Glavin in After Dickens: Reading, Adaptation, and Performance, a small number of scholars have proposed new ways of reading the past and writing social and cultural history, microhistory, biography, and literary criticism. In the final chapter of Victorian Honeymoons: Journeys to the Conjugal, the literary critic Helena Michie juxtaposes two modes of writing: a painstakingly annotated excerpt from a nineteenth-century woman’s diary and a fictional recreation of a moment in that woman’s life based on the record of events and experiences. Whereas notes to referential enigmas provide Michie with one way of understanding the past, fiction—liberated from the scholarly apparatus but faithful to the record and the times—provides another. In Master and Servant, the historian Carolyn Steedman documents the everyday experience of Phoebe Beatson, a single, illiterate, female domestic employee in the eighteenth century. While Steedman employs the protocols of social history to locate Phoebe in her world by drawing on extant records of working-class life and the papers left behind by her employer, she also utilizes Nelly Dean, the housekeeper in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as an instrument for imaginatively reconstructing Phoebe’s interiority.

            Although historical research undertaken in different disciplines often requires speculation and imagination, it remains relatively rare for scholars to explicitly foreground these processes as a knowing method. Building on earlier efforts, this edited collection will feature new work on the relationship between historical and creative writing as means of understanding and documenting earlier historical eras. Using current works-in-progress as case studies or reflecting on previously published work, contributors are encouraged to address some of the following questions: What are the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of writing history creatively or speculatively? What ethical issues do each of these modes of history writing raise? How can creative writing or speculation be responsibly utilized in the research process, the analysis of data, or the presentation of one’s findings? Although historical research is an embodied activity undertaken, most often, solitarily in libraries, local reading rooms, and institutional archives, creative writing is just as frequently a collaborative activity that takes place in workshops, writing camps, and seminars. What role does the researcher’s body play in the production of knowledge? Can different embodied settings generate distinct historical understandings? In addition to grappling with these questions, the editor also invites reflective essays by scholars who engage, on the one hand, in formal academic scholarship, and, on the other hand, creative work—including fiction, poetry, art, dance, and music—largely as distinct practices. What are the methodological, ethical, or professional reasons for keeping these pursuits separate from each other? Despite treating them as independent activities, are there ways in which historical research and artistic practices nevertheless inform one another?

Routledge has expressed keen interest in the collection. Please submit proposals (250 words) and a brief bio (100 words) by 1 September 2020 to Kevin A. Morrison, Distinguished Professor of British Literature and Provincial Chair Professor in Humanities, Henan University (kmorr2016@gmail.com). For accepted proposals, final essays between 5,000-7,000 words (inclusive of notes and bibliography) will be due 1 August 2021.