History and Fiction

I first went to Marburg for a four day break, I finally left a couple of months ago, after two and a half years. Marburg has that effect on people, it is a black hole where time means nothing, a fairytale village where nothing feels real.

(Steven Fitzgerald (born 1979)

Inspired by our home town Marburg and its famous students the brothers Grimm, we are happy to announce our first ISHA International seminar since 2012, held under the title “History and Fiction”. By focusing on the interrelations as well as interstices between history and fiction, we aim to pose a series of challenging interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary questions between historical, literary and cultural studies. We believe that our home university and city with their rich cultural and historical heritage will serve as a perfect platform for the 40 International students visiting us during the second week of January.

The most obvious part of the seminar will be the attention to sources and narratives that we today deem “fictions” – be they forged legal documents, hagiographies or conspiracy theories. This focus serves to challenge positivist techniques of assessing the truth value of a source in order to write history “as it really was” – instead of just filtering out superstitions, separating “objective” history from fiction (and only retaining what is deemed historically accurate and plausible), we will attempt to ask for the role of these “fictions” in their historical context, their histories, their uses and abuses, their topoi and genre rules. We will look for glimpses they offer into the world-view of their writer or age as well as compare stories and sources from the different cultural and historiographical backgrounds of our participants from across Europe.

Another way to connect “history” and “fiction” is of course the issue of popularisation: how many people draw their knowledge or image of history from primary historical sources, how many from scientific publications, museum displays or lectures, and how many from other genres, including historical novels, video games or films with historical topics? This alone should be a compelling reason to rethink historical fiction as an important agent in shaping collective memories.

ISHA Marburg is pleased to welcome the following students as workshop leaders:

Neda Doykova (Sofia) and Anne-Sophie Wünsche (Marburg) are going to explore the historical relevance of “Folk and Fairy Tales” and their impact upon shaping the collective memory as well as their processing in modern media.

Matej Samida (Berlin) and Raphael Päbst (Marburg) take upon themselves the task to moderate the discussion about “Historical Fiction”. From the early tales of writers such as Herodotus to modern authors using and re-imagining the world’s history for their work.

Lisbeth Matzer (Graz) and Emilia Reynold (Marburg) will be presenting a short introduction about “Political Myths” before starting the discussion with their whole workshop. How and why are these myths created and where do they continue to be spread until today?

Teresa Traupe (Marburg) and Peter Molthagen (Marburg) will focus on “History and Fiction in Medieval texts”, dealing with the portraying of people, origin and foundation myths, miracle stories and mythical creatures – in short the literary conception between history and fiction in medieval texts.

Aside from these thematically set workshop Lilla Zámbó (Paris) and Vincent Regente (Berlin) will offer the opportunity for students working on their final thesis (B.A., M.A., PhD) to present their works and discuss about methodical questions as well as the practical issues that follow esp. the writing of a PhD theses such as finances and scholarship applications.

With the workshops as the core of our seminar’s programm, we would also like to introduce our participants to some aspects of local history. We are aiming to not only visit important historical sights within and around the city but also point out possible key sources for further research such as the Staatsarchiv, the castle or the St. Elizabeth Church in Marburg and the newly-opened Grimm museum in Kassel. As Sven Lindqvist wrote in his famous book “Gräv där du står“ (“Dig where you are standing”) in 1978, we want to emphasize the impact both history and fiction had and have on everyday life, mentality and collective memories and how this impact can not only be found in far away lands but also right before our own front door.